Sunday, April 15, 2012

ESSAY: Recent Art Thefts in Vermont

This article by Alice Eckles about a recent rash of art thefts first appeared on her blog. We are reprinting it here, and want to draw your attention to a $100 reward for information leading to recovery of Kerry O. Furlani’s piece, Attachment. If you have information, please call David Clark at the Ilsley Library, 388-4095. You can see more of Kerry O. Furlani’s work on her website . -- Ed.

Detective Alice on the Case of the Stolen Art

By Alice Eckles

A sculpture was reported stolen from the Middlebury's Ilsley Public Library on February 29th, 2012. Alice knew the artist from the farmers market and she had been admiring the exhibit at the library, which she frequents a few times every week. The exhibit was Words to Stone, by stone carver Kerry O. Furlani. As a visual artist turned writer, Alice was very interested in this exhibit. The carved words seemed to find the stones, as if falling there in conversation, naturally finding forms that fit them.

Alice was there when Furlani came to take down her show on February 29. They soon became friends. Alice got into the elevator with Furlani to keep talking and to see if she could be any help unloading the stones, when David Clark, the director of the Ilsley Library, slipped into the elevator too. That's when Alice learned of the theft. David Clark asked Furlani how much the piece was priced at and she said $1,200. He offered to see if the loss could possibly go under the library's insurance, but that seemed doubtful. He was surprised that the piece was worth so much, and sorry that Furlani didn't have her own insurance. Alice continued talking to Furlani outside the library and began to feel that there was a story here that she wanted to tell, and told Furlani so.

Over the email Alice arranged an interview time for Sunday March 25. In the meantime thinking about the situation and what could be done Alice's thoughts went to a time when she lived in Burlington and her windshield was smashed. Broken windshield, Oh well yet another set back…then she thought it might be a good idea to report it to police, who knows maybe this was happening to others and the police should know about it. At the police station Alice saw a poster proclaiming that anyone who has had a windshield smashed should call this number for the Burlington Community Justice Center.

Through this program her windshield was replaced at no cost, and Alice realized that though she hadn't thought about it before: the vandalism did make her feel bad about the community. She was new in town and the smashed windshield was further alienating. Then the fact that someone, a community organization, did something to help her lifted the bad impression the vandalism had made and was an act of healing for Alice in the community. She was very impressed by the subtle power of the good deed done for her, and now she wanted to pass on that healing.

Now the trust of her Middlebury community was hurt by a theft of an artist's work at the Ilsley Public library. When an artist shows work in public, especially at a library, it is a public service. The artist most often does not walk away with profits from such events, and sometimes there is a loss.

While there is no Community Justice Center in Middlebury there is Addison County Court Diversion and Community Justice Projects. Alice hopes to start volunteer work there soon. The program is different than the Burlington one as it focuses more on the offenders who are sent there by a judge. Nonetheless the program seems positive. The volunteers meet with offenders to talk about what happened and see if they can develop a contract that will allow the one who has broken the law to make up for what has happened.

The Ilsley Library has put up a reward for the return of Furlani's piece, Attachment (at right), a bas-relief on slate measuring 17" ½" X 11"1/2" X ½". Alice is planning a benefit to raise money to help compensate artists who have had artwork stolen; there have been several other art thefts shortly after this one. On March 17 two paintings disappeared from the Chaffee Art Center, then late Friday afternoon, March 23, a sculpture was discovered missing. On March 28 these were returned by the person who stole them with a note of apology. Artisan's Gallery was hit twice with art thefts on March 3 and again sometime between March 12 and 15. These pieces including stained glass by Elga Gemst, felted pieces by Neysa Russo and glass sculptures by Melonie Leppla have not been returned.

What follows is an interview of Alice's conversation with Furlani. They talked for about five hours laughing like the guys from Car Talk the whole time; this is what happens when artists commiserate.

Alice Eckles: What so you think of the irony of a piece titled Attachment going missing? Do you muse on the possible meanings of that? We talked about your Buddhist philosophy outside the library that day, and the whole thing of letting go of your losses.

Kerry Furlani: hmm…that's a big one, that's so big. In regards to that particular piece it was the only piece in the Words to Stone exhibit that didn't have any lettering in it. It's an older piece that has been very popular. I put it in as eye candy. People seem to like it so much I made an edition of them. They are all a little different of course because I carve each one, but they are all based on the same drawing. So in that sense I was ready to let go, I was less attached to that piece. You take a risk when you put your art out there and I had decided to take that risk. I want to have my art out in the community.

AE: What does the loss of this sculpture mean to you in terms of the business of art?

KF: Well as I said it was a popular piece and I could have sold it for $1,200, so that's a loss. It took me three days of work to carve it.

