A Heist That Makes You Go Hmmm

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 16, 2009
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Artist Wyland with ‘Dolphin Dawn’

We all have different ways of showing our appreciation for the ocean. Some organize volunteer-based beach cleanups while others paddle hundreds of miles to open the eyes of those who pollute our waters.

And then there are those who use their artistic talents to make their statement about the environment. Internationally known artist Robert Wyland is one of them.

Wyland has given countless hours of his time, gracing our neighborhoods and businesses with his amazing murals and artwork. He gives unconditionally because of his love for the ocean and the animals that call it home. And he gives for the love of his community.

Recently, the giver had something special taken from him.

The community was stunned to hear that someone stole an original oil painting from his Waikiki gallery, one valued at $695,000. The 4-by-6-foot painting titled “Dolphin Dawn” was snatched by a thief off a gallery wall on Beachwalk and thrown into a waiting truck driven by a woman.

Nicole Mokiao recalls feeling uncomfortable when she saw the truck approaching and slow in front of the gallery. She says her manager witnessed the crime.

“Basically he seen everything,” says Mokiao. “He seen the guy take the painting down from the wall and put it inside the truck. He said he didn’t put it gingerly in the truck, he just kind of threw it and left.”

Mokiao and other witnesses got a good look at the getaway vehicle and even got five of the six characters of the license plate on the blue truck.

As my high school basketball coach would say, “It was a strong move but poorly executed.”

“The guy came in, he had to go over our table and lift a 4-by-6-foot painting framed in the koa wood - solid koa - lift it up and get it in the truck, and then drive away,” says Iris Katsura, the gallery’s director. “So it was pretty bold and brazen.”

Wyland offered a $2,000 reward or an original Chinese brush stroke painting for information leading to the safe return of the stolen artwork.

As expected, the community started talking and police received a tip.

The published original that Wyland painted for the millennium surfaced two days later in Chinatown. It was wrapped in a sheet and bound by duct tape, intact and unharmed.

“We couldn’t have hoped for a happier ending. It’s in perfect condition,” says a grateful Katsura.

All crimes are inexcusable, but this is one that makes you go hmmm. Seriously, where did the thieves think they could unload the popular painting? Sure there is an underground market for stolen property, but who’d be foolish enough to buy it knowing the entire state was aware it was missing?

You can almost hear the conversation now. “Psst, hey, I’ve got this original Wyland painting in my truck.You interested? Don’t mind the cops on my tail because the heat is on.”

And if you actually purchased the stolen treasure, can you imagine displaying it in your living room? “‘Hey isn’t that the Wyland painting that was ripped off the wall in Waikiki?’ ‘Why, yes, it is. Isn’t it a beauty?’”

Wyland has blessed many cities across the world with his work, giving unconditionally of his time and talent. But when it comes to Hawaii and its people, he’s always gone the extra mile.

Shame on the thieves. The ocean is more than just a playground to the talented artist. It provides him with inspiration to create, and we’ve all benefited in some way.

No, this one didn’t make any sense, but thankfully the thieves came to their senses.

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