A $70,000 component of a recently acquired work of glass art is back on exhibit after being stolen from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in October, and a suspect with a connection to the museum has been charged.
“Once we realized it was gone, we went through our security footage and identified a probable suspect. We gave that information to the police,” museum President and CEO Michael J. Anderson told The Oklahoman Tuesday about what the museum says is its first- ever art theft.
“It was returned anonymously to the museum … and it actually is back on view. And we’ve made the necessary modifications to the installation to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Through Jan. 15, the downtown Oklahoma City museum is showcasing “Highlights from the Rose Family Glass Collection,” the public’s first look at a major collection of glass art recently gifted to the museum. The exhibition, which includes about 50 pieces from the newly acquired collection, debuted over the Labor Day weekend.
Anderson declined to specify which artwork in the exhibit had the part stolen from it.
“Our collections team did a routine check of the gallery and noticed. It’s a small component piece, and they noticed one of those was gone. So, then we immediately looked back at the security footage and identified when that happened,” Anderson said.
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Grand larceny charge filed in the theft
Charged Friday in the theft was Christopher Scott Lambert, 56, of Oklahoma City. He faces a single felony count of grand larceny.
Police reported in a court affidavit that he can be seen on surveillance video concealing an artifact in a pocket of his shorts after taking it from a display table Oct. 11.
Lambert is listed in membership records as a fellow at the museum and was identified from his photo on file there, police reported. He confessed during a police interview, according to the affidavit.
Museum staff noticed the glass art component was missing on Oct. 14, Anderson said.
“It was fairly soon upon realizing this and contacting the police that we got it back,” he said. “It was within a week.”
Museum officials told police on Oct. 14 the component was valued at about $70,000, according to an incident report.
Theft is believed to be a first for the OKC museum
Anderson said he believes the theft is a first for the Oklahoma City museum, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021 and 20th anniversary in its downtown home in spring.
“To our recollection, this is the first time. We couldn’t think of another incident — and we couldn’t find another record of (one),” said Anderson, who joined the museum staff in 2014.
In 2007, the museum became one of nearly 60 institutions in about 20 states it’s believed that prolific art counterfeiter Mark Landis fooled by donating his replicas of famous artists’ works. In investigating Landis’ offering of six paintings, the Oklahoma City museum’s then-registrar, Matthew Leininger, realized that Landis, using several aliases — including one of a Jesuit priest — had gifted copies of the same paintings to multiple museums. Leininger’s successful efforts to expose Landis’ forgeries are chronicled in the 2014 documentary “Art and Craft.”
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In the case of the recent theft, Anderson noted that the museum’s staff and security measures helped recover the missing art component.
“But it’s still a reminder that you need to stay vigilant, because you don’t expect something to happen,” he said.
“We checked to confirm that all of our security equipment was operating, we have instituted daily inventories of each gallery, and we’ve done more training for our front-of-house staff. We identified in this particular case how it happened, we made the adjustment to the installation, and then we’ve just made sure that all of our security checks are being rigorously followed so that it won’t happen again.”
Stolen component came from esteemed studio glass art collection
Acquired over four decades, the Jerome V. and Judith G. Rose Family Glass Collection includes more than 150 works by 80-plus pioneers and prominent artists of the studio glass movement, including Dale Chihuly, Flora C. Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick, John Lewis and more.
Californians Jerome V. and Judith G. Rose — known to family and friends as Jerry and Judy — started collecting glass art in 1977, when they acquired a small glass teapot by Richard Marquis. In the 1980s and ’90s, the couple traveled often to build their collection, including frequent visits to Seattle, where they became friendly with Chihuly and other artists.
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They eventually amassed one of the most impressive private studio glass collections in the world, which the couple displayed for 40 years in their home in Atherton, California.
The OKC Museum of Art revealed last year that it would become the collection’s new public home, crediting the generosity of the couple’s children, Lisa Rose and husband Dr. Ken Koenig, of Santa Cruz, California, and Sara Jane Rose and husband Jay Shanker, of Oklahoma City.
When it was announced, the Rose Family Glass Collection was described as a major and even transformational gift for the museum, already home to one of the largest public collections of Chihuly’s art in the world.
“People come specifically to Oklahoma City to see the Chihuly collection … and we want to be a leading institution, not just for Chihuly glass, but for glass in general,” OKC Museum of Art Curator Catherine Shotick said in a fall 2021 interview with The The Oklahoman.