Dear Artist, 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.”

watercolour painting
by Tracy Owen Cullimore
STOLEN FEB 4, 2013

“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. Best regards, Robert 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

“Row row row”
acrylic painting


oil painting


“Im Not a Baby! – Rachel”
watercolour painting


“I promise”
oil painting

            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.” There are 5 comments for Note commemorates stolen work by Mike Anstead
From: Carol — Feb 19, 2013

Tracy, Theft is a crime and you have every right to feel hurt and angry. Please ignore those that like to state platitudes and get philosophical. Would they say the same if their car or dog were stolen? My theft occurred in a small town and I walked around asking store owners to put up flyers. I did report it to the police and the art center was upset with me because it tarnished their reputation. They have since used better hanging system but that still doesn’t prevent theft. The art center did pay me the commission % I was owed. Unfortunately it is a moment in your art career you will not forget.

From: Terry Gay Puckett — Feb 20, 2013

As an artist and also as a person who used to maintain a gallery on a college campus, it was my experience that nudes are the most likely subject to be stolen…whether paintings, or sculpture. I have seen this happen at least a handful of times, maybe more. Sorry about your loss.

From: Mikki — Feb 21, 2013

I, too, had a painting stolen from an organization’s gallery. I’m pretty sure I know who did it but never could prove it. Still makes me mad, particularly when a dear friend said “well, it wasn’t one of your best ones!”

From: Mikki — Feb 21, 2013

PS The gallery did not reimburse me. One other painting had been taken down from the wall and put near the door, but evidently the thief was interrupted. Good for that artist, not so good for me!

From: Sherry Hall Shelton — Nov 19, 2013

I live in Texas on the gulf coast. Several years ago I committed to displaying some of my art in a local restaurant that was about to open. It was the second business owned by a Houston man. The manager of the second business…closed up shop and moved to Michigan …taking the ONE piece of my art with her. I’m just glad I hadn’t filled the restaurant with more of my work. It still allow it to make me angry sometimes…but at least I have a photograph of that piece.

  Only the spirit endures by Solveig Larsen, NSW, Australia  

“Beyond Beyond”
pastel painting
by Solveig Larsen

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.       There are 2 comments for Only the spirit endures by Solveig Larsen
From: sharon vinson — Feb 19, 2013

It isn’t the fact of the lost painting as much as the violation. I had my purse stolen and a friend and I finally caught the theif and took him to court but the jury let him off but I still felt better being able to look him in the eye.

From: DA — Feb 24, 2013

Theft is a violation. Yes, the spirit of creation is a gift, but being robbed attacks your spirit. Whether it’s a painting from a gallery or your home being invaded, whether it’s karmic retribution or not… you can try to define all of this as mystically as you wish, and I often do, but the fact remains that it still leaves you hurt, angry, bewildered and in pain. That’s the fact.

  Seized by the gallery landlord by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada  

original illustration
by Richard Gagnon

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.

There is 1 comment for Seized by the gallery landlord by Richard Gagnon
From: Carl Kocich — Feb 18, 2013

I had the same thing happen to me and because of the distance involved it was not worth filing a lawsuit to try to get them back. After a long time agonizing over it I finally “let them go” as your teacher advised. I adopted the attitude that if I decide to repaint them, they will come out even better. Having this attitude about all your work is very liberating and allows you to focus on constantly improving your art. Turning lemons into lemonade can be very thirst quenching.

  Art will come into the light again by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA  

original painting
by Susan Burns

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!       There are 2 comments for Art will come into the light again by Susan Burns
From: Tatjana — Feb 19, 2013

Wonderful painting!

From: mikki — Feb 21, 2013

What a lovely painting! I looked at the large image and it really shows how free and active the surface is. Great job, Susan!

  Facing the loss by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada  

“Taking notes”
original painting
by Claudio Ghirardo

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). There is 1 comment for Facing the loss by Claudio Ghirardo
From: Carl Kocich — Feb 18, 2013

While in NY City many years ago I foolishly parked my van, containing some of my art on the street instead of in the ,to me, very expensive parking garagenext to the hotel. The next day I came out to find my van broken into and all my tools gone. The art was untouched, Not sure which I felt worse about.

