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Art stolen from trail

This reproduction of the famous master piece “Talking Oak,” by Victorian-era British artist William Maw Egley, was stolen from the Polly Ann Trail, where it intersects with W. Drahner Rd. in Oxford Township. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
October 05, 2011 - A thief or thieves recently struck the Polly Ann Trail, robbing the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) of a painting and the community of the opportunity to enjoy it.

"It's disappointing that someone wants to ruin it for everybody else," said Michelle Hauske, coordinator of the DIA's Inside/Out project.

A reproduction of the famous masterpiece "Talking Oak," by Victorian-era British artist William Maw Egley was stolen from the trail where it intersects W. Drahner Rd. in Oxford Township. It's believed the painting was stolen sometime over the weekend of Sept. 24-25.

"I'd love to try to find the silver lining," said Robb Leland, proprietor of ArtCapsule Gallery & Frame (5 S. Washington St.). "I'm an optimist, so I always try to think well, what's the good that's come of this? It's hard to say. I guess it shows that someone out there has a real passion for art. That is one way to look at it."

The framed-painting was placed at the trail intersection on wooden posts (which were also stolen) as part of the DIA's Inside/Out project, which is designed to connect with people outside the museum's walls by treating metro Detroit as one big, open air gallery.

To that end, 80 reproductions of famous masterpieces have been placed in outdoor areas in various communities. The original paintings are all part of the DIA's permanent collection.

Five other reproductions are currently hanging in assorted locations around downtown Oxford, while one other painting is located on the trail where it intersects W. Burdick St. They will all be here through the end of November. "The whole point of it is exposure," Hauske said.

Since the Inside/Out program was initiated last year, Hauske said "this is the first time" a painting has been stolen from a community. "People have respected them," Hauske said. "Being outdoors, we knew that it was obviously a possibility."

She noted the stolen painting "was in a location that's not heavily trafficked."

"It's not in the middle of downtown. It was on a bike path," she said. "It wasn't in as visible a place as the other ones are. But that's kind of part of the whole surprise element we're going for – putting them in places that are unexpected."

"We took a risk putting it on the trail," noted Leland, who served as the local liaison for the Inside/Out project and is hosting one of the paintings at his gallery. "Most communities put them all in their downtowns . . . I think Oxford was bold in being one of the few communities who made an attempt to bring the artwork out into the community, beyond the downtown. And then look what happens. It disappears . . . I guess you're safer keeping them downtown where, theoretically, there are more people around to keep their eyes on it."

Hauske's just grateful it was only a reproduction. "It's not like they stole the real thing," Hauske said.

But just because it wasn't the original doesn't mean it wasn't somewhat valuable.

Hauske estimated that between materials, staff time, assembly and installation, the stolen painting cost the DIA approximately $600.

"That one's on the smaller side," she noted. "The bigger they get, the more expensive they get."

When asked if the DIA plans to replace the stolen painting, Hauske replied, "At this time, we're still trying to decide what to do."

"Our budget's pretty limited," she said. "If the print had been damaged, we could take it apart and fix it. But the materials were stolen."

If anyone has any information about the theft, they are asked to please call either the Oakland County Sheriff's Department at (248) 858-4950 or the Michelle Hauske at the DIA. Her number is (313) 833-9786.

"Hopefully, something will turn up," Hauske said. "If not, hopefully, they won't go (after) the rest of the paintings. That's kind of my fear."

Hauske noted she contacted some local pawn shops just in case the thief or thieves tried to sell it.

"So far, I haven't heard anything," she said. "I don't think anybody really thinks it's real and is trying to make money off it. I think it's more like a practical joke kind of thing."

Leland noted if the thief or thieves wants to return the painting to his gallery, he's more than willing to accept it on the DIA's behalf.

"Bring it in, no questions asked and we'll make sure it gets returned," he said.

ArtCapsule is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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