City got a real deal on art, but is it a fake?
The $5,600 piece of public art, to be formally unveiled in Enumclaw Saturday, arrived with a piece broken and its origin uncertain.
Times Southeast Bureau
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Enumclaw Arts Commission, the city searched for the perfect piece of public art.
Officials found what they wanted — a bronze sculpture of child musicians — on a Web site and paid more than $5,000 of city money to have the piece shipped sight-unseen from another state.
But this celebrated sculpture, scheduled to be formally unveiled Saturday on City Hall grounds, appears to be a fake, created by a phantom artist whose name is linked to counterfeit art.
City officials stand by their choice, saying the sculpture is just what they wanted.
"Our point was to buy something affordable that referenced the arts community in Enumclaw," said Gary LaTurner, Enumclaw's cultural-programs manager. "It's a very comfortable piece to look at. It's very user-friendly."
The city had originally put out a call to local artists, but the bids came back too high, so arts officials looked elsewhere, LaTurner said, finding the piece at www.wishihadthat.com, a cyber warehouse of art and home décor.
At $5,689, the sculpture fit the city's budget and represented arts in Enumclaw, LaTurner said.
The bronze sculpture, titled "Boys in the Band," is inscribed with the name Jim Davidson, an artist whose name is not familiar to sculpting experts. In fact, the name appears to exist only online, attached to accusations of bronze-sculpture counterfeiting.
"To this point, we have not found a Jim Davidson who exists," said Maggie DeDecker, who manages the work of her sister, Colorado-based bronze sculptor Jane DeDecker.
Margaret DeDecker said numerous illegal copies of her sister's sculptures, signed by "Jim Davidson," have turned up online and in stores.
The city knew the piece wasn't original but didn't intend to buy counterfeit art, LaTurner said. He didn't research the artist's name before or after the city bought the piece, he said. The artist's name wasn't advertised on the Web site.
When the city bought the piece more than two years ago, it arrived in three pieces that had to be assembled. They were wrapped in Asian-language newspapers, LaTurner said, and one of the pieces was broken. When the city tried to return it, the company declined to take it back and suggested that city officials glue the broken piece back on.
The city assembled the sculpture and used welding glue from a hardware store to repair the broken piece, a drumstick that had snapped off the little musician's hand.
The city received a $1,000 refund because of the damage, LaTurner said.
Enumclaw sculptors Ross Brown and Bruce Holmes said the city asked them to repair the sculpture, but both declined to work on it because they didn't know anything about the original metal. Parts of the sculpture were bronze, but at least the drumstick appeared to be brass, Holmes said.
Counterfeiting is a huge problem in the bronze-sculpting community, Maggie DeDecker said. Sculptures are copied from pictures and are often reproduced in Asian countries, she said.
Counterfeiting hurts artists' reputations and devalues their work.
"It can ruin the artist's career," DeDecker said.
Robert Welch, president of Wishihadthat.com, said most bronze sculptures it sells come from Thailand, but he couldn't confirm the origin of "Boys in the Band."
Wishihadthat.com buys products from wholesale companies, he said, and the Enumclaw piece came from Art Frame Direct, a company with offices in California and Florida. Phone calls to Art Frame Direct were not returned Wednesday.
The city still plans to unveil the sculpture, fake or not, at this weekend's art walk, LaTurner said.
It fits well on the grounds of City Hall and should last a long time, he said.
Lauren Vane: 253-234-8604 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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