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BYU recovers stolen painting from Swiss baron's estate

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 10:33 p.m. MST

The painting arrived home last month dressed to the nines in special packaging, late for an ongoing art show at BYU's Museum of Art called "The Weir Family 1820-1920: Expanding the Traditions of American Art." A sticker labeling it property of Brigham Young University still clings to the back of the frame. It is hanging between two other paintings, another by J. Alden Weir and one by his brother John Ferguson Weir.

Since its beginnings in 1993, Museum of Art has maintained a high level of security to ensure protection of its prized collection. Museum of Art director Mark Magleby says his own permissions are restricted.

"We have a security protocol that nobody's ever alone," Magleby said. "I can come to my office 24/7, but I really can't leave the suite here because it will sound the alarms. That kind of security is a wonderful thing."

From here the painting will continue its travels, though this time its whereabouts will be known. On May 19, it will make its way to the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn., and from there to The Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C. It will return to BYU after Jan. 20, 2013, the last day of the Mint exhibition.

Ongoing search

Lemmon said his persistence on this case is a demonstration that BYU police will never give up searching for the missing artwork.

"We acquire artwork and make commitments to maintain and to keep it in good condition, to protect that work of art," Lemmon said. "So in this case, as in all that were stolen, it's our responsibility to get that into our collection because it was sold in good faith to us."

There are about 800 pieces still missing, and Lemmon said most were laundered in Europe. Hopes are dim to ever recover many, but what the task force does find it will pursue.

The last painting before this one to be recovered was in 2007, "Port Washington Point," by Mahonri Young.

For the last 20 years, Lemmon and his fellow detectives have worked on getting back a piece now owned by the Met, also painted by J. Alden Weir. Lemmon has high hopes as they renew strategies on acquiring the painting this year. Lemmon said BYU will never change its position.

Each return, for him, is a victory.

"The bottom line for me is that it's kind of like getting one of your lost kids back," Lemmon said.

email: tackerman@desnews.com

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