A Story of Art Thievery and the difference between a Painting and An Image

A Story of Art Thievery and the difference between a Painting and An Image

Published On: 06-06-2012 04:50pm

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About two weeks ago, I got a weird message thru ArtFire. It was a person saying she had "found" one of my older paintings and wanted to know if I could give her some info on it.

She sent me this image of it 

Yes this is one of my paintings, and this is a stolen painting. Now, this nice lady was not the person who originally stole it. And it was not stolen from me. But I had a hard time explaining to her that I had no legal claim on the work, so , no, she did not need to return it to me.

Here's the story as I told it to her

"It wasn't stolen from me. The piece you have there is an Acrylic work of mine called "Ken's Cricket Equipment" I'd have to actually look at it to make sure it is the original and not a canvas print, but from the image I would have to say, it looks like it's probably the original

After I completed that work, I donated it to the KTEH-TV Foundation on-air art auction. This is a local PBS station, and they used the proceeds from the auction to help offset the funding issues that PBS is always beset by. Along with three other works (if I am recalling correctly). I believe I donated it the same year it was finished or possibly the following year. When I donated it was a complete donation, meaning they now owned the piece to auction off to benefit the station, and I owned a tax write off for donating to a non profit, and retain the publishing rights.  So basically they owned the painting, not the image.

One of the employees of the station took a liking to it and "hid" it on the premises during the auction. (I know who this employee is, and that's not really important, since the station is also aware and since the painting belonged to them at that point it became their concern)

After the auction this employee feigned "finding it" and hung it in their office. The station decided, since they owned it, and it was still on the premises it didn't really matter that the employee had tucked it away somewhere, and used it to decorate his office with.

The station then decided to use it for set decoration when filming the interstitials for "Mystery!" (their local host would stand on a set made to look like a British manor house's study and film intros for the segments of the "Mystery!" program) So not only was the work stolen, but it was on tv every week after that...lol.

At some point about 7 years ago the employee who had "stolen" it was laid off when the station was bought out by a competing PBS station, KQED in San Francisco, during the merger, a lot of people got let go because someone was already doing the jobs, so whichever employee who held that job and had the most experience was kept and the other was let go, and this employee had one of those jobs. After that I never knew what happened to that painting.

I just looked it up and the Donation value was on the tax receipt as $750.00 US, meaning this is the value they used to calculate the starting bid, and how much I was able to claim as a charitable donation. Today a work of about that size and medium, with a frame, would be about 1500.00 to commission from me and about 100$ to get it framed.

How did you happen to come by it?
I assume technically it became the property of KQED when they bought KTEH. So I would be interested to hear how it came to you. Since I don't know where its' story winds after I lost track of it.

As far as I know, KTEH never considered it "stolen" because it did not leave the building. (although I do not know if the employee in question left it in the building after they were laid off). So I do not believe there is a reward or anything for having found it."

She responded to tell me that someone she knew had been charged with "cleaning out a business" and had taken it from the business cause he liked it and thought she would too and gave it to her. Further questioning on that point from me proved unfruitful, like what business, was it a situation where the owner told him he could take it... things like that she seemed to not have answers for. And after I managed to make clear to her that the last I knew KQED owned it,  and I had no claim on the work and in fact did not want it back.

I think she was more interested in getting a value for it or a reward she seemed interested in selling it or getting money for it somehow, but when she realized it was stolen wanted to give it back, I told her if she could find a buyer she could sell it if she was sure it was given to her friend by KQED, since it was legally her property, then. Otherwise she would have to contact KQED and see if they wanted it back, but that I doubted there would be a reward or anything.

Once again I stressed that I knew nothing about the chain of ownership past when the guilty employee got laid off, so I really could not tell her for sure who owned it, and therefore who she should be contacting to verify ownership, but any further detail of exactly how it came to her was not forthcoming. as a matter of fact she thanked me for my help in a very final way, complimented the piece, yet made it clear she was done talking to me (it was polite, yet firm)

So I think, this painting has now been stolen twice. lol.

Do I care? Not really, I donated it I got my tax  write off for a charitable donation, I, in effect, said my "goodbyes" to it years ago. The finished painting does not belong to me. The image does, and honestly the only thing that got stolen, technically from me, was the image when KTEH used it on tv without my permission, which I would have given anyway. But the actual physical painting does not belong to me anymore.

So at best, I am finding this an amusing story of art thievery, and at worst, a little annoyed that I had to see it again and deal with it (I don't care for it, not because I think it's not a good painting but because of some sentimental reasons I associate with it that are no longer pleasant for me to think on)

I did have a moment of temptation to ask her to bring it back so I could get a good picture of it, and sell the image as prints, but honestly it really didn't seem worth it.

So that is the story of the stolen painting...so far.

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