As art heists go, the one that recently struck the Dunkirk Historical Museum is not like to end up in the history books.
But it is rattling the employees of the small institution a half mile from the Lake Erie shore, who discovered in mid-August that four paintings by Dunkirk-born artist George William Eggers had been stolen from a museum storage room.
Staff discovered the missing paintings while preparing for an upcoming exhibition about Eggers, a painter and art museum director who lived from 1883 to 1958 and ranks as the most accomplished artist to emerge from the town. The artworks include a framed self-portrait in watercolor, which shows Eggers in a bright orange outfit reminiscent of a prison jumpsuit, and three other minor pieces.
Dunkirk Historical Society President Diane Androsik stressed that the stolen works, valued at less than $1,000, were hardly valuable enough to merit the theft. What’s at stake, she said, is the reputation of the museum as a caretaker of important community treasures.
“No one’s going to take one of these and get a million dollars out of them, not even necessarily a thousand,” Androsik said. “For someone to break that trust and either give out some information or use their own knowledge to take something betrays the trust of the people in the museum and more so hurts the feelings of the people who were so generous in donating this collection to us.”
The paintings were part of a 500-piece collection of artwork and ephemera related to Eggers given to the museum by the artist’s grandson, Michael Smith, and his wife Kaie. They could not immediately be reached for comment.
Androsik declined to say whether she suspected anyone in particular who might be associated with the museum, but said she did share “a few names” with police when she made her report.
The museum attempted to reach out to a small circle of employees and community members to track down any information about the paintings, but “nothing came of it,” she said.
The museum is offering a reward of at least $500 to anyone who provides information leading to the recovery of the paintings.
“We’re hoping that the person who may have taken them for whatever reason finds it in his heart to say enough’s enough and finds it in his heart to bring them back,” Androsik said. “It belongs here, not in someone else’s hands, not through some despicable means. So we’re hoping it finds its way back home.”