Stolen art mysteriously reappears in New Hope

Posted: March 02, 2012

A $4,000 sculpture and two $400 paintings are back on display in a New Hope art gallery, returned mysteriously two years after they were stolen.

"I don't know who returned them or why," Ricky Godinez, co-owner of the Sidetracks Art Gallery, said Friday about the Dream World sculpture and two male nude paintings. "It was the day after Ash Wednesday - maybe he gave up stealing for Lent. Maybe he's dying and wanted to return it, or maybe he's going through an AA program."

All Godinez knows for sure is that a duct-taped, unmarked box that was left for him at the El Taco Loco restaurant next door contained the 11-inch-by-5-inch sculpture and the paintings.

"I just missed him by five minutes," Godinez said about the mystery man. "I don't know how I would have reacted."

The sculpture was wrapped in purple gift paper, Godinez said. He was thrilled with his find, then noticed the two small paintings, also wrapped in the purple paper. Godinez and co-owner Paul Murphy hadn't realized one of the paintings was missing, Godinez said, because they routinely swap pieces with artists.

New Hope police "processed" the box and returned the artwork to the gallery, Sgt. John Goss said. They do not have any leads, he said. "It is a two-year-old case."

On Feb. 13, 2010, Murphy was setting up the gallery for a show opening that Saturday night, Godinez said. With customers in the tiny gallery, Murphy went into a back room.

As Godinez arrived at the gallery on Stockton Avenue near Bridge Street, a man in a long trench coat walked out carrying several bags, Godinez said.

With the excitement of the show, the gallery owners didn't realize the sculpture had been stolen for two days, then called police. Their insurance company paid the sculptor, Andre Gomes, $2,000 - his share if the piece had been sold - Godinez said.

"It cost us $500 for the deductible," he said.

The paintings by McWillie Chambers of New York were never reported to the insurance company, the gallery owner said.

Dream World is one of artist Andre Gomes' best pieces, Godinez said. The soapstone sculpture depicts a Brazilian cityscape with steps and ladders, highlighted with semiprecious gems and carved figures.

Sidetracks is the only gallery that sells Gomes' works, displaying about 40 carvings and paintings by the self-taught artist, who was born in Brazil and lives in Hilltown, N.J., Godinez said.

"He walked in off the street with bags of wood carvings of intricate scenes and said, 'I don't know if you'd want these in your gallery,' " Godinez said. "Yes, we wanted them."

The sculpture had been on display about a year when it was stolen. Gomes "was good about it" then, and he was happy to hear the sculpture had been returned, Godinez said.

It's back on its pedestal, for sale, while the studio owners work out its future.

"We have to call the insurance company about paying back $1,500," Godinez said.

Then it might be off to New York.

"Our prices for Gomes' works are moderate because he's an unknown artist," Godinez said. "We might take it to the Outsider Art Fair," an annual show in Manhattan. "It will go for more there."

Anyone with information about the theft or return of the art may call New Hope police at 215-862-3033.


Contact Bill Reed at 215-801-2964 or wreed@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @breedbucks. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.

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