Art Treasures Salvaged From Lien Sale Move To New Grand Canyon Museum

Seven years ago, Scottsdale junk dealer Neil King paid $75 at an auction for whatever might be in a particular self-storage unit. The storage unit had long ago been abandoned, and the self-storage business wanted to rent out the space again. King never imagined he would find a treasure trove of Arizona art inside.

The art turned out to be the lifetime work of Dee Flagg, the foremost member of Scottsdale’s “first family of art,” who was renowned for her Western wood carvings. It included Flagg’s original sketches and wood carvings of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, and Wyatt Earp. It even included a life-size wooden Indian that was Dee Flagg’s constant companion while he drove his 1914 American La France fire truck around the Southwest selling his carvings. The true value of the contents of the storage locker is believed to have been more like $3.8 million.

King immediately had several offers to buy pieces of the collection. But he held off on selling it, believing that it was worth more if it stayed together. Then real estate developer Gary Martinson, the founder of Bison Homes, contacted King. Martinson had recently purchased the old Buffalo Museum of America – a collection of art dedicated to the American bison. Martinson and King put their collections together to create a new museum, the Bison Museum.

The Bison Museum graced Scottsdale’s landscape for almost two years before it, and Bison Homes, became victims of the recession. The museum impressed Arizonans familiar with Western art, especially Marshall Trimble, the official state historian of Arizona. When the museum opened, Trimble commented, “When I walked in here about two weeks ago, my jaw dropped…The last time I saw this, it was scattered on the floor and we were picking things up out of boxes.”

Now Gary Martinson has new plans for the Bison Museum. He is moving the entire collection to a new museum opening up at the Grand Canyon – the Western Discovery Museum. The Western Discovery Museum is scheduled to open this spring in Tusayan, Arizona – if it does open. Martinson is still trying to get permits from Coconino County to start building the new museum. If and when the Western Discovery Museum does open, its income will be used to provide revenue for a new Scottsdale Museum of the West.