Yesterday, Tracy Owen Cullimore of Ft Myers, Florida wrote, “I’m up in the middle of the night, not because I’m overcome with wild inspiration to paint, but because I’m hurt and angry. My painting was stolen from a gallery wall, the identification card left beside the void. I feel violated. It is hard enough for us artists to sell, but to have them taken without our permission is painful.”
“I give so many to charity, generating a sizable sum. So to have one snatched from me feels personal and hateful. Some friends think I should be honoured. The greatest honour for an artist is to have someone want our art, but the joy of giving something to someone for free lies in the willingness to give it.”
Thanks, Tracy. We’ve put some of your un-stolen at the bottom of this letter.
My first theft happened when I was in my twenties. A thief distracted a gallery owner, grabbed my little painting from the gallery window, and fled down an alley. Close to mine in the window had been a valuable painting by one of Canada’s celebrated dead artists. Mine looked similar. At the time, mine sold for peanuts. The thief soon realized the error in his connoisseurship, as mine turned up in a local dumpster.
Another time I had six big ones taken from a friend’s garage in Seattle. They were in temporary storage before being delivered to a gallery. My friend was a shooter and a drinker, and I figured one of his buddies thought the paintings were half decent. For old time’s sake, I’d like to take a look at them again and see if he was right.
I could go on. My point is that thievery goes on as long as there are “haves” and “have nots.” While a personal sense of injustice is felt when this sort of thing happens, the good news is that thievery in many nations is in decline. Our world is transitioning to decency and respect for property. This may be hard for some to believe, particularly if you pay attention to the media, but statistics prove it. In no way should the occasional missteps of misguided people affect our innate generosity and feelings for charity. As artists we are blessed to be able to give so much, even in the rare occasions where we don’t sanction it. In many ways, we artists are among the haves.
PS: “The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” (William Shakespeare, Othello)
Esoterica: The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant noted, “Two things never cease to amaze — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Vincent’s “Starry Starry Night” is perhaps the quintessential painting of our age — a work that is a pleading tribute to wonder — the starry heavens above us all that make inevitable the Golden Rule. I may be stupid, but I think artists (and others) are pretty special.
Tracy Owen Cullimore
Note commemorates stolen work
by Mike Anstead, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Thirty years ago I visited St. John’s, Newfoundland. One afternoon I found myself in a simple downtown bar. One long wall was decorated with a dozen or so small sea and landscapes. The paintings were neatly framed, uniformly sized and equally spaced along the wall. Except one painting was missing and there was a small note pinned to the wall in its place. One was, of course, compelled to go over and read the note. It read: “This note commemorates the painting that was stolen.”
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Only the spirit endures
by Solveig Larsen, NSW, Australia
Although I can understand and have compassion for Tracy, it is worth remembering that nothing in this world of form lasts forever. Only the spirit with which we engage as we seek to manifest our perceptions endures. We are fortunate to be able to give form to these, some go on, others not. It is life.
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Seized by the gallery landlord
by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada
There are many kinds of theft and a fair few years ago when I was young, naïve and productive, I had a couple of dozen paintings in a gallery that became insolvent. The contents were seized by the landlord and sold by him to cover his lost rent. I only became aware when I dropped by to find the vacant store. I now know that you should inventory the paintings and provide a letter to the landlord indicating that the property is yours and not that of the gallery operator. Others should be aware of this procedure as well.
Having lost the paintings in this way certainly felt like theft to me. The only comfort I could take is that my old painting teacher (Helmut Gerth) once told me, “Don’t get attached to your paintings. Sell every painting you produce. You can always paint more.” I suppose that would apply to stolen ones as well.
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Art will come into the light again
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
The only difference in having something stolen, or something sold, is that the insurance co. pays the bill. My stolen art is still out there, hopefully being enjoyed, creating some connection. It is what it is. But it’s ironic when art is stolen, because the only part that can be stolen is the monetary reward. Eventually the art will come into the light again, apparently even if someone puts it in a dumpster!
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Facing the loss
by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada
I had six paintings stolen years ago. My friend was taking photos of them for me, put them in a portfolio and left them in the trunk of his car. The car was broken into and the portfolio with the paintings was taken. The only consolation I had is when some people said to me, “You obviously must be really good! Otherwise they wouldn’t have stolen the work.” Felt a bit better but not that much. The knowledge that somewhere out there are your paintings but not knowing where they are or how to get them back is hurtful and burns a hole inside, but the only thing is to move on and continue working and doing better art. We all face a loss of some kind or another and having to deal with it is the hardest thing we need to do. Not sure if it helps, Tracy Owen Cullimore (I feel for you).
