A stealthy art thief apparently walked away unnoticed from a Sonoma Valley Museum of Art exhibition with five small sculptures valued at $40,000.
The 12- to 15-inch sculptures, called maquettes, are valued at about $8,000 each, according to museum executive director Kate Eilertsen.
They were part of the exhibition “Fletcher Benton: The Artist’s Studio,” which ran from November through Feb. 6 at the museum on Broadway near the Sonoma Plaza.
Although the museum announced the theft this week, it is believed the statues were pilfered during the exhibition’s run, possibly during the last week based on photos taken during the event.
Eilertsen said the museum is working with its insurance company’s art investigator to recover the works. She filed a police report Friday.
“In light of this theft — the first ever for this institution — the museum has taken several steps to upgrade and expand the surveillance and security systems and has tightened security significantly,” Eilertsen said.
Sonoma Police Sgt. Spencer Crum said Friday that police were beginning to gather information about the reported theft.
The maquettes, or small models created during the design process, were part of a re-creation of Benton’s studio space. They were taken from a display holding about 30 other items and were small enough to have been smuggled out inside a backpack or duffel bag, Eilertsen said.
The Benton show was described as “an experiential and interactive exhibition that looks at the inspirations, processes, toys and tools that world-renowned kinetic and constructivist sculptor Fletcher Benton uses to create his monumental public sculptures.”
Eilertsen said the show provided a rare opportunity to see the inside the sculptor’s typically private work space.
“It breaks my heart,” she said of the theft. “Fletcher is a great artist and he doesn’t deserve this. He’s been great about it, he feels sorry for us.”
The museum is offering a reward of $5,000 for “any clues that lead to the recovery of these valuable works of art,” she said.
A representative for Benton didn’t return a call Friday seeking comment.
“Wouldn’t that be nice,” she said at the suggestion that someone may return the items now that the theft is public. “That would be a dream come true.”