Arlington police have recovered a Cyrus Dallin statue missing from a small side yard at the Jefferson Cutter House, site of the Dallin Art Museum, which is celebrating the 150th year after the renown sculptor's birth.
The statue, "Chief Washakie," and its bronze base, were removed from the pedestal sometime before 2:37 p.m. Friday, May 25, when the museum reported it missing.
But police said Wednesday, May 30, that the replica was back in the museum's possession. A suspect has been identified and the case remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, a longtime former board member provided the backstory about how the museum obrained the statue.
Immediately following the theft of the statue, Arlington detectives began an investigation that included information sharing through the NEMLEC (North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council) Detectives Network. In the end, APD investigator's work paid off Tuesday, May 29, when the sculpture was recovered undamaged, a news release said.
"We’re happy that we helped preserve this treasured statue and given the historical and symbolic significance of it," Police Chief Fred Ryan said. "We gave this case a very high priority. In the end, it was good old-fashioned police work, knocking on doors and talking to people, that closed the cas."
James McGough, who founded the museum dedicated to the works of the U.S. sculptor who long lived in Arlington, said the 40-inch-high bronze replica of the Shoshone chief on horseback with one arm raised, is valued at from $5,000 to $10,000.
He said a visitor to the museum was the first to notice the statue's absence on the afternoon of May 25. The person "asked whether we had sent it out for cleaning," McGough said. They had not.
McGough said that ordinarily, when he brings out the sign noting that the museum is open, he looks over toward the fence-enclosed side yard. "If I see the chief's hand pointing up, then I know it's there," he said. "That day, I did not look over."
He said the casting was likely done after the death of Dallin. The Utah native, born in 1861, lived in Arlington from 1900 until 1944. The museum bought the replica on eBay about 2004.
The chief was of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and a friend of the U.S. Army, McGough said. Dallin may have known Washakie, whose life nearly spanned the 19th century, from 1809 to 1890. He was chief from 1830 until his death.
McGough said he had been contacted by a man in Boston who is connected with a magazine that publishes stolen art.
On May 28 a tipster to YourArlington reported the apparent theft. The publisher visited the site late that day and saw that the bench dedicated in June 2007 in memory to Bridget Keefe of the Dallin and the Thompson schools no longer had a statue to view. Two bolts protruded upward from the 2- by 1-foot pedestal but held nothing. The location is shielded from view of those walking along Mass. Ave. by high bushes.
A police report noted that officer Michael Hogan first investigated May 25. Coincidentally, he is a cousin of Dallin board member Geri Tremblay. The larceny at 631 Mass. Ave. was believed to have occurred the night before.
Detective Brian Fennelly sent out an all-points bulletin. He also scanned into a computer a postcard picture of Chief Washakie and then emailed the photo to the NEMLEC network.
On Monday, May 29, Fennelly and Inspector Foley responded to the Jefferson Cutter House to view where the statue was stolen from. The statue was taken from the Delta side of the museum in a garden area which is enclosed in a fenced in area and surrounded by high bushes and plant life.
Police walked the area around the museum and spoke with several workers and business owners, none of whom have cameras. One business that does have a camera was closed. Police left a business card in the door with a note to call me.
Among Dallin's most famous works is "Appeal to the Great Spirit," a large work portraying an Indian, arms outstretched, on horseback. It stands in front of the Boston Museum of Fine arts.
David J. Formanek, a former Arlington resident who was a member of the Dallin Museum board for 15 years, offered his recollections, and one was a realistic assessment about "Washakie":
"About the Dallin replica. Well, one weekend in the early days of the Internet, I was in New York City at my mom's house, doing some surfing before I went to the museums for the afternoon.
"I saw Chief Washakie on eBay and noted same to Mark Hruby, former Board member. He jumped on it and bought it for us, thinking that I had recommended that course of action. (Quote: 'I wish I had $1,400. That price may be a high estimate.')
"Eventually and after a good deal of discussion and a certain loss of good will, the museum bought the sculpture from Mark. After it arrived, regional sculptor of some renown Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn gave his professional opinion to Mark, who reported that it was an indifferent copy probably made in Mexico in the 1980s from one of the plaster casts of Dallin's work by the Caproni Brothers plaster casting studio. [I have tried to use Plaster Casters to publicize a lecture or some other Dallin event but it seems to go over people's local or contemporary heads.]
"The town built the pedestal for it -- or base. We had assumed there would be some height to it, so that people could look at the work closer to eye level, but it was more of an object for toddlers to straddle.
"As a chunk of potentially scrappable bronze, it was always at risk. As a deterrent, assuming literacy on the part of evildoers, I long ago suggested to the board that a plastic label be produced, reading: 'Chief Washakie by Cyrus Dallin / posthumous reproduction / polyester resin.'
"Unfortunately, that was not carried out."
This story was first published at 11:50 a.m. Wednesday, May 30, 2012, and updated at 5 p.m. later that day and then again the next day