By Jeff Todd

THORNTON, Colo. (CBS4) – Lesa Leiter knew she had beautiful paintings in her possession, but it wasn’t until she really sat down and researched the artist before she realized a famous CIA officer was responsible. Now she’s hoping to find a permanent home for two paintings by Tony Mendez.

(credit: CBS)

“He painted two massive pictures and they hung there for about four years, and in 1968 the Park Lane Hotel was sold, and they demolished it,” Leiter said about the history of both paintings named “1890 View.”

They were painted off of photographs of downtown Denver in the late 19th century. Mendez painted them in 1964, but for more than 50 years, they haven’t been publicly available to view.

(credit: CBS)

“He’s really interesting! He’s got a really interesting life,” said Leiter.

CBS4’s Jeff Todd interviews Lisa Leiter. (credit: CBS)

Mendez went to high school in Denver and spent one year at University of Colorado. He started working odd jobs around Denver before becoming a forger for the CIA. He would later go on and help rescue hostages from Iran. That story became the movie “Argo.”

(credit: CBS)

About a decade ago, Leiter went on a search for “A. Mendez” as the artist signed each painting in the corner. She started emailing with Antonio Mendez. In a 2007 email, he revealed himself and his notoriety.

“He joined the CIA and his job was, you can read about this, his job was forgery because he was an artist. Then he became the master of disguise, and so like everybody knows if they saw the movie ‘Argo’ he went in there and saved people by putting them in disguises,” Leiter said.

(credit: CBS)

The paintings spent decades in a warehouse until they were nearly trash. Leiter’s father salvaged them, but their enormous size and weight have kept them from being displayed.

With Mendez’s death on Saturday, Leiter’s hoping the attention around him will find a proper place for the artwork.

“We’d like to find them a home,” Leiter said. “He was really happy they survived. He was glad they’re still around,” said Leiter. “He said he would have taken them, but he said he thinks they need to stay in Denver.”

Jeff Todd

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