  Taken without permission by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The Victorian”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

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  

“Call and response”
original painting
by Mary Moquin

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. There are 2 comments for They even took the ID tag by Mary Moquin
From: Kelley MacDonaldd — Feb 19, 2013

Mary, at least THIS thief had good taste! Glad you got compensated, though, it’s rough to lose a possible sale.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 19, 2013

The morning sunlight raking across the dust on my laptop screen gave the illusion that your painting had a starry night. Now I have done some housekeeping and see it does not. Even without the stars, it is a beautiful painting. The title makes it thought provoking.

  Would pay a lot of money to get one back by Robert Dvorak, Sacramento, CA, USA  

“Cascades, Yosemite”
oil painting
by Robert Dvorak

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  

“The Honeymooners”
oil painting
by E. Melinda Morrison
Was stolen, now found

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! There is 1 comment for Happy endings can happen by E. Melinda Morrison
From: Barb Alexander — Feb 21, 2013

Yes, sometimes there IS a happy ending! My friend Bonnie Foster had her portrait stolen from her store front. It was a dear possession and she really missed it. Years later, a friend discovered it in a yard sale and returned it. Keep your friends alerted if this happens to you; they can do the reconnaissance!

  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. There are 3 comments for Letting go of completed art by Barbara Ettles Carter
From: Leah — Feb 19, 2013

Very insightful comments, I agree with you completely. I also noticed that people of questionable honesty get most upset when something is stolen from them. People with strong ethics are more philosophical in enduring injustices.

From: Mike Barr — Feb 19, 2013

Professional artists at least should be able to let go of paintings they produce. I know many artists that will not let go of some pieces and some artists don’t let go of any! The real joy of painting is seeing works take on a new life and being enjoyed by someone else on a permanent basis. Hateful theft is when a gallery doesn’t pay an artist for works sold.

From: Anonymous — Feb 20, 2013

And how about those art workshops into which one gets coerced by all possible means? Talking about theft of money, time and good will! It can be so upsetting when you find out that a new “friend” is just a solicitor of the contents of your wallet, or other favors.

  Didn’t feel like an honor by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

oil painting
by Louise Francke

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.   Releasing control by Jackie Irvine, Yukon, NWT, Canada  

“The Dena Cho Trail, Pelly River Yukon”
acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Jackie Irvine

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  

“Balance Book & Case”
mixed media
by Annie Cicale

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. There is 1 comment for Thief steals self-help book by Annie Cicale
From: Jackie Knott — Feb 19, 2013

My beloved late mother-in-law had her Bible stolen from our car. She never went anywhere without it. The margins were filled with decades of observations and applying life lessons to events in her life. She said, “He obviously needed it worse than I did. I’m going to pray for him.” I’m still learning from her example.

  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  

“A Pack of Trouble”
transparent watercolor
by Nancy Fortunato

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.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Theft

From: Mike Barr — Feb 14, 2013

I think the worse form of theft is when a gallery pays an artist slowly or not at all. Recently I found out from a collector that he bought one of my works from a gallery over 12 months ago. I heard nothing from the gallery and when I requested the gallery to look into it, I was informed the gallery had just closed for good. At least when someone steals the work it has perhaps gone to someone who loved the work but couldn’t afford it. I reckon you should be able to add it to your resume. Awards – over 50. Works stolen – 5

From: Jamillah Jennings Ausby — Feb 14, 2013

Ellsworth Ausby was a painter and a professor of painting for over 30 years at The School of Visual Arts. I need an art consultant to advise me on what I can do to move and sell his paintings. Ellsworth Ausby, painter

From: Lois Hansen — Feb 14, 2013

A small painting of mine was stolen in the late 1970s from an Air Force officers club. A few months ago, I Googled myself and found the painting for sale on a Goodwill sales website. I emailed them the story, asked if they knew who had donated the painting, and also told them I did not want it back, but would consider it a donation to them. They did not know who had donated it. I emailed the story to several relatives and friends, and one of them bought it! One other story … In the late 1990s, I sold bread dough Christmas ornaments at an office craft show and trusted a co-worker to pay me later. I moved to a different city before getting paid, sent several invoices, but never was paid. Somehow that rankles me more than the outright theft.

From: Candace Law — Feb 15, 2013

I have not had one of my pieces of art stolen, and can only imagine how upsetting that must be. But another heartache is damage to artwork while in the care of a gallery. Scratches across acrylic, spackle or paint on the frames, surface damage or edges cracked off encaustic work are all too frequent. One encaustic piece of mine, worked on a piece of gypsum board, was cracked top to bottom when it fell to the floor after being improperly hung. This is especially common when the gallery uses volunteers. “It is not our problem” is the usual response. Has anyone else experienced this?

