Troopers say Berks artist’s copper snake chopped up, sold like Pio site statue
By Erin Negley
One of the men accused of stealing a 1,200-pound brass angel statue from a Catholic shrine had practice cutting up pricey artwork and selling it for scrap, state police said.
On Saturday, troopers charged Jamie L. Custer with stealing a 60-foot-long copper snake sculpture three years ago from a Hereford Township artist.
Custer, 31, Norristown, was arraigned before District Judge Michael J. Leonardziak in Reading Central Court and released on bail in the sculpture theft.
He and John E. Hammond Jr., 31, of Spring City, Chester County, have been charged with stealing the Angel of the Roses statue from the National Center for Padre Pio Inc. near Barto in September.
The snake sculpture was stolen in November 2005 from the property of Val O. Bertoia, a well-known sculptor who lives along Captain Wolfe Road in Hereford Township.
Bertoia, who owns Bertoia Studio in Bally, created the sculpture from material collected by his late father, world-famous sculptor and chair designer Harry Bertoia.
The sculpture’s value was estimated at $90,000.
Within a week of stealing it, Custer sectioned the snake and sold it to Berks Container Recovery in Spring Township for about $1,400, Trooper Michael J. Kowalick said.
Bertoia could not be reached for comment.
Employees at the recycling center realized the snake was a work of art after they saw media reports of its theft, but by that time the sculpture had been recycled.
They told troopers that two men had sold the copper tube and bronze joints, but the men were never identified.
Employees recognized Custer after his arrest in the angel statue theft was publicized.
Troopers said Custer and Hammond stole the statue from the Padre Pio center in Washington Township on Sept. 24.
The men sold pieces of the statue, which was valued at $60,000, to an unidentified junkyard in Conshohocken, Montgomery County. They received $952 for the metal.
The 1,200 pound statue was cast in the 1930s by an unknown artist and stood in the Hall of Justice in Sao Paulo, Brazil, before the center bought it in 1999.
The men waived preliminary hearings Tuesday before District Judge Michael G. Hartman, Boyertown. Custer was released to await further court action, while Hammond was returned to Berks County Prison in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Custer surrendered to county sheriff’s deputies after troopers filed charges.
An investigation continues.