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Lawsuit claims actor Kilmer stole gilded tumbleweed idea

September 28, 2018

Austin, Texas-based artist Bale Creek Allen is suing Val Kilmer, saying the actor and onetime New Mexico resident ripped off his “gold-laden tumbleweed” sculpture idea.

Allen — who incorporates a number of found-along-the-road objects into his work — says in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that he had been making the sculptures for years before Kilmer, having seen one in a gallery in Santa Fe, called him to discuss them.

During that discussion, Allen alleges, he and Kilmer talked about his inspiration for the sculptures and Kilmer expressed an interest in buying one. But then Kilmer “stated that he could not afford the asking price and did not buy one.”

The artist says he later learned Kilmer had created a nearly identical tumbleweed sculpture and was advertising it for sale with an asking price of $150,000.

Allen, the son of Santa Fe artists Terry Allen and Jo Harvey Allen, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

His Santa Fe attorney, Thomas M. Hnasko, said the sculptures are created using actual gold, but he didn’t know how much Allen charged for them.

“His method is copyright protected, and I believed Mr. Kilmer called and asked him about his method, which he then used,” Hnasko said.

The complaint says Allen obtained a copyright for the sculpture concept in January 2017.

And the actor — who will reportedly star alongside Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel to the 1986 hit Top Gun that’s due out in 2020 — did not have permission to copy the work, the suit says.

Kilmer went so far as to adopt the “plaintiff’s inspiration for the creation of the works” in news releases and other marketing materials, Allen alleges.

He is asking the federal court to find Kilmer liable for copyright infringement and to order him to refrain from replicating and selling the work, and for an unspecified amount in damages.

Hnasko said the damages will depend on how many of the tumbleweed sculptures Kilmer created or sold.

Kilmer, who lived in Rowe for a time but sold his Pecos-area ranch for about $18.5 million in 2011 — did not respond to email and Facebook messages seeking comment.

He wrote about the sculpture on Facebook when it was offered for sale at a Los Angeles gallery in 2016 — according to a screenshot of the piece published by the entertainment news website the A.V. Club — and seemed to indicate he’d created only one golden tumbleweed.

“I’m so happy to finally have a place to sell my beloved 22kt tumbleweed,” the artist wrote. “It’s on display for an astronomical price I’m slightly embarrassed to say, but the darn thing costs a pretty penny just to make.”

The A.V. Club quoted the artist as saying the work was inspired by New Mexico and his gold-miner grandfather.

It’s unclear whether Kilmer ever sold the piece.

“We used to have that piece of art but we don’t have it anymore,” said a woman who answered the phone Thursday at Just One Eye gallery in Los Angeles. “Val Kilmer just took his art back and that was it.”

A manager then took the phone and said the gallery didn’t want to answer any more questions about the work.

Allen and Kilmer might not be the only ones attracted to the ironic beauty of a gilded tumbleweed.

Back in 2011, “Kristie” wrote about her DIY version of the objet d’art on her blog Texas Style & Substance — texassstyleandsubstance.blogspot.com — saying she had “snatched up some errant tumbleweeds that were whirling through the Marfa airport … hightailed it to Home Depot for some metallic gold spray paint and voila!”

Those who prefer a more rustic version of the tumbleweed and aren’t inclined to chase one down can purchase “authentic Colorado tumbleweeds” from the Golden Tumbleweed — thegoldentumbleweed.com — for a mere $25.

These tumbleweeds are, according to the website, “all-natural, non-GMO, gluten-free, organic, free-range” weeds “dried by the sun and the wind, harvested when you order and shipped straight to your door.”

Or you could, you know, just stand outside and wait.

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