Art theft baffles Bowdoin College security, artist

Posted Dec. 12, 2012, at 5:52 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Gone.

The painting was gone.

It was big and red and it took Bowdoin College junior Dana Hopkins 30 hours to create — and then it was just gone.

Hopkins, a visual arts/art history double major, created a replica of Georgia O’Keefe’s “Red Cana” for James Mullin’s Painting I class this semester — her first attempt at large-scale oil painting.

“I painted it right before Thanksgiving,” Hopkins said. “It was one of the only ones that I really, really like. I mean, I’ve done some pretty good other work, but this was the one that I was really proud of.

“Last I saw of it was Saturday night [Dec. 8], and then I walked past the painting studio Monday night, and was like, ‘Why don’t I see any red?’”

Before the heist, the 3-foot square oil-on-canvas was hung in the public North Studio of the Visual Arts Center with many other works by student artists. The entire arts program held an open exhibition Friday for the student body to view, as well as the general public.

Hopkins theorizes that was when the culprit must have spied the objet d’art of his l’affection.

When next she passed by the studio Monday, there was a conspicuous patch of white wall where flaring coloration should have been.

No other works were taken or damaged, according to Randall Nichols, Bowdoin’s director of security.

While Brunswick is a diverse, artsy kind of town, nobody can remember the last time an art heist went down here.

Likewise, art theft on the private school’s campus is so rare as to be unheard of, Nichols said.

In order to file a security report, the painting had to be imbued with an estimated value.

Hopkins couldn’t do it. So Mullen, the professor for whose review the painting was created, stepped in. He figured it had to be worth at least an hourly wage of $15 for the time needed to produce it and arrived at $500.

“He was really great about it,” Hopkins said. “The second I told him, he made sure we contacted all the security we could and emailed as many people as possible, asking them to look for it or if they’d seen anything.”

Video surveillance revealed nothing useful, and no witnesses yet have reported seeing anything unusual.

“I mean, it’s the Visual Arts building, so it’s not unusual for large pieces of art to be exhibited or even carried in or out,” Hopkins said.

“Who would have thought anything about it?”

Hopkins said she likes O’Keefe’s work, but decided to create her own version of “Red Cana” mostly because its coloration is so vibrant.

Hopkins — a junior from Social Circle, Ga. (“That is so totally not a joke,” she said) — likes big colors.

“Actually, it turned out to be a much more difficult painting than I imagined, because of the way she painted it. She used really big, broad brush strokes,” Hopkins said. “For me, it was like trying to replicate somebody else’s spontaneity.

“In a weird, twisted way, I guess it’s nice to know that someone enjoys my work,” Hopkins said.