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Stolen sculpture sails back from oblivion

May 08, 2008|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

A police report was filed, insurance claims were settled and the "Ship of Oblivion," a sculpture that vanished about three years ago, seemed destined to live up to its name.

Hence no one was more astonished than Laura Clemons of the Bill Lowe Gallery in Santa Monica when Peruvian artist Margarita Checa's sculpture -- valued at $95,000, Clemons says -- showed up on the gallery's doorstep last week.

"In perfect condition," Clemons said. "It was one of those things that there's no way it could happen, yet it did."

Astonished too were David John Huggon and Fiona Grant, who had hauled the 162-pound olive wood sculpture of a boat with four figures to the gallery last week. They had earlier taken it to be appraised at Bonhams & Butterfields auction house in Los Angeles, where a bystander mentioned that it might be of more interest to art dealer Bill Lowe, they said.

It resembled the work of an artist Lowe represented, the man told the couple.

Huggon reported paying $750 for the sculpture about three years ago to a man at a Los Angeles storage facility who said he had decided to get rid of it.

They trucked it home, and it wound up in a spare bedroom, where it became a handy clothes rack.

A desire to remodel prompted the couple to see what the work of art was worth.

"I said that piece was stolen, and their faces just dropped," Clemons said. "I felt so bad for these poor people. Here they've held on to it and today they wanted to sell it to renovate their bathroom."

Lt. Alex Padilla of the Santa Monica Police Department said this week that the case remains open, and he confirmed the unusual addendum to the theft report filed in September 2005. (The sculpture was put in storage after a 2004 exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. The theft wasn't discovered until a later inventory at the public storage facility, the same one at which Huggon reported making his purchase.)

Making the call to the insurance company, however, "was really awkward," Clemons said.

The insurance company, which owns the sculpture after paying the gallery's claim, is negotiating the terms of its repurchase by the gallery. It has also agreed to pay $750 to the couple, Clemons said.

Huggon said he won't really miss having a big wooden boat.

"I don't know where I'm going to put my clothes now, though," he said.

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lynne.heffley@latimes.com

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