From: Helen Opie — Feb 15, 2013

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, it is well to remember that when we give we (ought to) give without expectation of some sort of reward for it; to do so removes the transaction from giving to paying forward for some unknown but expected reward. Tracy Owen Cullimore’s giving is not related to her having been stolen from. It is a random act of badness. Not taking things personally when they are probably not intended personally is letting one’s ego get in the way of one’s pursuit of one’s life. But the keeping of monies from the craft sale (mentioned above) IS a personal “assault”, and cn only be left behind since no amount of anger will get it back; it will only interfere with our own living of your life to its best and fullest. You don’t have to forgive, don’t have to forget, just re-frame it as why shouldn’t you also fall victim to crime at times? Get on to painting something better. As Socrates (Plato?) said: living well is the best revenge. THAT you have control of! Tough luck and hats off to you for future (and greater) success. I, too, have been stolen from (a large wall quilt) from the Jock Singer Auditorium of the Calgary Performing Arts Centre. I was upset that was it stolen and remembered that it was out of my hands and was no reflection on me as a person. (Of course, I had already been paid for it, so I wasn’t directly affected.)

From: Darla — Feb 15, 2013

I’ve had a piece of mine stolen from a college library, and I was quite angry at the time. I agree with Mike, though, that when a dishonest gallery steals your work that’s worse. I went through the same thing, with prints disappearing from the gallery and they said they’d never had them, paperwork and receipts notwithstanding! That gallery was out of business soon. The artist always gets paid last, and if there’s no money left, too bad. That’s why I don’t trust galleries.

From: Barbara MacDougall — Feb 15, 2013

I had just had a show in a large well-known restaurant/gallery space in Rome, Italy, back in, oh… ’97 or ’98. About 20 of my drawings of various sizes were stacked against a wall for a day or so until I could pick them up. That’s when I discovered the drawing was gone. It still bugs me. On the other hand, it’s kind of flattering that some Italian thought an unknown Canadian’s figure drawing was worth stealing.

From: Consuelo — Feb 15, 2013

And the upside of a theft……(1) knowing that Someone thought it good enough to steal and (2) you can get a lot of free advertising.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 15, 2013

Where are the insurance policies with such theft, or damage? Surely the galleries carry some. Whether it is a public venue, homeowner, or on loan to an organization, if “they” don’t have a policy you should. Most insurance companies can write a limited policy for even one event.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 15, 2013

A theft can cause a shift in your values, at least, a more nuanced view of value. When I lived on the lower east side of NY, some wonderful things of my father were stolen from me, and I remember thinking that, as valuable as they were to me, they were only worth a shot of heroin to the thief. Not all stolen art is even worth that to a thief. Perhaps an image just speaks to their need and says, “Take me, I will make you whole.” In 1978 or so, I left a painting sketch with some things on a beach while I loaded up the rest of the stuff in my car…it was gone when returned…an 8″x12″ acrylic of a child’s toy dinosaur in a pick-up truck in the sand. Someone must have had a very peculiar need! Has anybody seen it?!!

From: susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 15, 2013

Sorry, the sentence toward the end should be, “it was gone when I returned.”

From: Marilyn Smith — Feb 15, 2013

I have had paintings stolen from my car, a gallery owner, and three paintings stolen from the wall of the retirement apts where I live. I made a police report each time. The three paintings that were recently stolen mysteriously showed up in different hallways because I “put word out” that whenever the paintings showed up they would always be listed as stolen. I have also seen my paintings at garage sales and thrift stores. I never take it personally because art is indeed “in the eye of the beholder”. I know that when someone buys artwork in a thrift store they must love the art—–or the frame.

From: Marny Lawton — Feb 15, 2013
From: Betty J. Billups — Feb 15, 2013

I think the only one thing worst than having a “thief” steal an original, behind one’s back…is having another artist wanting a painting, which you give to them, and with the agreement, they will make monthly payments….then, over a year, NEVER HEARING FROM THEM…!??!? I had this happen, and it has taken my “trust” down a few notches…thus far, I doubt I will ever again allow anyone to take an original with the agreement, of monthly payments…but will hold all work, until paid in full…something, that truly hurts my desire to “totally trust”!!!

