The museum will initially give the National Museum of Costa Rica 983 ceramic vessels and figurines that were legally acquired by American railroad magnate and banana exporter Minor C. Keith in the late 1800s. It eventually will transfer the other 4,000 objects from the Keith collection, curator Nancy Rosoff said Thursday.
The New York museum will retain about 10 percent of the collection, including some of the more valuable objects, such as gold and jade figurines and pendants, Rosoff said.
The Central American nation has never claimed ownership to the works.
Costa Rica's Culture Minister, Manuel Obregon, said that its state regulatory agency, the National Insurance Institute, will pay for the packing and transportation costs of the first shipment, estimated at $59,000. Rosoff said that shipment may go out as early as next month.
"They will not initially exhibit them," Rosoff said of the Costa Rican museum. "They will go into storage so they can determine what they want to do with the collection."
The Brooklyn Museum had approached the Costa Rican museum about the collection several years ago, but did not get a response, possibly because "they may have had other financial considerations," said Rosoff. It then queried several American museums, none of which expressed interest. Last year, the museum again reached out to the National Museum of Costa Rica, and this time the offer was accepted.
Keith was a native of Brooklyn who traveled to Costa Rica in 1871 to help build a railroad from Costa Rica's capital of San Jose to the Atlantic coast. While there, he became a big grower and exporter of bananas, establishing the United Fruit Company.
The Brooklyn Museum has never exhibited the Keith works, which Rosoff said are more appropriate for a museum that focuses on archaeology and anthropology.
The museum, one of the largest art institutions in the country, is in the process of surveying its entire collection of some 1 million objects spanning from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art. Many go back to its founding in 1897 when it acquired a huge inventory of material that may no longer fit its mission as an art museum, said Rosoff.
In 2009, it transferred more than 23,000 of its late 19th to mid-20th century costumes to the Costume Institute of Metropolitan Museum of Art.