AE: …and to get to the point where you can carve a piece like that, I know is also an investment…

KF: Yes, the tools aren't cheap, the chisels and the mallets all cost money, studio rent, the relationships you build up over time with the quarries where you can get the stone, and then there's the years of training, some of it self taught. In Dublin, I spent two years experimenting on my own with primarily wax forms and after moved to England to attend The Frink School of Figurative Sculpture. It was a small school focused on capturing the "spirit of the human figure." The school emphasized "hands on" techniques of sculpture (clay modeling, plaster carving and mold making, stone carving, welding) as well as rigorous training in life drawing and clay portraiture. There was also some critique and feedback from visiting and practicing professional sculptors. Of all the materials I experimented with, it was stone carving that captured my attention most. I love working with clay and the techniques of modeling -- but the process of carving seemed so well suited to my temperament. I love music and rhythm and carving with chisels and mallets is a very beautiful rhythmic act. I love the quality in stone carving of having material in front of you as a starting point. Stone has a kind of embodied spirit about is very attractive to me. I have a special fondness for carving fragments of stones versus perfect cubes. I love responding to the character in fragments and enjoy how they ignite my imagination.

AE: Has anything like this ever happened to you before and is there anything you would do differently in the future to prevent thefts?

KF: Well I looked into insurance just before this exhibit, it costs $600, I don't know. I have had tools stolen at craft fairs. It's hard when it is just you in your booth trying to talk to people, giving a demo and trying to keep an eye on everything. Once I caught someone as they were making off with a bag of my tools, I ran after him and when I caught him just stuck out my hand for the tools, which he handed back. So I've learned that you have to keep a very close eye on things even while trying to talk to people, be pleasant, and represent your art. This won't stop me though, there is a risk you take with placing your art in public. I will keep putting my work out there.

AE: Why did you choose the library for your exhibit? Some galleries, I checked with Edgewater in Middlebury for instance, would have had you covered, unlike the library, and libraries are changing. There is not always a librarian available and watching all that goes on. Fletcher Free Library does not allow small sculptures except under lock and key, because of past thefts.

KF: More and more I notice galleries are asking the artist to be responsible for this, and I wanted to reach everyone in the community not just art lovers and gallery goers. Since my subject was words and letters as images and objects themselves it seemed appropriate for a library, a place where culture and community can come together.

AE: I see from your Works in Stone artist statement that the Vermont Arts Council helped fund your travel to Wales. Showing at a library probably helps fulfill their guidelines for funded art creation to benefit as many people as possible.

KF: Well that's true too.

AE: How can the community come together to mitigate this loss, to show support for artists generally and also specifically artists like you who are victims of a crime?

KF: Well that's what this is, meeting you becoming friends, something good coming out of the bad. I fantasized that the community would come together in some way to help, and if you want to do a benefit I'll show up and do whatever. You mentioned the idea of a sort of green drinks for artists, a monthly gathering for artists to network and problem solve together, and that might be a good idea.

At first Alice thought the theft of Furlani's work was a single unlikely rare event, then after the other art thefts were reported in the Rutland Herald of items stolen from The Chaffee Art Center in Rutland and the Artisan's Gallery in Waitsfield, it started to seem like a rash of thefts.

Both galleries offered some compensation to artists for the stolen work not because it was necessarily covered by insurance but because it seemed like the right thing to do. Some artists refused money though feeling like it was their responsibility.

March 22 in the Addison Independent a headline reads: Antique thefts traced to Ferrisburgh. Art and antiques are often sold together. If not connected even the fact that an art theft happens more than in a blue moon here in Vermont is news to be alert to.

Art is so personal that as artists we just tend to say, "oh well" when something gets stolen. Lori Klien a partner at Artisan's Gallery, and also a jewelry artist with work in the gallery didn't report one of her own pieces missing. Perhaps stolen art should be treated more like other stolen property, sending out emails with pictures of the stolen art to dealers and registering stolen art online, sites like or might be a good idea. In Vermont we like to just trust people but it may be wise to take a few precautions, security cameras, more people in the shop watching, bag checks - all these are things to think about, as well as what we can do in the community to help victims of crime and to heal our trust in community through talking, good deeds, and friendship.

Anyone interested in being a part of the benefit at the Ilsley Library, May 11, to raise money for Furlani's stolen art, or in developing a regular gathering of artists in every discipline to problem solve and support each other in healing and activating their community and the larger community, may contact Alice at Thank you.

Update: Police report from The Addison Independent, April 5, states: "Investigated the reported theft of two paintings from Edgewater Gallery on Mill Street on March 20. Store officials said the stolen paintings included a still-life and a landscape at a combined total of $650. Gallery officials suspect the paintings were lifted from the gallery and there were no signs of a break-in."

Images: Never Cut What You Can Untie
Attachment, by Kerry O. Furlani a bas-relief on slate measuring 17” ½” X 11”1/2” X ½” Stolen form the Ilsley Library. $100 reward for information leading to recovery of this artwork. Call David Clark, Ilsley Library, 388-4095.