From: Fred Fletcher — Feb 15, 2013

I had mine stolen and when I saw it next the signature was removed. I said, “Oh thats my painting.” “No it isn’t” she said. I said, “There’s an “F” imprinted into the back,” and we turned it over and there it was. I use one of those letter dies and just tap it with a hammer into the stretcher–not easy to see unless you know what you’re looking for. She said she had bought it at a flea market.

From: Jim Frost — Feb 15, 2013

physical theft of one painting is one thing. how about a much greater crime: unauthorized reproduction – read “theft” (at any scale and in any medium) and reproduced in multiple editions/versions? how can that much more serious theft be addressed by a one man band artist without going broke from legal fees considering a doubtful outcome? any comment/prior experience would be greatly appreciated in your future newsletters (sooner the better).

From: Jim Van Geet — Feb 15, 2013

This reminds of a call I got some years back from one of my galleries. The director phoned and said, ” I have good news and bad news “. I replied ” What’s the bad news? ” and she said ” A thief broke our front window and stole 2 paintings one of which was yours “. “And the good news? ” to which she replied, ” I’m insured so I’ve inadvertently sold your painting. He also cut himself on the glass because there’s blood everywhere.”

From: Mary Simms — Feb 15, 2013

How do you feel about people taking pictures of your work with their phones? I have had many conversations with artists about this and since my husband and I are starting up a small gallery I was wondering what your take is. Should I have a tactfully placed basket for phones or a sign that says no pictures please. In some ways I see it as a way of taking the image in this digital age and possibly recreating it in print, others to remember oh I must come back for this, I am unsure, please advise.

From: Alma H. Bond — Feb 15, 2013

Your column reminds me of an incident that happened to me that my children gleefully remember. I am a psychoanalyst whose office was robbed. The thieves stole everything that wasn’t nailed down, including many statues. The only thing they didn’t take was a figure sculpted by me. I was insulted!

From: Carmen Beecher — Feb 15, 2013
From: Jim Pallas — Feb 15, 2013
From: Debra Katcoff — Feb 15, 2013

I am a high school art teacher and I read with interest your article about stealing. I can’t tell you how many of my students’ works are stolen each year, not to mention my supplies that are either stolen or destroyed. Many students today have no respect for other people’s belongings or their work. It’s scary to think that these are our future leaders.

From: K. Henderson — Feb 15, 2013

I was perplexed about a statement in the ‘Theft ‘ post. “My friend was a shooter and a drinker, and I figured one of his buddies thought the paintings were half decent.” What does Shooting and Drinking have to do with having a Buddy who is a thief? I go target shooting with several of my Gallery Owners and yes, we’ll have a drink together. Am I in danger of having my work stolen from their galleries? Second, I would have pointed out to Tracy that the Gallery is liable for the loss. She may never see the painting again but she should be compensated.

From: Keith Donaldson — Feb 15, 2013

I had my first show in a brand new art center.The security system was not yet installed and the curator asked how I would feel if one of my paintings was stolen. “Very flattered ” I said, “Very flattered”.

From: Margaret Stone — Feb 15, 2013

It was a few years back and I was with a gallery in one of our beach towns. Life was serene. Sales were adequate Then…..someone broke into the gallery during the night. The place was cleaned – computers, cash drawers, gallery furniture, TVs and other electronic equipment. The owner was quite upset, and reasonably so, but not for the reason you would think. He was upset because not one piece of artwork was missing. “Why didn’t the thief take any of the artwork?” he said. “Wasn’t it valuable enough to steal?” We told him it just didn’t have street value but he was not consoled.

From: Barbara — Feb 15, 2013

The story about stolen paintings that gave me a laugh is about a woman who had her paintings hanging in her house along with paintings by other people. Word has it that a thief broke into her house and stole all of the paintings except the ones she painted. Would you go around telling your friends if this happened to you? At least the person who wrote to Robert can get some mileage out of telling people how her painting was stolen from a gallery. Think of it as an investment for PR purposes and spend your emotional efforts on painting some even better ones. That said, maybe she needs a little sympathy from her friends first before she moves on.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Feb 15, 2013

It may appear that you have a touch of rose-glassesgites Robert, but I see your point. It’s a good advice to be philosophical about such losses. I would rather be stolen from than be in any kind of a situation where stealing from others would sound like a good idea. Susan Orman says to firstly take care of people, then money, and lastly things. Paintings feel like our children, but they are not, they are just things. We can make new ones every day!

