Rachel Storck, community engagement manager for the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, points out a display case where exhibit pieces were taken during a weekend burglary. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Rachel Storck, community engagement manager for the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, points out a display case where exhibit pieces were taken during a weekend burglary. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center burglary hits traveling exhibit

Four artist books, artifacts on loan stolen

PORT ANGLES — Police on Wednesday continued to investigate last weekend’s burglary of the Esther Webster Gallery at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center while center management issued a plea for information about the objects stolen.

Sometime between 8 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday, a window at the gallery, 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., was shattered and several items from a traveling exhibit, Science Stories: A Collaboration of Book Artists and Scientists, were taken, according to Rachel Storck, the center’s community engagement manager, and Cpl. Bruce Fernie of the Port Angeles Police Department (PAPD).

Among items taken from the exhibit, which opened March 12 and was to be on view though May 29, were four artist books, artifacts on loan from the Slater Museum of Natural History in Tacoma, and a microscope.

“In what appears to be a random act of theft without true knowledge or thought regarding the value of what was taken, I am struck by the ripple effect this one action has had on so many,” Executive Director Christine Loewe said in a press release.

“This exhibit represented an opportunity to bring a truly unique traveling exhibit to our community melding the worlds of art and science,” she said. “The creators of this exhibit — who include professors from around the region, PNW scientists and professional book artists — spent months pouring their heart, passion and dedicated research into designing a creative and educationally rich experience.

“I feel deeply sad for those who have invested so much time into this project only to have these items taken,” she added. “Most are irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind objects.”

This is not the first theft or act of vandalism reported at the fine arts center, although most reports have been of vandalism of sculptures in Webster’s Woods outside the Esther Webster Gallery.

One of the worst cases was in December 2012, when at least 35 art pieces were damaged — 12 of them destroyed — in Webster’s Woods, a sculpture garden begun in 2000 by the late Jake Seniuk, longtime executive director of the fine arts center who retired in 2012 and died in 2016 of cancer.

Sarah Jane, gallery and program director for the fine arts center, said the last burglary before last weekend’s was in the summer of 2020, but in that case, nothing was stolen since entry into the building was not successful.

“What makes this burglary odd is that things that were stolen don’t have a huge amount of monetary value. Apart from the hours of work the artists put into them, they are one-of-a-kind pieces,” Jane said.

Jane also said the building’s alarm did not go off, which is something the PAPD is investigating, along with surveillance footage.

Although all of the items stolen were insured, both Loewe and Jane commented on how acts like these reflect badly on the community at large.

“We were gifted an opportunity and asked to be stewards of this educational material so that the lives of all who visited would be enriched,” Loewe said.

“This theft, unfortunately, erodes the trust that was placed on our community and harms our future ability to bring others to share their artistic excellence.”

Fine arts center personnel offered suggestions for those who want to show their support.

• Notes of Gratitude: “We want the exhibitors to know that, despite this action, their work was valued by our community,” Storck said in the press release.

“If you had the opportunity to visit our exhibit, we encourage you to send a short note of gratitude to rachel@pafac.org. We will compile these messages and send them to exhibit creators and artists. If you would like to send a card, you can send it to 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Port Angeles WA, 98362.”

• Visit: “Please come to the park and the gallery or join us for one of our events. Use this free space as it was meant to be used,” Storck said.

“We will be working to get the exhibit re-established and ready for the public by (today) when the gallery doors open at 11 a.m. The gallery and park are always free.”

• Donate: “We will be dealing with the financial ramifications of this theft in terms of lost items and lost staff time, and we would greatly appreciate your support as we work to continue offering regular gallery exhibits, educational programs and community workshops,” she added.

“Spread the word about the stolen items: Please share the images of the stolen items with others in the hopes we may retrieve these items.”

Items discovered or pertinent information can be reported to the Port Angeles Police Department at 360-452-4545.

The Esther Webster Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, while Webster’s Woods Sculpture Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

For more about the fine arts center, see pafac.org , email pafac@olypen.com or phone 360-457-3532.


Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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