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Taken without permission
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
Tracy — It may not bring you solace, but you have now joined a distinguished club of artists whose works have the unfortunate distinction of being taken without permission. It is never a good feeling to lose one’s work, but maybe you can take some comfort in the knowledge that someone felt they wanted it bad enough to risk arrest for taking it. Hopefully, they will enjoy it for some time to come. Was the gallery insured? Will you get reimbursed the purchase price?
They even took the ID tag
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I had a piece stolen from my show, tag and all. Actually, taking the identification card was smart as it enabled the theft to go unnoticed until I brought some friends through and said, “Gee, wasn’t a piece hanging there?” I guess I felt rather ambivalent about it, but perhaps because it wasn’t stolen on my property. It was the responsibility of the gallery, so I was reimbursed. I was hoping to get some free publicity out of it, but the gallery didn’t want to advertise the theft in fear that other artists would be worried about showing there in the future. I just hope that someone is enjoying the piece and that it didn’t end up in a dumpster. I hope that Tracy was also compensated.
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Would pay a lot of money to get one back
by Robert Dvorak, Sacramento, CA, USA
Many art works of mine have been stolen over the years. First, some beautiful drawings I made in Florence, Italy — off the back of my motor scooter in Rome while I ran into an art supply store. A painting from a one-man show on the fourth of July. The most distressful was a small panel book that I had painted of the Misty Fiords on an Alaskan cruise. I was sharing it with a figure painting class at the University of Hawaii and someone swiped it. I would pay a lot of money to get that one back. Every time work is taken there are real feelings of personal loss, sadness, and shock.
Happy endings can happen
by E. Melinda Morrison, Denver, CO, USA
My sister had stored some of her possessions in a neighbor’s garage that was doing some work on her new house. She has to fire him from the job although paying him quite a bit for work he did not finish to get him to go away. When she inquired about her goods, he had stolen her possessions including all the paintings I had given her over the year. Most of the paintings I did not care about except for one. It was a painting that was of my nephew (her son) and my beloved golden retriever, Max, that had passed away 2 years ago. Even though I had given that as a gift, it caused me deep pain to lose that painting for sentimental reasons as well as that was a painting where my art took a turning point early in my career. I wanted it to stay in the family.
My family prayed that somehow some way, we would find that painting. We tried to get the police involved but they would not pursue it so we had to let it go. About two years later, through lots of prayer, a friend was walking through an antique store mall and saw the painting. She paid $30 and yes, it was a blow to my ego, LOL but she bought it. She then told the dealer the story and how much my paintings sold for now. She returned it to my sister where it now hangs. So happy endings can happen!
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Letting go of completed art
by Barbara Ettles Carter, NS, Canada
Your letter regarding the theft of paintings is interesting. With respect, though, it is not only the have nots who steal from the “haves.” Since the “haves” have been stealing from the “have nots” for centuries, creating an attitude that feeds on itself. Theft is an expression of power to some — “I steal because I can” attitude. It usually involves manipulation and it all has to do with the lack of respect for others. That feeling, like so many like it, however, tends to boomerang on the person who performs the act. Manipulation alone is an act of theft because it is meant to steal a little respect from the other – to elevate the thief over the person stolen from. I have learned to let my paintings go when they are finished and seen by others. There are no more strings on them. They now live their own lives, as was my intention from the beginning. The courts are clogged with ownership of paintings and other art objects cases and they can go on for years. The Nazi theft of art alone that languished in vaults and may still languish there staggers the imagination. They were stolen by force of power alone and we all know how that exercise in power ended.
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Didn’t feel like an honor
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
As a NYU student, I participated in an art exhibit at the Student Center back in the early ’60s. I was pleased to have 2 small carved sculptures accepted. One was in a South American wood and the other in ebony. They were the fruits of a year’s study under the guidance of Leo Jungblut in Holland, Michigan. I hadn’t started archiving photos of my work but I remember it well. The ebony piece with a high relief finished half way around was taken. So many hours sharpening my chipped chisels and carving into that extremely hard wood walked out the door. At that state of completion, it was a great teaching tool demonstrating how one tackled high relief from the unfinished roughed out sections in various stages of development to the large finished relief. Often, I’ve thought that the student who had given the ebony to me, had lifted it. This was the first art show in the new center so people weren’t concerned or prepared for theft of student works. How naive of me not to imagine that some work might be coveted and have legs. Others joked about the “honor” but it was my first work and my pain, blood, and frustration were buried in each chisel mark. Maybe that was the point when I turned subconsciously to painting and print making? I never did another sculpted piece.
by Jackie Irvine, Yukon, NWT, Canada
In reality, I have always felt I don’t have control of what happens to my artwork after I finish my part which is the actual creative process. It belongs to the world — sometimes I gain and sometimes I lose. I guess I could treat both outcomes equally the same. Anyways, Tracy, I relate and empathize with you.