From: Judith Gilmire — Feb 15, 2013

I read this with interest, as most artists, I too have experienced theft. The most disturbing was seeing my painting recreated (to their best ability), an original abstract( with a multitude of paint layers as it was developed)–and put out for sale by the “person” on an on-line site. This was taken from my website. I still have not protected my website from printing images, as I made the website myself and am hopefully, a better artist than a web designer. This being said, the physical theft off a wall, or the on line image theft, it is part of the world we live here and I will spend my time creating new art versus lamenting. Positive energy seems a better choice for me.

From: Jose DeLaRosa — Feb 15, 2013

I am a little confused by your answer to this letter. In my small gallery in Fairport New York if something is stolen, I make it right with the artist. Meaning the artist gets paid for the piece. I have insurance that covers all the art. I also rotate my art as well as the artist that are in my gallery through several coffee houses and restaurants. I made sure that my insurance covered the art regardless of where the art was be presented. I guess I assumed all gallery owners had similar insurance.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Feb 15, 2013

When I was a fine art potter, several of my top-priced pieces were snatched by a woman as my gallery reps were distracted by her husband. She was caught red-handed, but sued the gallery for slander…and won. Cost the gallery owners a fortune. I never got my pieces back. All because the reps who ran after her accused her in others’ hearing. So waddyagonna do? Run after her silently? So wierd!

From: Kathryn — Feb 16, 2013

Several responses to this post mention that their stolen paintings had ended up in thrift stores, dumpsters, flea shows, but none say they were found on the walls of million dollar homes. Maybe we’d like to comfort ourselves thinking the thief had good taste and it is now hanging in someone’s library, but it’s more likely a pursuit for adventure, drug money, or an easy “lift.” I am aware of one artist’s work being stolen because the people were drunk and thought it was a good fun idea at 1am. Word got out and it was returned. People who steal have no regard for the work involved and lack the awareness that the artist would be out of income and may suffer a financial set back. Also, people who see art as only a hobby or the creation of art coming from a magical place, certainly set the stage for people not taking art seriously as a profession. I think we really have no business telling other artists how to respond. Some people will remain troubled because of a loss and gloss over the situation painting on a happy face, while there are fighters amongst us who are willing to take on the person who refuses to pay up. If your empowered by taking on the bad guy, then go for it! More power to you. Thank you for ignoring the forgive and forget, move on, and don’t expect money for your generous vision to the world types.

From: Russ Hogger — Feb 17, 2013

I’ve had a few of my pieces on paper disappear over the years. What pisses me off the most is, I can always crank out another painting, but frames cost money. I’m sure most artists can relate to that one.

From: Jose DeLaRosa — Feb 17, 2013

I am a little confused by your answer to this letter. In my small gallery in Fairport New York if something is stolen, I make it right with the artist. Meaning the artist gets paid for the piece. I have insurance that covers all the art. I also rotate my art as well as the artist that are in my gallery through several coffee houses and restaurants. I made sure that my insurance covered the art regardless of where the art was be presented. I guess I assumed all gallery owners had similar insurance. Regular reader of your blog. Jose DeLaRosa

From: Robert Regis Dvorak — Feb 17, 2013

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.

From: Steve Kuzma — Feb 17, 2013
From: John Ferrie — Feb 18, 2013

Dear Robert, I feel for this woman. Nobody likes to have something stolen. There are some evil people in this world who, rather than pay for something, just take it. When they do get caught stealing, they say “I only took this one thing”. They rarely admit to a lifetime of theft. But when we put something out there, like hanging in a gallery, we need to grow a thicker skin. This can be in the case of hearing what other people think. 90% of the population won’t like your work. Just because a painting is hanging on the wall, does not mean guaranteed income either. So, don’t go spending the money you think you will be making with the gallery…not until their check clears anyway. If you have to, get insurance for your works when they leave your studio. I had a painting stolen a few years ago and it turned up on Craigslist. When I check, there were SEVEN others there as well. Talk about an all time low! The best thing about being an artist is we can always paint another one. No matter what life throws at you, we should be painting everyday. John Ferrie

From: Greg Pettengill — Feb 18, 2013

Robert, It appears to me that as world population continues to increase, there is going to be less of the Earth’s resources to go around. How do you figure “decency and respect” are quantifiable?

