The public art piece Rock Dragon by Heather Wall, before and after the top of the sculpture was stolen from Maffeo Sutton Park last week. NEWS BULLETIN photos

Dragon stolen from Vancouver Island park

Aluminum dragon sculpture taken from public art display in Nanaimo

The hunt is on for a dragon on the loose following a theft in Nanaimo last week.

The beast in question was crafted out of an estimated 34 kilograms of welded aluminum by Powell River sculptor Heather Wall and was the crowning element of Rock Dragon, an art installation she created for Nanaimo’s temporary public art program.

The piece was installed atop a pole and sphere, created from rocks and steel at the north corner of Maffeo Sutton Park, but sometime between midnight and 5:30 a.m. Friday, according to Chris Barfoot, city culture and heritage coordinator, someone unbolted the dragon from its 2.5-metre-high perch and made off with it.

“It was installed in the middle of June, so it was about two and a half weeks on display,” Barfoot said. “The artist did some extra work to the project prior to the install to be sure that it would be able to sustain, you know, the typical interaction that the public has with the projects and we didn’t expect this to happen.”

Wall, who describes herself as a “semi-emerging” metal sculptor who started working in metal four years ago, said she put in three weeks of 12-hour-long days to finish the dragon on time for the city’s installation deadline.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it … I was pulling my hair out, 12-hour days trying to get it done and it’s there for two and a half weeks and now it’s gone … Someone loved it enough to steal it, that’s the crazy part,” Wall said.

She estimates the value of the sculpture, based on recent sales of her other works, at $12,000 to $15,000.

Wall said she has had other pieces damaged, but none stolen.

“Whenever I take a sculpture somewhere and I walk away from it I have a day of, kind of, separation anxiety,” she said. “You put your heart and soul into these things and then you just leave it.”

Wall said she believes, given the difficulty of the task of removing the dragon, the theft was planned and likely required more than one person to carry out. She said if the dragon doesn’t turn up somewhere or isn’t returned, she’ll likely make another one.

“I don’t let people push me down,” she said. “I’ll make a new one if I have to. Hopefully he’ll turn up … he’s in someone’s garage being worshipped right now. He’s in a special place we have for dragons. Is there going to be a ransom note, you know? I shouldn’t joke about it, but it’s the only way I’m dealing with it right now.”

Barfoot said the theft of the dragon is frustrating and upsetting.

“The benefit of this program is that, on a yearly basis, we get art from artists across Canada who look to Nanaimo as being a really great place to display their work of art … we want the artist to feel that this is a safe place to display their art. We don’t want this isolated incident to jeopardize that,” Barfoot said.

He said the public art program has been successful since 2010.

“What really upsets us the most is this is an opportunity lost for the community to really enjoy a great piece of public art,” Barfoot said.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said police are investigating the theft.

“It is an active investigation and the sooner we have this returned to its lawful owner, the better,” O’Brien said.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345. To to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or leave a tip online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.



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