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LAWSUIT BOOSTS INTEREST IN TREASURES

After two years of legal wrangling over gold- and gem-laden relics stolen from Germany by a GI at the close of World War II, the public is getting a glimpse of the medieval treasures.

The exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art is part of a settlement between a German church and the heirs of Army Lt. Joe Meador, who took the priceless artifacts in 1945 from a mine shaft where they were stored during the war.The Lutheran Church of Quedlinburg, Germany, sued the family in 1990 to get back the works. The family agreed to give them back in return for nearly $3 million. The art will be returned to Germany when the exhibit closes April 26.

Over the weekend, more than 2,300 people viewed the items - almost twice the normal weekend attendance, said museum spokeswoman Meg Wilson.

Many people were curious because of the lawsuit against Texans Jack Meador and Jane Meador Cook, who inherited the art in 1980 from their brother.

"We had tons of calls," said Emily Sano, museum deputy director. "They called every time there was some little flurry in the media."

"We saw pictures on TV last year talking about everything that's gone on with the art," said Alton Williamson, 65, who went with his wife, Gerrilyn, to see the exhibit but was turned away Monday because the museum was closed.

The exhibit, set up in a drab, gray room with a concrete floor, consists of six glass display units on which nine artifacts rest on red velvet. Joining the eight artifacts is the Evangelistar, a 1513 manuscript with a jeweled case, on loan from the German church.

The art, made of gold, silver, ivory and crystal, was crafted from the eighth to the 16th centuries. Some of the works were created during the rule of Charlemagne and Otto I.

The collection includes a jeweled reliquary box with carved ivory panels and an ivory comb ornamented with rubies. The works were fashioned during the rule of Henry I, who unified the German states under his Saxon dynasty in the 10th century.

The whereabouts of the art came to light in 1990, when Meador's relatives tried to sell some of the artifacts. Later that year, the treasures were locked up for safekeeping and some minor restoration at the Dallas museum.

The settlement, made final last month, includes payment of about $2.7 million to Jack Meador and Cook, according to their attorney, Randal Mathis.

The agreement was signed by Meador's relatives, city officials from Quedlinburg and the Berlin-based Cultural Foundation of German States, a quasi- government organization that recovers items of cultural significance.

Still in question is whether the Meadors will have to pay estate taxes that the Internal Revenue Service ruled in December should have been included in the brother's estate.

H.S. Garcia, executive assistant U.S. attorney, said his office also is investigating.

Under the settlement, German officials indicated they don't wish to have the Meadors prosecuted.