From: AnnieLaurie Burke — Feb 18, 2013

I am sorry to hear your work was stolen. Two of my pieces (sculpture, not paintings) were stolen from a gallery several years ago. I, too, felt violated. I also heard the same condolences from friends — “you should be flattered that, of all the work in the gallery, they only took yours”. The words made me feel twice violated, even though the pieces were not among my best or most costly. I’ve had, as I’m sure most of us have, occasion to gift a piece of art to an admirer who could not afford to buy. I’ts a wonderful feeling — you feel that the work went home with the person for whom you created it, the one who loved it, regardless of their means of reimbursing you as artist. But giving a gift of free will implies a sharing of values, a feeling that you, the artist, have been compensated, perhaps not in currency but perhaps in something even more valuable. A theft, however, diminishes the artist, the work and the “recipient”. The artist is deprived of the chance to connect with the collector, and know that the work was valued, not just taken out of context. The suggestions about insurance are good. Now that I am more experienced, I know this is available.

From: cherie hanson — Feb 18, 2013

One of my smaller pieces was on display in a city building. It was a high traffic area and chained in a complex manner. The staff were very apologetic and surprised. At midnight, I received a phone call offering me the possibility to buy back my work if I met the thief in a designated alley way in the downtown area. Needless to say my response was, “Enjoy the art.” I was impressed with the ability of the thief to free the piece from its security, set up such an appealing plan, and to wildly misunderstand that no matter what the loss in terms of labour, value of the piece no artist would ever be caught buying back their own piece of art in an alleyway.

From: Fay Lee — Feb 18, 2013

Yep, count me among the artists who have had paintings stolen. A gallery that I was in had several places outside the gallery where our paintings were hung and one was a restaurant. The manager of the restaurant let his cousin take a painting of mine and the cousin would send the money later. Not really….. never saw the painting or the money. In another instance, while in a class, one of the students came to where I was painting and was admiring a very small painting that I was doing. When I finished, I laid the painting, still attached to the small block of WC paper on the table. When I started to pack up, the painting wasn’t there. I hope in my heart that I haven’t accused the wrong person all these years. As far as people taking photos of my paintings, I don’t allow it. So, I know that I’m only hurting myself when I get angry about stolen paintings, and I just don’t do that anymore.

From: Laurel — Feb 19, 2013

Artworks is very personal, an we all have every right to feel hurt when stolen from. It’s a loss, and merits anger and grieving. Theft is NEVER a compliment. Thieves are self-focused. The victim isn’t considered. Theft is for greed, personal profit, defiance, or to cause hurt. If caught they’ll have a ready excuse/answer. Typical yard sale, flea mkt, etc. I think perhaps, it would be amusing to publish photos of stolen/missing artwork. When artwork went missing from a college student show awhile back, images were circulated to other art schools in case they were presented at upcoming portfolio interviews. Perhaps we could have a ‘show’ of stolen artworks on this site somewhere. Might be amusing to see what comes of it.

From: Eileen Belanger — Feb 19, 2013

One of my paintings was stolen from a private home along with a lot of their other possessions. They were recovered but the police did not know the owners. The police found me online and called. I had a record with contact information. The items were stolen on Cape Cod but owners lived in Florida. Happily, they were reunited with their possessions.

From: Tish Murphy — Feb 19, 2013

My painting:”Lobster for Dinner” was stolen during an opening reception last summer. While I appreciate that I was compensated, and the comments that I should be flattered that it was selected, the theft still disturbs me. I believe it comes down to the fact that there is a bit of each artist in their paintings. Taking something that does not belong to you is fundamentally not right. I often think of a comment made by a person who was aware of the incident “Do you believe in Karma?”

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Feb 19, 2013

I had 2 incidents of theft early in life; one was when I was 15 and I did a colored pencil of a ski boot, very photorealistic, after we photographed it the original disappeared; the other 17 were book illustrations for a college level zoology book. It discouraged me from trusting my teachers and professors. I took the 2nd incident to the ombudsman of the college and the professor actually lost his position teaching and is now selling cars.

From: Judy Rikley — Feb 19, 2013

I recently saw some of your paintings at JPL (Jasper Park Lodge). There is nothing substandard about any of them. I just wish I could find a budget for one.

