Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Skylight Prelude As Silver Bounces Back

Thieves enter Olympia gallery through skylight, steal artwork

'Unbelievable,' says gallery owner

An Olympia gallery was burglarized either late Friday night or early Saturday morning by thieves who entered through a skylight. The thieves broke the skylight, rappelled into the gallery, and stole two large pieces of art.

Jo Gallaugher, the owner of the gallery, had a hard time believing just how it happened.

“In a way its flattering that burglars would go to so much trouble,” Gallaugher said.

The works were very popular among men in their 20s, said Jo Gallaugher, the owner of Matter Gallery. One was called “Tribute to the Concussed Skier” by Judd Turner and priced at $800. The other was called "Horizons II" by Jerry Williamson and priced at $600. There are far more expensive pieces in the gallery, Gallaugher said.

The thieves took advantage of darkness caused when Gallaugher turned off the gallery’s main breaker to keep melting snow from dripping down through the ceiling and onto the junction box.

"[It was] not until the police were here and actually investigated and found the footprints on the wall and the heat duct that I really believed that's what actually happened," Gallaugher said.

The thieves also attempted to steal a third piece, Gallaugher said, a coat rack fashioned to look like the space needle.

“They carried it to the back door but likely couldn't make the corner to get it out,” Gallaugher wrote in an email to Q13 FOX News.

"To see a piece that you've stolen, I can't imagine that you would feel anything positive from it every time

Man charged in connection with Cambridge University silver theft

Police said the silverware was taken while the college was open to the public

A 37-year-old man has been charged in connection with the theft of silverware from a Cambridge college.

The "very distinctive" altar pieces were stolen from Corpus Christi College chapel on 9 January, while it was open to the public.

The items were retrieved after being taken to a Cambridge antiques centre for valuation.

A man has been charged with handling stolen goods and will appear at Cambridge Magistrates' Court on Friday.

The silverware was returned to the police by antiques dealer Stephen Hunt, after the silverware was brought into his shop to be valued.

He said: "Generally, members of the public do not have religious artefacts and I had an instinct... that this wasn't what we would call 'right'."

Mr Hunt said he purchased the items for "a pittance" before informing the police.

Deputy of the Year Recovered Antique Silver Worth $30K

Sheriff's Deputy Roger Galvin will be honored on Wednesday

Using a map drawn by a jail inmate and suspected thief, deputy sheriff Roger Galvin drove up and down Highway 1 in San Mateo County searching for a box of antiques stolen from a rural Watsonville home last summer.

He found the 20 silver pieces—worth an estimated $30,000—on the side of the road and returned them to their rightful owner. The Zils Road man was so grateful, he pledged to auction off the items and donate the proceeds to charity.

Galvin will get his own reward for the hard work this week when he is awarded the Deputy of the Year honor by Aptos Post 10110 Veterans of Foreign Wars this week.

Every year a deputy is honored with this award for their outstanding work and dedication. This year, five deputies were nominated by supervisors.

Galvin, a 29-year-old who joined the force less than two years ago, was chosen because of his passion and commitment to the public he serves, according to deputy April Skalland, the Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

Skalland, who also works in recruitment for the Sheriff's Office and hired Galvin, said he is very smart and computer savvy. But it was his people skills that earned Galvin praise.

In one incident, elderly woman who had been the victim of financial fraud sent a thank you letter to the Sheriff's Office about Galvin's kind and caring demeanor, Skalland said.

"He actually took her to the bank and he sat down with her while the bank went through all the fraud things and she was really thankful for that," Skalland explained.

The antique theft was another case. A resident on Zils Road, west of Watsonville off San Andreas Road, reported the theft on Aug. 25. He suspected a relative who lived in a trailer elsewhere on the property. Galvin was able to search that man's trailer and found pawn slips from shops in San Francisco, Skalland said.

By then, the suspect was in San Francisco caring for another elderly family member—sparking concern that another theft could occur. Galvin spent time visiting pawn shops in the city looking for the stolen goods, Skalland said.

The case broke when the suspect was arrested for an unrelated incident by Scotts Valley Police and Galvin got permission to question him in jail, Skalland explained.

“He confessed to the whole burglary and there were multiple victims," she said.

The suspect told Galvin he had dumped a box full of items on Highway 1 in San Mateo and drew the deputy a map to the location. Galvin drove up and down the highway until “he finally found a box of over 20 antique pieces," Skalland said.

Galvin will receive his Deputy of the Year award at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

Stolen French artwork to be repatriated

A stolen work by French impressionist Camille Pissarro is going home after 31 years, thanks to sharp-eyed French investigators and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The work, a monotype (an oil painting transferred to paper) of a bustling market scene called “Le Marche,” was taken from the Faure Museum in Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1981, then smuggled into the United States and sold to an art gallery in San Antonio, Texas.

The work is already safely under lock and key at the French Embassy awaiting shipment to France. It was handed over to a French customs official by U.S. Customs officials last week. On Wednesday, a “repatriation” ceremony at the Kreeger Museum will re-enact the handover for the media and invited guests in the presence of the French ambassador, Francois Delattre.

ICE identified the thief as Emile Guelton, saying he “walked out of the [Faure] museum with the work under his jacket.” In 1985, according to records from a recent court case over ownership of the work, he sold “Le Marche” to J. Adelman Antiques and Art Gallery, which in turn sold it to the Sharan Corp for $8,500. The company was dissolved in 1992, and for the next 10 years one of the company’s owners, Sharyl Davis, displayed the Pissarro in her home.

But when Ms. Davis consigned the work to Sotheby's, the New York auction house, to offer “Le Marche” for sale in 2003, French investigators spotted the work in the Sotheby's catalog — valued at $60,000 to $80,000 — which also mentioned Guelton, and alerted ICE.

“We take action when anything is imported contrary to law — that’s our authority,” Randall C. Karch, the Customs officer in charge of tracking stolen art and artifacts, told The Washington Times.

In June 10, ICE instructed the auction house to withdraw the Pissarro from the sale and declared the work forfeit. Ms. Davis fought hard through the courts to maintain ownership. She brought suit to challenge the French efforts to recover the Pissarro, claiming that she was “an innocent owner” in ignorance of the fact that the picture had been stolen. But a federal jury rejected her arguments, ruling instead that “Le Marche” should be returned to the French museum under the National Stolen Property Act.

An appeals court upheld the sentence on June 3, 2011, and Wednesday Mr. Karch handed the painting to Francois Richard, the French Customs attache at the Washington embassy.

ICE chose the Kreeger Museum as the venue for the repatriation, following its practice of choosing a museum setting when possible. “It’s a small work from a small museum in France, and we’re a small museum, so the choice is appropriate,” said museum director Judy Greenberg.

For ICE the repatriation was all in a day’s work — a week’s work at any rate. The Homeland Security department charged with recovering stolen fine art and artifacts holds as many as three such ceremonies a week. Its list of recent recoveries includes Peruvian human skulls dating from AD 640-890 that had been brought into this country hidden in pottery and a Paul Klee painting recovered in Canada and returned to a museum in Germany.

“We used to recover mostly artifacts, but in the past three or four years stolen art works are becoming more numerous,” said Mr. Karch, a former anti-narcotics Customs agent who was reassigned to tracking down paintings a couple of years ago.

“It’s a growing area,” he said. “There’s a growing awareness of these crimes.”

Melbourne museum reports stolen painting, 12 years after it went missing

The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, one of Australia's leading art galleries, has reported the theft of a painting by British landscape artist Richard Parkes Bonington – 12 years after it went missing.

The country's oldest art gallery has spent more than a decade searching for the oil painting, Low Tide at Boulogne, which is valued at £130,000. But it was not declared stolen because the gallery thought the piece may have been accidentally misplaced and did not want to falsely accuse a staff member or removalist.

Low Tide at Boulogne by Richard Parkes Bonington

The piece, which is unsigned and undated, is believed to have been painted in 1824. It was given to the gallery early last century and is believed to have gone missing in 1999, when the gallery’s 65,000 works were temporarily relocated during renovations. The theft, reported to the Victorian Government last year, came to light after a recent freedom-of-information request by the state opposition.

A report by the gallery said its council of trustees was informed in February 2003 that "in all likelihood, the Bonington work was missing".

Police were reportedly alerted that the painting was missing in 2004.

Meanwhile, the gallery decided to do a stocktake to see if it could locate the painting – a process which took eight years.

