Facebook help in stolen art mystery may lead to more trouble

Spring on the Onaping River went missing from Sudbury Secondary School shortly after A.Y. Jackson’s death in 1974.

Tracking down lost painting through social media may have unintended consequences, says curator

A.Y. Jackson with one of his paintings at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont., in 1971. (CP Archive Photo/Blaise Edwards)

A group of outdoor enthusiasts has turned its sights to recovering Spring on the Onaping River, a lost painting by Canadian artist A.Y. Jackson, and hopes its Facebook page shakes loose some clues.

Melissa Sheridan, who speaks for a group representing Sudbury's Kivi Park, said the missing work is "too important to just be a lost treasure."

Spring on the Onaping River went missing from Sudbury Secondary School shortly after Jackson's death in 1974.

But using social media to track down the lost art may have unintended consequences in the gallery world.

Demetra Christakos of the Art Gallery of Sudbury said discussions about art theft makes other work vulnerable to copycats.

"When we have this conversation we become quite vigilant and concerned for our own works, for works that others have in their home and for other works that are on public display," Christakos said, "the DEFCON level goes from three to five because security of the work is very important."

And a high-security gallery doesn't always contribute to the viewer's experience.

"If a museum has to place barriers or security for art work then it makes it difficult to allow for one-on-one encounters for admirers and art lovers," Christakos said.
Demetra Christakos, curator-director of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, says the rate of recovery in a stolen art case hovers around 15 per cent. (Angela Gemmill CBC)

The Art Gallery of Sudbury has some of its own Jackson works, which Christakos said are "mostly sketches."

Spring on the Onaping River's value is difficult to estimate, but Christakos said at the time of its theft, the painting was worth $15,000.

Of course, the value of the painting is moot, if the artwork is never recovered. And Christakos said finding lost artwork is far from easy.

"The longer works of art are out of your care, the less sure you are of when you see them again as to what they are, she said, "you lose that sense of assuredness about it being what it's supposed to be."

And despite the Kivi Park group's vigilance in tracking Jackson's work down, Christakos is trying to keep her expectations in check.

"The statistic for art recovery is about 15 per cent," Christakos said, "it's not that common. Of course you want to hope for the best and you'd love to see works return to their home but that's the rate of recovery."

With files from Angela Gemmill


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