From: Denise Elizabeth Stone — Feb 19, 2013

My experience with painting theft involves a very established (25+ years) gallery that went out of business, then claimed not to know what happened to two of my pieces. They told me at first that they had lost their lease, were seeking another space, and would store my paintings with the others until they reopened. When several months went by with no new place, I contacted the owner to retrieve my paintings. He directed me to a vacant storefront where the gallery assistant met me and brought out my paintings. According to both the gallery’s inventory records and my own (which include images), two paintings were missing. The gallery assistant was certain that one had sold before the gallery closed. When I contacted the gallery owner again, his response was “I don’t know what to tell you, we’re out of business and we have no money in our account.” He claimed to have destroyed sales records, and although I pressed him to search for my paintings, he expressed no concern or intention to either compensate me or find the paintings. I’m frustrated and angry, and plan to pursue a small claims court case, but the worst part is that it’s made me very leery about showing my work in galleries! I’d welcome any thoughts.

From: Greg Pettengill — Feb 19, 2013

It appears to me that as world population continues to increase, there is going to be less of the Earth’s resources to go around. How do you figure “decency and respect” are quantifiable?

From: Jose DeLaRosa — Feb 19, 2013

I am a little confused by your answer to this letter. In my small gallery in Fairport New York if something is stolen, I make it right with the artist. Meaning the artist gets paid for the piece. I have insurance that covers all the art. I also rotate my art as well as the artist that are in my gallery through several coffee houses and restaurants. I made sure that my insurance covered the art regardless of where the art was be presented. I guess I assumed all gallery owners had similar insurance.

From: Mailloux, Marie Jeanne — Feb 19, 2013

I can also relate to stolen work. I had three pieces for sale in a gallery- framing shop in TO. I recovered two of those but the third a miniature is still unaccounted for though I have given the proprietors a photo of the piece and have requested it back at least 3 times. I paid them for its framing but unfortunately do not have a photo of it framed. The owners think it may have been pilfered but they are not looking very hard. I do have a copy of the consignment contract signed by both parties but it seems to carry little clout. I’ve thought of invoicing them the amount on the contract but am pretty sure that litigation will go nowhere. I’m very ticked because I really like that piece.

From: Jean Weir — Feb 19, 2013

I have had 14 paintings stolen in the last 2 years. I live in a supposed artist community and they were taken from the walls in the hallway, 13 in the first incident and 1 last year. I would feel so much better if I knew someone was enjoying them rather them being taken as a grudge and in a garbage somewhere. Police were notified but I never discovered the thief. I was fortunate to have insurance on them so I was reimbursed. I suggest anyone showing their art to get a rider onto their property insurance to cover their art. It only costs $ 80. per year.

From: Konkin — Feb 20, 2013

I gather that the petty theft inflicted upon us is karma for all the innocent little thefts we do through life. Office materials, “sampling” in grocery stores, “borrowing” small items from friends and family and never returning them, taking more than our share at parties etc. It all adds up…

From: Nadine C. — Feb 20, 2013

Looking back, of all the thefts I only hold grudge against the thieves of my time. Isn’t that the most precious thing anyway? I am referring to people and entities that engage you for selfish or negligent reasons and before you realize what’s happening, hours, days and even years go by without any value for yourself. It’s useful to ask often – what am I doing here? Is this really what I am supposed to be doing with my life? Pursuing unrecoverable thefts and injustices is after all a waste of lot of time, especially when you know that the matter has no way of resolving to your full satisfaction. If just a grudge is left to drive you, do yourself a favor and turn it off. Make more art – that’s what you are supposed to be doing. Think of all the millions of lawsuits in the world which won’t make anyone’s life better except the lawyer’s. When a few of my galleries went out of business, and we did lot of business before that, I gave each a choice of keeping a piece of mine as a parting gift. In each case the gallery owner had a hard time believing that they are actually being given something at this hardest moment of their business being gone. They were beyond grateful and went out of their way to accommodate me with the closing down logistics. I think that no one is truly good or bad, we just have the responsibility to deal with situations together, and also understand that there is no guarantee that the outcome will be pleasant. It’s all life. Intelligence is our ability to get the best outcome from the circumstances.

