Museum heist still a mystery
The theft of five artist's maquettes from a winter exhibit at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art remains unsolved, but museum executive director Kate Eilertson said Monday that the facility's insurer has closed its investigation and is initiating the process for reimbursing the artist, Fletcher Benton.
Benton's work was on exhibit during the showing, that ran from November 2010 through Feb. 6 and featured a mock-up of the artist's studio with work in progress and shelves holding dozens of items from Benton's San Francisco studio, including the missing maquettes. The maquettes are scale models used by artists and architects to develop conceptual details of a piece before committing to a finished work. Because Benton has an international following, the models themselves - which were 12- to 15-inches high - have significant value and were worth approximately $8,000 apiece.
Eilertson said that each museum employee and board member with a key to the building has been interviewed by police and that no suspects have been identified. She expressed the opinion that the theft has the earmarks of being an inside job, partly because of the careful way the artworks were stolen. The missing pieces were grouped together with numerous other maquettes and studio effects, and whoever took them removed one at a time and rearranged the pieces to disguise the empty space. It wasn't until the pieces were being packaged for return to Benton that the loss was noticed.
"Someone carefully rearranged those shelves," said Eilertson.
Eilertson also said that the delay of a few weeks between discovering the loss and reporting it to police was dictated by the insurance agent and a slow response by the insurance company to the theft.
The museum had light security in place at the time the works were taken. That has since changed significantly, and Eilertson now said there are banks of new security cameras among other steps that have been taken. "We have very serious security now," she said. "This has changed, certainly the way we are thinking about and dealing with the public."
A $5,000 reward is still being offered for information leading to the return of the items, but Sonoma police said Monday they have no new information on the case.
The museum, located at 551 Broadway, was founded in 1998 and staged its first exhibit in the current space in 1999. Since then it has featured artists ranging from Chester Arnold and David Best to Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso.