Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Case of the Missing Penguin

This is a photo artist Yolanda vanderGaast (right) with the "much-loved" landmark sculpture at the London School of Economics -- donated by Canadian philanthropist and LSE alumnus Louis Odette.
Photograph by: Handout, Canwest News Service

Penguin art thefts eerily similar

By Sonja Puzic, The Windsor StarMarch 9, 2009

Is there a serial penguin-napper on the loose, moving freely across international borders in pursuit of the perfect crime?

Probably not. But the thefts of two penguin sculptures, carried out eight years and thousands of kilometres apart, share bizarrely similar characteristics.

In 2001, one of three cast aluminum penguins in the Odette Sculpture Park on Windsor’s riverfront mysteriously disappeared over a weekend. The metre-tall Emperor penguin was part of the Penguins on a Waterfall sculpture, created by artist Yolanda vanderGaast and donated to the city by Toronto businessman and philanthropist Louis Odette, known for his generous contributions to public art and arts education.

A massive search ensued, complete with a Crime Stoppers poster campaign and a reward offer. Divers searched the edge of the Detroit River in case the culprit, or culprits, had tossed the statue in the water.

But the penguin was never recovered and the city eventually replaced it with another one.

Overnight Saturday, another vanderGaast penguin statue went missing, this time from the London School of Economics in England. Only the unfortunate bird’s flippers were left behind.

The penguin was a gift from Odette, an LSE alumnus. It greeted people outside the Economists’ Bookshop and was quite popular with the students. LSE administrators lamented the loss, speculating the theft was “an alcohol-fuelled incident.”

The news surprised City of Windsor’s executive director of parks and facilities, Don Sadler, who worked on the 2001 missing penguin case and attended the unveiling of the statue’s British cousin a couple of years ago.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened again,” he said Monday. “The penguins seem to be a magnet for thieves.”

Sadler said despite numerous pleas to the public for tips on the missing Windsor penguin, no clues ever emerged. The penguin cost about $10,000 to make but “it’s not something you sell on the black market,” he said.

Reached in Toronto, vanderGaast said she was “shocked” to learn that another one of her penguins was stolen.

“But I’m also flattered, I guess, that someone liked them so much they wanted to take them,” she added with a chuckle. “It’s a cute penguin.”

vanderGaast said she’s not surprised that someone was able to uproot the sculptures, since they are hollow and not as heavy as they look. The Odette park penguins weigh between 60 and 80 pounds each, according to the city’s website.

“It’s aluminum, so once it’s loose from the base, it’s relatively easy to carry away,” vanderGaast said, adding that she can make a replacement statue if LSE’s penguin is not returned.

Her penguins in Windsor have been reinforced with aluminum plates, stainless steel and stone to prevent another theft.

— with files from Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service

First image courtesy of the Beaver Online @


Story and second image courtesy of The Windsor Star @



Laura said...

There are now two missing penguin statues in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. There is an ongoing discussion of the thefts at http://www.jacksonheightslife.com/community/index.php?topic=303.0

on Jackson Heights Life

barry said...

i'm a fellow pengophile and even have a blogger penguin+ site myself: http://littlebluenews.blogspot.com/
i happily discover3ed you todqay following new news in the london missing penguin story. i still manage not to know how to communicate when i find new blog people. so i resort to a comment. would love to communicate by email at bwbenefield@yahoo.com. meanwhile i have signed up to follow you - i'm really impressed by your penguin stuff