Property theft on campus is nothing new — University Police logs often contain entries listing stolen bicycles, classroom equipment and occasionally cars.
But for the first time at the Contemporary Art Museum, part of a student’s personal art display has been stolen. And unlike a bicycle, an original piece of art cannot be so easily replaced.
The stolen art is a photo by senior Marlyn Cheshes — one of seven pieces featuring black-and-white images of USF dancers.
According to UP Officer Kurt Frazho, the photograph was stolen between May 18 and May 20. The photo is about 5 feet tall but not framed, and Cheshes said it would have been easy for someone to take the picture off the wall, roll it up and walk out with it.
“I was called by the Museum (Preparatory) James Rodger. He told me it was stolen, and it was kind of a shock — I couldn’t believe it,” Cheshes said. “Unfortunately, we had installed it quite low at eye level. He went back and reinstalled the whole thing higher. It will make it harder to take.”
Cheshes said she had planned to sell the pieces after their stint at the museum, which is free to students. She didn’t know the value of the pieces due to the amount of time and personal effort spent on making them.
“They (the police) asked me how much I spent to make them, and I think I told the police about $250 for paper, and then I had them laminated, and of course time, but I don’t have a price yet,” she said.
The artist’s concern about the theft is more for the time she spent on the pieces rather than their dollar value. Consequently, if a student had taken it, felt guilty and wanted to return it, she said she would not press charges.
“I just want it back,” Cheshes said. “If it’s a student or something, if it’s someone who just likes this work, I’d appreciate it if they bring it back. It could be in a dorm room. But they’re mural prints, quite large — about 5 feet tall.”
Frazho said if the artist didn’t want to press charges, UP wouldn’t pursue the matter any further.
“They can contact (UP) anonymously, me personally, and I’ll go ahead and recover it,” Frazho said. “If (Cheshes) doesn’t want to pursue any charges, it’s out of our hands. They can leave a message for me, I’ll contact them and work it out so we can get the property back to her.”
Cheshes said she was devastated when she learned of the theft.
“I feel pretty bad,” Cheshes said. “I’ve had things stolen from me before, but I’ve never had my artwork stolen.”
Cheshes was originally a sculptor and became attracted to photography six years ago after realizing a relationship between sculpture and black-and-white photography.
“I think my sculpture influenced me because of the dancers’ bodies, it’s very sculptural,” Cheshes said. “The photographs look almost like a sculpture. I only work in black and white, like the romantic British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. She influenced me a lot, she used a soft focus to create a certain ambiance.”
Although she’s saddened by the loss, Cheshes said the bright side is that someone liked her artwork enough to steal it.
“The director of the museum said it’s either they like it or they hate (the artwork),” she said. “If they take it, they like it. If they deface it, they hate it.”
Though theft is unfortunately common on campus, everyone involved is surprised at the theft, believed to be the first from CAM.
“We’ve had pieces walk out of Theatre 1 but never this museum,” Rodger said. “It’s generally very secure, but I guess once in a while, these things happen.”
People with information about the whereabouts of the artwork can contact Frazho at UP’s dispatch number: 974-2628.