On the left is an image of 1970s artwork by Norval Morrisseau,
stolen from Confederation College in 1981. On the right is a
similarly styled Morrisseau painting from 1965
“Four valuable paintings on display at Confederation College were stolen Thursday night and college officials are hoping that the community will assist in helping recover them.” So read the article in the Chronicle Journal of February 27, 1981.
In 1981 it was two young people that the police were hoping to identify. The two had “left the impression with staff they were working and removing the paintings from one part of the building to another – not unusual procedure in the college,” states an article in the Chronicle Journal of March 5, 1981.
Two of those paintings were stolen from the wall behind the College’s front desk; paintings titled Demi-God Figure 1 and Demi-God Figure 2. These painting by Norval Morrisseau were donated to the College in the 1970s. At the time they were valued at $3,500.00 each. The other two paintings are Carl Ray works. Purchased by the College in the 1970s they were hung on the second floor. Not appraised at the time, the Ray works were of similar value. Today all four paintings could be worth nearly half a million dollars.
37 years later, the two Morrisseau paintings have turned up along with one of the stolen Carl Ray’s. According to sources the person who has them lives in Montreal. Although this private collector did not steal the paintings this collector has hired a lawyer in an attempt to retain the art works. At first however, this collector was looking to sell the paintings. The agent hired to assist was knowledgeable enough to recognize the stolen works. She dutifully called the police. Both the Surete du Quebec and the Thunder Bay Police are investigating.
Mike Rozic, the Senior Manager of Public Safety and Risk Management at the College states, “Confederation College is aware of the ongoing investigation into the paintings that were stolen in 1981. We are working with the police and are hopeful that the paintings will be returned after more than 35 years.”
Before purchasing a painting it’s a good idea to know its provenance, especially works by nationally recognized artists. Private collectors are usually keen to loan pieces of their collection to a public gallery for, let’s say a retrospective; it’s of public benefit and helps to increase the work’s value. Every collector would love for the value of a work they own to increase, in spite of claiming a predominating sentimental value.
Certainly Confederation College and this city has sentimental value for such works. Had the College been in possession of the Morrisseau’s and Ray’s they would have loaned them out numerous times over 37 years. Our Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with one of the biggest collections of indigenous art in the country would be keenly interested in the return of these paintings to the College and would likely put on a show to celebrate such an event. The TBAG as we know is uniquely located just behind the College. Sharing is not a problem. Staff could walk the paintings over.
That is if the paintings are returned soon enough. The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is getting a 33 million dollar new home at Prince Arthur’s landing in the North Core. An added feature of the opening ceremonies with ribbon cutting and popping corks might be the prominent display of missing artworks returned.
Duncan Weller www.duncanweller.com
Duncan Weller www.duncanweller.com