Stolen artwork

I’ll admit to a somewhat maudlin fascination of stories about stolen artwork.  The number of books and movies out about the subject indicates that other people have the same interest.  Did you see The Monuments Men about the hidden masterpieces and recovery after WWII?  Or Woman in Gold?  Both were based on true stories.  Or Priceless by Robert K. Wittman or Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony Amore?  Or The Rockwell Heist by Bruce Rubenstein?  Again, true stories.  Of course, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a fictionalized account of an art theft but immensely popular.

Most of us will never encounter a circumstance of art theft.  As a director of a gallery and art center for many years, we never had an issue with stolen artwork although we weren’t displaying Rembrandts either.

However, this is a tale about a real art theft.  Or two or three.  All involving myself.

Scareboy. Watercolor on paper, 29.5 x 19.5, Kit Miracle. Stolen artwork.

The first painting I had stolen was from a public building in 1994.  I had an exhibit in the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Indianapolis.  This was the second time that I had exhibited there. So you can imagine my surprise when I got up one morning and found a message from a Sargent somebody or other from the Indianapolis Police Department with a request to call him back about some stolen artwork. Of course, he was off duty when I called so I called the organizers of the exhibit at the Chamber.  I had a few dozen paintings there so I thought it was probably one of the smaller pieces.  To my surprise, I learned that it was the largest piece I had in the show.

Later that evening, the Sargent called me back.  After we discussed the theft – I never saw the exhibit on display since I just dropped it off at the loading dock and picked it up a month later – I asked how someone could steal such a large painting, through a revolving door no less!  Didn’t the security guard run after the thief?  The Sargent chuckled and remarked that the guard probably wasn’t running too many marathons.  (The building was open at night because the lobby held an ATM.)

The painting, Scareboy, was an amusing watercolor painting of the scarecrow that I had created out of my son’s Doctor Denton’s with a Mickey Mouse hat.  I guess someone really liked it, just not enough to pay for it.  (The Chamber did reimburse my loss.)

Set of framed vegetable paintings, originals, watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle. Two of these paintings were stolen at the Broad Ripple Art Fair.

Another case of stolen artwork was at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, also in Indianapolis.  This was a very nice fair with a fence and security.  The theft occurred as a mother and her son distracted me by asking a question about a painting in the back of my booth.  When I went back into the booth, two paintings were missing.  These were small vegetable works in watercolor with pen and ink.  At the time, I was offering about forty-five different fruits and vegetables.  (And still do in my Etsy shop.)  They were very popular, all original, not prints. Apparently a partner was snatching the work while I was being distracted.  To add injury to insult, when I tried to report this to the fair officials, I was directed to the phone in the office to file a police report (this was before cellphones.)  And I later got blackballed from the fair since I had left my booth early to make the phone call. Humph!

The team working to distract the artist or booth operator is not a novel operation.  I had a couple use their dog (the guy practically pushed it into my face for me to pet) while the gal was shoving packaged cards into the pockets of her coat.  Sigh.

The interesting thing is, that artwork is such a personal thing.  People either like it or they don’t. At my level, I’m hardly a superstar in the art scene and my paintings are modestly priced.  But for famous artists, thieves often forget to think ahead about what they will actually do with the masterpieces after they steal them.  A famous painting is very hot and not easily sold on the open market.  Some are held for ransom.  Some are sold to the underworld/undercover market.  Eventually they come to surface somewhere.

But, hey, if anyone out there sees my Scareboy, just know that he belongs at home.

5 responses to “Stolen artwork

  1. I once had some of the painted signs advertising my fall festival down in Owen County stolen. They had images of some of my original, well-recognized painted gourds and a large arrow to direct traffic. Imagine my surprise to attend a party in Indianapolis a year later and see one of them displayed on the rec room wall of the home! I didn’t know the people personally, and didn’t say anything, but I sure wanted to!

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    • That is amazing, Carolee. I wouldn’t have been able to keep quiet about it. I’ve often wondered about the people who’ve stolen my work. Do they feel guilty at all when they look at the paintings? Just inconceivable to me.

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  2. That’s scary. I entered juried shows for a few years at a couple nonprofits in Richmond VA and while most of my entries were rejected, when a painting got hung I was worried someone would walk out the back door with it. I heard stories of that happening. One guy said he got so much free publicity from the newspaper when his painting got stolen it made it not as bad for him. But I thought if one of mine got stolen the paper wouldn’t write about it. I quit entering because it seemed like a waste of money. It would be bad for me if one got stolen because it takes a long time for me to finish a painting. I often give a painting away or throw out old ones, but to have one stolen is a crime against you.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Chris. I wouldn’t worry too much about stolen paintings. It doesn’t happen often really, unless, perhaps, you have a national reputation. If you are exhibiting in a gallery space that takes normal precautions, you should be fine. You might want to ask them about their security measures up front, and also about insurance or compensation policy should something be damaged or stolen. The main thing is to get your work out there, no matter your skill level. Unless you’re only painting for yourself, we all need some feedback.
      Maybe I’ll write a post about the amusing/strange things that have happened to me when I was an art fair exhibitor. Stay tuned.

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      • Thanks but I don’t think I want to ask about the policies for theft or damage. I gave up on entering. That sounds like it would be a good post about your art fair experiences.

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