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Brazen thieves carry off sculptures | No one sees large art pieces ripped from concrete bases at park, hauled away

Several art pieces were stolen recently from the I-90 Outdoor Sculpture Park on Mercer Island. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Several art pieces were stolen recently from the I-90 Outdoor Sculpture Park on Mercer Island.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Nearly $60,000 of artwork was stolen or damaged from the Mercer Island Sculpture Park last week, leaving the landscape with amputated remnants.

According to the Mercer Island police report, four sculptures were stolen from the park, located along the Sunset Highway, between noon on Jan. 16 and 8:11 a.m. the next day. A fifth work of art was vandalized. There were 20 installations to begin with.

“This news was shocking to us,” said Mercer Island City Attorney Katie Knight. “They’re very large pieces. To be so brazen to take them is amazing.”

Three of the public sculptures — a concrete, glass and metal piece — were created by artist Larry McLaughlin and are for sale. The thieves stripped the sculptures from their bases. A fourth installation, called “Island Poles,” was purchased by Island citizens as a gift to the city in 2008. The three wood-carved poles by Steven Jensen cost $4,000 each. A fifth piece, a concrete statue called “femme,” was left damaged.

So far, Mercer Island police have little to go on, but they are not the only ones on the hunt. Mercer Island resident Margaret Minnick was so appalled by the news that she has taken matters into her own hands. An art appraiser by profession, Minnick knew of a few ways to potentially get ahead of the thieves.

“I took pictures of the items and forwarded them to all art appraisers in the Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Appraisers,” she said. “That might be a good way of catching the thief. Often, people will have a piece of art they shouldn’t have and call an appraiser to get an estimated value.”

Minnick also informed Amber Britton, the city’s arts and cultural events coordinator, about the Art Loss Register, a Web site that lists stolen art in an effort to prevent illegal activity. The site is serviced by the public, professionals in the art field, government authorities and law enforcement agencies.

According to Mercer Island police detective Pete Erickson, there is a good chance that the thief will try to resell the stolen art.

“The reselling of stolen property is quite easy these days. You’ve got e-bay and Craigslist; there are quite a few places out there where it can be illegally sold,” he said.

Yet Minnick disagrees. In her experience — especially if art appraisers are aware the items are stolen — a crook has little chance of cashing in on the art.

“The thieves will be in for a big shock to see what they get for these pieces. If they’re lucky, they’ll get 10 percent of the retail price, which was listed on most of the art,” she said, adding that there is also a chance they will get caught. “If any honest person knew these items were stolen, they wouldn’t buy them.”

Motivated by the best of intentions, Minnick hopes her efforts will, at least, prevent the Sculpture Park thieves from profiting off their crime. The Island resident, a former member of the Mercer Island Arts Council and college art teacher, carries a special fondness for the Island’s only sculpture park.

“It’s a wonderful amenity to have an Island sculpture garden. The artists don’t get paid to have their art out there. To have this kind of generosity be rewarded with vandalism and theft — well, it totally pisses me off,” she said.

Minnick will continue to pursue the stolen pieces. Since her profession requires her to check online art databases daily, the appraiser sees little bother in keeping an eye out for Mercer Island’s stolen treasures.

“Since this is kind of my profession, it’s pretty easy to become proactive. It’s also my city, and I care,” she said.

There is always the chance that the art will be found and the thief, or thieves, will be tried. The value of justice, of course, is priceless.

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