Art theft hits home in Hough

Heist violates haven that couple's collecting had made

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

For more than 30 years, Bob Bradley and his life partner, Sherry Mowatt, have collected art. One glance at their yard in the Hough neighborhood and you will spot myriad pieces, all which make them say, "There's a funny story behind that."

"What makes them so dear to us is the stories," Mowatt said.

But when they woke up on the morning of Feb. 1, the couple found as many as 15 pieces of their yard art had been stolen.

"I am absolutely devastated," Bradley said. "This is stuff that has taken a lifetime to collect. To me, it had great emotional and philosophical importance."

Half of the treasures they bought, they found at the Recycled Arts Festival.

"A lot of what I collect is old or trivial in nature," he said. "But you manipulate it just slightly and give it new meaning."

All of the stolen items were made of metal: adozen brass Buddhist bells, a large cast-iron Chinese lantern, modern fused-metal statues. When they visited City Bark & Recycling in Vancouver, staff told them about stopmetaltheft.com, where they reported their missing items. The site can be searched, acting as a reference for recycling companies.

They estimate the monetary loss at $5,000. Though most of the money they lost is covered under their homeowners insurance, a lot of what they lost is measured in terms of their own value.

"To have a place of repose is very, very important," Bradley said standing in front of his house. "It's our responsibility to create an environment that is peaceful and loving. That's what we're doing with our yard."

They reported the crime to the Vancouver Police Department, but without any suspect information, the agency took only an informational report.

Kim Kapp, the agency's spokeswoman, said that those informational reports are still important.

"We do recover property, but sometimes finding the rightful owner is the challenge," she said. Reporting distinctive details of stolen items and recording serial numbers of your property makes it easier for police to get back stolen property to the right person.

"If we run across a car full of stuff and if we start running that property, serial numbers or other identifiers are important," she said.

Kapp said that keeping property outside, as Bradley and Mowatt do, "is one of those things that, unfortunately, you do take a risk.

"If somebody sees it and they want it to become theirs, it can be very difficult to secure it," she said.

And property crime can be difficult to solve. Kapp points to a theft in mid-December of a 6-foot-tall nutcracker from the porch of a home in Vancouver's Northwest neighborhood. Police still haven't recovered the nutcracker.

"It's an unfortunate part of our society," Kapp said.

Even after falling victim to property crime, the couple aren't sure whether they will do anything differently in their decorated yard.

Mowatt said she'd think about putting in motion-sensor lights to scare off future burglars.

But Bradley shook his head. "I don't want to alter my life because of fear," he said.

They agree, though, that when the art festivals kick back into gear, they will again take up their favorite pastime: hunting for treasures.

"June's going to be here soon enough," Bradley said. "We'll be back at it again."