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"HOTEL," 2011 by Whiting Tennis, is one of two sculptures and three other paintings that remain missing after the truck they were in was stolen from a hotel parking lot in Seattle, last December. Greg Kureca of the Kucera gallery was able to recover two of the stolen paintings earlier this week. (Image courtesy Kureca)

Meet me at the 7-Eleven: How a gallery owner got his stolen art back

In December, a reward was offered for art stolen in Seattle. But a month after the reward expired, the owner of a Seattle art gallery received an unexpected call and an invitation to recover some of the lost pieces in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.

Seven pieces in all, two sculptures and five paintings, by Seattle's Whiting Tennis were stolen from a van in the parking lot of a Holiday Express late last year. They were en route to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Ore.

Greg Kucera, owner of the Kucera Gallery in Seattle, that represents Tennis, estimated the pieces were worth $65,000. While the Salem gallery was responsible for filing a police report for the stolen vehicle, and the contents inside it, his gallery was interested in getting the art back. They offered a reward of $10,000 for its return.

Kucera told KIRO Radio's Tom & Curley that last week he finally received a phone call - shortly after the reward had expired. "They sounded very suspicious, which was ironic in its own way."

The caller was suspicious that Kucera was tracing the call to his location. He wasn't.

Kucera's cell phone number and the gallery number had been released when the news story broke about the theft and the reward. The caller said a friend of his had found two of the seven missing pieces in an alley in Seattle.

"I asked him to send me some pictures by email and then he balked at that and said he didn't want to get involved by email, but he could text them," explained Kucera.

They exchanged texts, and he received a photo of two Whiting Tennis paintings sitting in a yard.

After the man was assured the police weren't involved, and it was determined the man couldn't transport the 5'x7' and 6'x6' paintings in his El Camino, they agreed to meet in a Federal Way 7-Eleven parking lot.

Even though the reward had expired, they agreed on a price. "He didn't say to me, 'I demand $1,000.' He asked, 'Well, can my friend (who found the paintings) still get a thousand dollars?' And I said, 'If I could get these two paintings back, yes, I will give the friend $1,000.'"

But the man who had done all the legwork, wanted a reward too. The two agreed on $100 and that was the end of the negotiations.

"This guy was really nice about the whole thing and I really had a great deal of sympathy for him. He was really trying to do the right thing," said Kucera. "I don't have the belief that he was the guy that stole the truck and inadvertently stole the art. I think that this was just some guy in a food chain."

Kucera said he still hopes to recover the other missing pieces.

Alyssa Kleven, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Alyssa Kleven is an editor and content producer at MyNorthwest.com. She enjoys doting over her adorable dachshund Winnie - named for Arcade Fire front-man Win Butler.
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