Fells Point antiques shop recovers statue stolen from garden of downtown church

September 04, 1997|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Fells Point antiques dealers have recovered a statue stolen from the garden of a historic downtown church where the work has been an ornament since about 1915.

The 29-inch-tall statue of a boy with a thorn in his foot resided in Zion Lutheran Church's flower and boxwood garden until it was unbolted by thieves late last month. They scaled an iron fence to enter the garden, at Holliday and Lexington streets, facing City Hall, and made off with the object, which is cast of a zinc alloy and weighs about 50 pounds.

"I came down one morning and looked out, and it wasn't there," said the Rev. Siegfried Otto, pastor of the church. He lives in the parsonage only a few feet from where the statue stood.

The statue made its way to the Fells Point antiques shop of Dottie Gassaway and Melvin Croucher, who trade under the name of Mel's Antiques in the 700 block of S. Wolfe St.

"This is ironic. We really want to see the city pass a law requiring that all antiques brought in for resale must be registered with the Police Department," said Gassaway, who reported the purchase of the statue to police. She paid its seller $150.

The statue came into the dealers' possession Aug. 24, around the time the church reported that it was missing. Four bolts had held the work in place.

Gassaway and Croucher said a man offered the statue to them. He first asked for $300 but accepted $150.

Gassaway and Croucher required identification. The seller, whose name has been withheld pending a police investigation, offered a Maryland state identification card.

"The way I do whenever I buy off the street [as opposed to buying from another dealer], I filled out a form that is turned in to the Police Department. Turning in the form is voluntary," Gassaway said.

In her report to the police, she described the statue as a "pot metal little boy sitting on a tree trunk picking something out of his foot."

City police detectives Charles McLaughlin and David Manning circulated a photocopied newspaper photograph of the lost statue. They left a copy with Gassaway, who immediately recognized the piece.

"It is amazing the piece was recovered. In England, the national garden antique recovery rate is only 14 percent, and that is with a very active police force," said Barbara Israel, a Katonah, N.Y., garden statuary dealer.

"There's a sweetness about the piece that has made it popular for a long time," said Michael Garden, a Manhattan antiques dealer. "In good condition, it could bring $3,000 to $5,000."

The sculpture of the boy could have been stolen at any time. The sexton opens the courtyard gates at 7 a.m. daily and locks them at night.

Otto's research indicated the statue was modeled after an original called "Spinario" and housed in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. The Baltimore version is known as "The Thorn Boy."

The garden is next to Fire Department headquarters. The Police Department is a little more than a block away.

Gassaway and Croucher said they planned to give the statue back to the church without charge as soon as the Police Department approves the release.

Then it will be returned to its original position.

"If we don't display it in the garden, it's not worth having," said the pastor, who added that he might fill the statue with lead to render it less portable.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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