From: Sharon — Feb 20, 2013

I am confused by the essay by the anonymous lady. She says that neighbor/student used her images. She says they think they didn’t do anything wrong, but as a result, this teacher isn’t giving any more classes and won’t tell them about it “because they are her neighbors” . Does this make sense to anyone? Aren’t teachers supposed to teach students about this kind of stuff?

From: Deborah Webb — Feb 20, 2013

When I was new as an artist in the public domain, three of my works were stolen – one from a grad student and two from teaching staff at a university, one of which parlayed into a large sum of money for the already prosperous thief. I found this to be such a disturbing action for a person to take against an artist, partly because my work was a tangible extension of my heart, thus person and power, and partly because I assumed everyone involved with artists and in the art field knew and understood that, as creative work can only be done in a safe context (allowing oneself to open is risky business), sensitivity and respect are standards to be held in such high regard that violation would be unthinkable. A person who steals (as well as a person in a position of power who disregards the need to address violation with an eye to maintain a safe/trustful society): · dismisses the value of maintaining and preserving trust – essential to any healthy relationship or organism and critical to its functioning – as insignificant or · doesn’t know what trust is · or has learned to mistrust it and those operating in accordance with it. The impulse to rob another of their possession(s) may appear to be a symptom of a have:have-not society, but the drivers are rarely as simple and straight-forward as the need to fill a physical need or want. Those who take from another feel powerless because they have been made so or believe they are so: taking without asking is a way to get some power (real or representative) without having to risk being denied, ridiculed or despised when they directly approach another and ask for what they want or need. The issue for the artist, then, becomes not one of restoration or retribution, but of resolution of the loss: · of security in established boundaries, · of the possession/object stolen, · of belief in others to desire to ascribe to life-honouring ideals, eg. respect each other’s person and property, · of belief in the social contract: I treat you with respect – you treat me with respect, i.e. I will get what I give, · of identity – how must I adapt to the unfortunate reality that others exist – even members of my own group – who do not order their behavior according to certain core values like I do and would even seek to harm me/others? · of belief in a system that values and upholds justice by addressing the violation and the person defrauded, then addressing restitution. So begins the process of letting go – of anger, pain, malice and/or vengeance, meanness, even the desire to close up tight and never open up again! This leads to three questions: 1. How does an artist let go of anger et al when the violation strikes so close to the heart? 2. What makes a space safe? 3. What promotes and even accelerates healing? I’d be interested to know what others think. Deeae

From: Roxanne Clingman — Feb 22, 2013

for me the key statement in your blog about thievery is: “Our world is transitioning to decency and respect for property.” A reason to celebrate living in this amazing time.

From: Kent Wilkens — Feb 22, 2013

I have two memorable thefts. The first was with me sitting at my booth at a show. I thought it was odd that a guy stood at the edge of my booth for about 5 minutes and watched me.Then he left. I got up and looked around the back side of the booth, and one of my large pieces was missing. I could have gotten angry, but thought to myself, “what higher compliment than to have someone risk fines and imprisonment over one of my works”. The other piece I had done when all the hoopla was on about the “voice of fire” in our national gallery. I am a realist, some would say a high realist, (I actually think its over the edge a tiny bit into the surreal, but what do I know), anyways, I did this small piece which was 4 horizontal stripes, Cerulean at the top, Hookers Green, Yellow Ochre, and Ultramarine Blue at the bottom. I called it “Voice of Tobermory”, put a label on it that said “on loan from the national gallery” and “$4,000,000” I was doing a multi day show, and when I got back the next day it had disappeared overnight, hmmm, this could be fun, news headline “$4,000,000 painting stolen at show”, call the insurance company too.. then I thought some more, maybe, just maybe, the thief has as similar sense of humour to mine. Looked around, yep, there is a nice big blue garbage barrel. Walked over, looked in, sure enough, there was my painting. Laughed about that for a long time.

From: Sky Pape — Feb 27, 2013

As others have noted, a big issue (or lesson learned) here is that artists should always make sure that insurance coverage is brought up as part of any agreement. Typically, the gallery should cover the insurance, but if not, it’s important for the artist to know this so he/she can decide whether to self-insure the work. I had a large piece stolen from a gallery, which smelled like an inside job because the tapes, back when they used tapes, were removed from the video surveillance cameras. It was a hassle to collect from the gallery’s insurance, but they ultimately paid. Since I doubt I’ll ever see the piece again or be able to borrow it for a show, I’m VERY thankful I had it documented before it went out into the world. Another good reminder!

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