Fairbanks gallery owners keep an eye out for thieves

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A pilfering patron of the arts has been making opening nights at the Well Street Art Co. expensive events for gallery owner and artist David Mollett.

In the past four months, three pieces of art have been stolen during Friday night art openings.

The most recent and most expensive item lifted, a Fred Machetanz lithograph print titled ''The Hunt'' and valued at $3,400, was filched within the first half hour of an opening reception last Friday.

In December, a Rik Seeganna soapstone carving, weighing approximately 6 to 8 pounds with a $350 retail value, was stolen right off the gallery counter.

''I had just bought it from Rik a couple hours earlier,'' Mollett told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The thefts started in October when an oval, aqua-blue ceramic plate about 20 inches in length worth $70 disappeared from the gallery during a First Friday reception.

First Friday art openings are held on the first Friday of each month at six Fairbanks galleries from 5-8 p.m. The openings allow art appreciators the opportunity to view a wide selection of are produced locally and elsewhere around the state.

The art thief or thieves have put a damper on the Well Street openings, which entail a lot of preparation and feature refreshments and sometimes live music, Mollett said.

The Machetanz print was purloined within the first half hour of the opening before the gallery was very crowded, he said. Well Street Art Co. is located in the Phillips Field industrial area.

The black and white print is a portrait of Robert Mayokok throwing a spear. Mounted on cream matte and encased in a 16- by 20-inch black metal frame, the print was hanging just outside the door of the main gallery.

''You could see it from the counter,'' Mollett said. ''These are very brazen thefts.''

The Machetanz theft is also expensive, since Mollett was selling the lithograph for someone else.

Mollett is in the process of making a list of who was in the gallery during those first 30 minutes.

''We're suspicious of a particular individual,'' he said.

In his nine years as a gallery owner, Mollett said he has had very little trouble with theft, much less a rash of thefts such as these.

The gallery owner is alerting all the other art galleries in the state, monitoring eBay and reporting the theft to a national stolen art database.

Mollet said he plans to increase security.

Several other galleries have experienced thefts as well.

Gloria Fischer, owner of The Artworks, a fine arts and crafts gallery, said a carved wood wall hanging, titled, ''The Bird'' by Eskimo artist Ron Senungetuk was stolen in February 2000 when an exhibit of his work was in progress. The $900 shamanistic-style piece was never recovered.

June Rogers, the director of the Bear Gallery is thankful for the alarms, docents and security guards in the Civic Center building at Alaskaland.

Only once has there been theft during a show, she said. A print by Anchorage photographer Hal Gage was stolen. Afterward, Rogers said, they learned that Gage has had a photograph stolen in every community in Alaska where he has exhibited.

Longtime gallery owner, Jinx Whittaker of New Horizons, said she has never had a theft during an art show opening, ''but we have lost lots of valuable items over the years.''

One of the most notable disappearances was a 3 1/2-foot-long scrimshawed walrus tusk, weighing approximately 45 pounds.

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