For more than five years, a bronze piece sculpted by the artist responsible for works at the National Cathedral and Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. has been missing.
This month, Northbrook and Chicago Police worked together to return the stolen piece, "Ex Nihilo Fragment Figure #2," to its rightful owners.
In 2007, the Northbrook-based Chase Group loaned the $85,000 bronze piece by sculptor Frederick Hart to Gallery One in Chicago, said Northbrook Police Community Relations Supervisor Michael Shep. That same year, the gallery was burglarized and the sculpture, which measures 39 inches by 34 inches by 11 inches, taken.
The trail went cold until this month, when a gallery in Minnesota received a call from a Chicago man looking to sell it, Shep said.
The dealer immediately contacted the Chase Group/Chesley LLC.
"The art world is very small, and a lot of people know the sculpture and that it was stolen," said Madeline Kisting the managing director of Chesley LLC, which represents the Hart's estate.
Kisting said she called the Northbrook Police who contacted Chicago Police. Together they set up a sting in cooperation with the dealer.
The dealer told the caller with the statue that he couldn't answer questions without seeing the bronze; however, he knew an appraiser in Chicago that could look at the piece.
"A dealer can't assess the condition of a piece in a photo, so asking for someone to look at it personally didn't arouse suspicion because this is common in the art world," Kisting said.
Police then asked the caller and his friend a lot of questions to determine how much they knew about the piece, Shep said.
"One said he had bought it in a Morton Grove storage facility for $5,000," Shep said. "The other was a co-worker who knew how to sell items on Ebay."
Neither were happy when they heard it had been stolen, Shep added, and after questioning and an investigation by Chicago police, neither of the men could be tied to the burglary, so they weren't charged.
The bronze was cast from the original plaster for the final stone sculpture of Ex Nihilo Tympanum, which is part of "The Creation Sculptures" at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. "The Creation Sculptures" is considered one of Frederick Hart's most important works, along with "The Three Soldiers" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Kisting said.
Frederick Hart's widow Lindy Hart, accepted his posthumous National Medal of Arts in 2004 from President George W. Bush.
"We never thought we would see this sculpture again. We are delighted to have it back," Kisting added. "The Northbrook police were extremely diligent in everything they did to follow this up. They conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and we are extremely grateful for the way they handled this."