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Finally, last year, the painting was declared stolen and placed on the International Art Loss Register.

Subsequently, the gallery director, Dr Gerard Vaughan, informed the Victorian government that "a painting in the state collection, previously considered misplaced, is now suspected to have been stolen." "In all likelihood, this painting is no longer in our possession," he wrote.

Bonington, who died of tuberculosis at age 25, lived for a long time in France and is regarded as a seminal figure in the development of European modernism.

Still, as an Australian art academic noted, the missing piece was hardly iconic and may have been easy for gallery visitors to miss.

"If you have an absolute passion for romantic French landscapes, you could be quite upset not to see this work," said Sasha Grishin, a professor of art history at the Australian National University.

"But for a normal gallery goer, even for a person who is quite passionate about the [National Gallery of Victoria] collection, it's not something that's going to strike you as a major icon missing."

Thieves seeking silver, brass and lead prey on churches

Open door policy at places of worship under threat as antiquities and memorials are taken to sell for scrap.

With its cottages of honey-coloured stone and 12th-century church, Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire could be the archetypal unspoilt English village. Here the Thames is barely a stream, and the pace of life runs as slowly as the river's waters.

So parishioners at Holy Cross church thought nothing of hauling their 19th-century brass lectern out of storage to give it a bit of a show. No matter that the church was unlocked and unsupervised during the day.

But one Sunday morning last September, they had a nasty surprise. "Somebody said, 'Where's the lectern?' and it had gone," says Peter Tuck, lay minister.

News this month that the item had been spotted in Romania, at an antiques fair, was an even greater shock. Gaye Horrell, treasurer at the church, expressed amazement that it had not been melted down, and Wiltshire police initially thought the email informing them of the find – from a curious local who had noticed the inscription referred to Ashton Keynes – was a spoof.

The local force is now confident of getting it back, but Tuck is cautious. "The local police have been speaking to Interpol but we've no idea if they still know where it is, whether they've got hold of it or whether it's been sold."

The lectern, an exuberant, gothic-revival imitation of a type common in medieval churches, takes the shape of an eagle standing on a golden orb. The eagle refers to Saint John the Evangelist and is said to symbolise the heights to which he rises in the first chapter of his gospel. Experts suggest it could make up to £3,000 if sold as an antique, though it might take many months to find a buyer.

While this bit of church kit appears to have escaped the scrapyard, the high price of metals is the main factor in the flurry of recent thefts. Artefacts used in services or to adorn altars can be just as tempting as lead roofs and gutters. The Ecclesiastical insurance company has seen the number of metal theft claims by churches increase from 1,700 in 2010 to more than 2,600 last year.

Manchester Cathedral's busy urban setting couldn't be more different from that of Holy Cross, but it faces a similar threat. On 13 January, someone walked into the medieval building on Victoria Street in the city centre and took a silver altar cross.

Elegantly designed in 1957 and donated to the cathedral by the Mothers' Union, it had adorned its lady chapel for decades. "The cathedral is open to the public every day," says the dean, Rogers Govender. "We do not charge an entry fee, and of course the place is vulnerable."

For Govender and his congregation, the value of such objects goes far beyond what they might fetch for scrap. "I feel really saddened that a house of God is not respected, that somebody could steal from it – and especially steal a cross which is the central symbol of our faith."

Anne Sloman, chair of the Church Buildings Council, said stolen silver was likely to be melted down. "That would be the worry – that the value of the solid silver is worth more than the artefact."

She and her colleagues have been lobbying for better regulation of scrap merchants, particularly when it comes to cash payments for metal, which many see as the root of the problem.

The recent spate of thefts, brazen in more ways than one, has left churchwardens everywhere facing a dilemma. "A lot of country churches do lock – but we feel it's very important the church is kept open," says Tuck in Ashton Keynes. "There's a churchyard that's still used and families come up to visit the graves. The church is there if they want to pop in for 10 minutes."

St Mary's Church, Bishopsbourne, nestled in the gently rolling Kent countryside, looks even less likely than Holy Cross to make the news for anything other than its well-kept hedgerows. "Even though it's a country church it's a bit grand," says the priest-in-charge, Stephen Hardy. "In Victorian times it had quite a makeover, including tiles by William Morris and an Edward Burne-Jones window. That's when the pieces came." He is talking about two large candlesticks covered in semi-precious stones, a 60cm (2ft) high altar cross, a church plate, a bookrest, five small vases and a small candlestick, all made of brass. They all disappeared just after Christmas. Churchwarden Gill Applin made the discovery while tidying up in the church. Hardy believes that by climbing up on to the organ, thieves were able to make their way over a screen into the vestry, where the brasses were kept.

"It was quite a shock," says Hardy. "As a young girl guide, Gill used to clean these things and now she's in her sixties. They're very much part of the family, you know." Three people were arrested in connection with the case, but the items have not been recovered.

Such stories are repeated up and down the country. St Michael with St Bartholomew Church in Great Lever, Bolton, lost brass crosses and silver chalices in a raid last year. More recently at the Catholic church of St Joseph in Sheringham, Norfolk, thieves took the bronze "corpus" of Christ from a crucifix above a grave.

In Lewisham, south London, a bronze memorial to soldiers who died in the first world war was taken from the porch of St Mary the Virgin. A couple were caught on CCTV wheeling it in a shopping trolley and convicted of theft but the memorial is still missing.

"We've got no intention of locking the church here in Bishopsbourne," says a defiant Hardy. "We don't want to go down that sort of route. Churches are spaces that people do like to go into whether or not they're of great Christian faith. People like the quiet of a church, as a place to pray and reflect.

"Obviously we'd want to take measures to make access to the vestry even harder. But we'll manage. The other week a parishioner brought in two candlesticks she had at home to use on the altar and we put up a wooden cross."

Curbs on scrap metal dealers to be announced to stop theft epidemic

Scrap dealers are to be banned from accepting cash payments to stop the "epidemic" of metal thefts, ministers will announce this week.

Scrap metal dealers 'fuelling theft through no-questions asked' industry
Metal theft is estimated to cost the economy £770 million every year as thieves target the transport system, public buildings such as schools and hospitals, and places of worship Photo: ALAMY

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will ban cash transactions and and introduce unlimited fines for people caught trading stolen scrap metal.

Ministers have agreed to act after public outrage at the activities of criminals who have pillaged churches, stripped war memorials, stolen valuable sculptures, plunged villages into darkness and wrought havoc on the rail industry.

Metal theft is estimated to cost the country £1 billion a year, with more than 1,000 offences taking place every week.

The ban on cash trading will be implemented by a new clause in the Legal Aid Bill, which is currently before MPs.

In addition the Government is also ready to scrap the £1,000 limit on fines for trading stolen scrap metal. Both measures are expected to come into force by April.

The announcement falls short, however, of proposals by Graham Jones, the Labour MP for Hyndburn, who called for anyone selling scrap metal to provide proof of identity.

Last week the Government refused to sign up to a Private Members Bill drawn up by Mr Jones, leading to accusations that the Government was dragging its feet on the issue.

There had also been some resistance to curbs within Whitehall with the Department for Business understood to be wary about adding to “the burden of red tape”.

However such doubts have now been settled much to the relief of those who have suffered worst at the hands of the thieves.

“We have said for a long time that the single most effective step in combating this would be to ending or at least regulating cash trading in scrap,” said a Church of England spokesman.

“If the criminal justice system could also have an effective deterrent, then that would also be something that we welcome.’

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Passengers and businesses that rely on the railway will be delighted at any tough measures to tackle cable theft on the railway.

“We have long maintained that the most effective way to significantly reduce metal crime is to take away the illegal market and that more robust legislation and police powers are needed to achieve that.”

A spokesman for the Energy Networks Association, which suffers 20 attacks a day, called for stronger measures.

“Were a cashless system to be introduced it would deal a significant blow to criminals disposing of their illegal scrap and unlimited fines would certainly add a further deterrent.

“However, we need a full package of measures and we urge Government to propose additional steps to protect our infrastructure and heritage as part of the next Parliament.”

A spokesman for the British Metals Recycling Association endorsed the principle of unlimited fines.

“We believe fines should reflect the damage caused by the theft not just the value of the metal which has been stolen”

But the prospect of banning cash trading still caused the Association concerns. “We are not against banning cash trading, but at the moment all that will happen is that a lot of the trade will just go to unlicensed yards, which are outside the system.

“Let’s get those illegal yards shut down first and then we can look at cashless trading.”

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