Thief steals self-help book
by Annie Cicale, Fairview, NC, USA
One of my professors in college was disappointed when thieves broke into the permanent collection at the University of Montana, but left his work behind. He was philosophical about it, thinking that it would have been an honor to be so coveted. So when I opened a clamshell box of mine after returning from exhibit, I was horrified to find that the artist’s book inside was GONE. The gallery knew nothing of it, having returned the box to me without checking inside first to see if the book was there. (Another story.) But the amazing part of this was that the title of the book was BALANCE, a painterly book with a collection of quotations about honesty, integrity, and a life well spent doing things for others, and for yourself. The word had been a mantra for me when my kids were little and I was balancing my life as a soccer mom with being a working and teaching artist. So the bad karma that was passed along to the thief was reinforced by the content of the book he stole. How about that! Once I was over my hurt and anger, I realized that I was part of a bigger picture, that the thief has some ‘life lessons’ to learn, and I was playing a small role in all that.
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Different kind of theft
by Prefers to remain anonymous
A neighbour of mine was taking my introductory adult watercolour classes and since these people have never drawn or painted before I offer them use of tracings of some of my work, if they wish, to get them past the fear of drawing and directly onto the painting at the very beginning. This student/neighbour used a few of my tracings to make paintings (which I said were for learning purposes only) and did have some success. Her daughter (then grade 12) was not a student of mine but came over frequently to ask for art assignment help, and then intense help with her portfolio preparation in order to be ready for an interview into a fine arts program at university.
Imagine my horror when while sitting with her at the university waiting for her interview she shows me a painting that was from one of my tracings her mother had used in my classes! She thought I would be flattered! I didn’t say anything as she was called in right after that. They are neighbours of mine so I haven’t broached the subject. They obviously did not see the dishonesty and, frankly, theft of my property. It gets better – this girl was doing a co-op placement (she wants to be an art teacher) at the local elementary school where a lot of my students come from for kids’ classes. She came to my door with her mother who had told her about some of the projects she had seen in my studio that the kids were doing and wanted me to explain how she could do that at co-op.
I have not taught an adult class since because the mother would like to be in my class but I can’t afford to have her in my studio. This is the first time I’ve written in to reply to anything but wanted to share my story with the art community. Apparently this is not considered plagiarism or theft in their minds but I still can’t believe it.
Sometimes they are found
by Nancy Fortunato, St. Palatine, IL, USA
In 1970 I had my first one person show at a venue in the area. Many well known artists had their works shown previously. So I thought it would be good for me too. And they were insured to an extent…
Well, when the time came to pick up my work, to my horror, five large works were missing. No one at the venue knew anything about when it could have happened and were very sorry. They decided to never have any more shows due to my loss.
I had some rumors at local art shows that there was a gang of people going around our area (Chicago and suburbs) ripping off paintings, sculpture, and other works of art, and no one knew where the works were going or where they went. Remember, we didn’t have the internet, police have other more important things to do, so what I was reimbursed with really did not cover the works.
Now, fast forward to the year Harold Washington was Mayor Chicago and the month of November 1987. A man calls me from Oklahoma and says he has what he believes is an original of mine and wants to know about the painting. I about fainted when I asked him to describe the work. It WAS one of the 5 stolen works from 1970! He also told me there were more at this one-day garage sale, and that there was a lot of other really nice work. He said he asked the people in charge where such a large amount of artwork came from, and the people really didn’t give a REAL, and what he thought was an honest, explanation. He asked them if they knew me as they had two pieces by me there. And they said they couldn’t remember.
Well after he came home and took the painting out of the frame he found all my info inside and tried to call and see if I might still be at the address and the phone number listed. Word got around and an agent who handled my work contacted the news media and all of a sudden I was getting people calling, etc. and THIS is the best part of this story: Channel 7 was coming out to my house and going to do a story about this stolen work of art and THEN… Harold Washington died the DAY they were coming out to my house for interview, November 25 and they had to cancel. Well, it wasn’t news and wouldn’t be for weeks. They then decided to forget the story and interview… They said it wasn’t current enough!!!
So, don’t think works stolen can’t come back. The gentleman wanted to send me the work back, he felt bad. But I reassured him he bought it and as far as I was concerned it was his… End of story.
oil painting 30 x 40 inches
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