Sunday, June 22, 2008

Do the Honest Thing

by David G. Woolley
Editor's note: Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. This week's hindsight is an intriguing police detective story. It's also a sobering look at how dishonesty harms so many unseen others.

Art theft is in the news this week. And not just one piece. Try 1,200 works of art taken from the Brigham Young University collection over a span of nearly thirty years. Its a theft of unprecedented proportion. It has also devastated many lives.

This painting, Two Women in a Boat, by French Impressionist Claude Monet and valued at more than a quarter million dollars was stolen thirty nine years ago this week from the BYU art collection by New York art dealer Dion O'Wyatt. He convinced a trusting BYU art history professor by the name of Wesley Burnside, the curator of the University's collection, to take the Monet and a drawing by Homer to New York for authentication. With today's protocols and state of the art museum security O'Wyatt would never get to touch the painting let alone remove it from the collection. But back on June 20th, 1969, he walked into a dusty BYU warehouse and left with two valuable art pieces and a verbal promise to return with an authentication certificate.

O'Wyatt got the certificate. He also sold the paintings to Homer Galleries of New York City, then hired a street artist to produce forgeries. Ten days later he returned the forged art to Dr. Burnside. The theft went undetected for thirty years along with over a thousand other thefts committed by a host of art-dealing con men who found BYU and its curator an easy target.

For the past decade this man, BYU police Lt. Arnie Lemmon, seen here with recovered painting Port Washington Point by Brigham Young's grandson Mahonri Young, has been tracking down 250 of the most valuable stolen pieces. So far they've recovered 45.

To recover stolen art from honest parties who unwittingly purchased it from unscrupulous dealers, its essential to establish the crime. Many of the BYU pieces went to Europe where they changed hands numerous times before surfacing. It is a tale of the twisted darkside of stolen art laundering.

To reclaim the art Lt. Lemmon had to prosecute the guiltless Dr. Burnside who died three years ago a heartbroken man. He didn't know he'd been duped all these years. Lemmon also tracked down O'Wyatt, now 70 years old, and when faced with an extradition order signed by Utah's governor he confessed to his part in stealing the Monet and Homer pieces. It is unknown how many other works of art he may have taken. Private collectors have had to return pieces and recieve nothing in return for their investments.

Hindsight: the devastation of dishonest acts hurts many and spans decades. Always do the honest thing.

Thanks for joining us at the end of another week and come back next week when posts will include an interview with the two Republicans vying for the Republican congressional seat. Its a tale of two soccer dads, Congressman Chris Cannon would-be-congressman Jason Chafetz. What they don't know is that their sons play for the same soccer club. You'll also enjoy a post on breakfast. That's right. We're talking food on the Top of the Morning along with a little Word of Wisdom. And don't miss the fun and funny post about working with kids when our Top of the Morning child psychologist recounts some zanny moments. We're also pleased to present the second Promised Land midweek post where author David G. Woolley goes in depth on the research and inspiration behind the characters and story lines of his Book of Mormon Promised Land Historical Fiction Series. This week on the Promised Land its Shechem the Robber. Find out about ancient Old World robbers, where they came from, how they operated and how they may have influenced the rise of New World robbers. And don't forget to come back at the end of the week for another installment of Hindsight.

Until then, Top of the Morning to you.

Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog and he writes commentary and opinion at the Utah Ranger's Far Post blog


Pat said...

Very interesting - I had no idea!

David G. Woolley said...

Hi Pat:

Thanks for leaving a comment. That is intriguing stuff. If you want more information I can give you a link to a rather long Deseret News article that devlved into the art thefts. Its really intriguing stuff. Sad, but intriguing still the same.

I noticed you post comments over at the Frog blog. How did you find us over here at Top of the Morning?

Come back again. Often.

David G. Woolley