Sting recovers stolen painting; man jailed

Proprietor of Olympia shop recognizes oil painting as one he’d sold to somebody else

jpawloski@theolympian.comApril 21, 2013 

Sheriff’s deputies arrested a local man Thursday after he tried to sell a stolen painting worth $2,500 at the same downtown Olympia antique shop where the theft victim had originally bought it, court papers state.

Dennis Avery, 48, was ordered held at the Thurston County Jail on Friday after a judge found probable cause to support allegations of trafficking in stolen property and possession of stolen property. He was being held at the jail Friday on a no-bail warrant due to an allegation that he violated a domestic violence protection order, a jail official said.

Jerry Sherburne, a co-owner of Sherburne Antiques and Fine Art on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia, said he recognized the J.J. Englehart oil painting when Avery came into the shop Feb. 19 and tried to sell it for $500. Sherburne said he realized, “I’ve owned this painting before. I don’t ever forget a painting.” After Avery left the shop, Sherburne called Richard Kelley, the man who had originally bought the painting from the shop. Sherburne then learned that it had been stolen from Kelley’s residence on Union Mills Road about a year ago.

“Mr. Kelley indicated he did not sell it and it was stolen,” Sherburne said.

Sherburne then contacted the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and detectives helped him set up a “buy/bust operation” at Sherburne Antiques. After several missed connections, Avery arranged to bring the painting to Sherburne Antiques on Thursday.

When a detective introduced himself to Avery at the antique shop, he told Avery he was in possession of a stolen painting. Avery said, “I didn’t know it was stolen,” but refused to answer questions about where he had purchased it, court papers state. “I want to consult with an attorney,” Avery said, according to court papers.

Sherburne said the sting operation was nerve-wracking, adding that it was the first time he has ever helped law enforcement recover a stolen painting.

A deputy stated in a report that if Avery “was an innocent party, he would’ve gladly provided an explanation of where he got the painting from and probably would have provided a recorded statement.”

Avery has a lengthy arrest history, including numerous arrests on suspicion of possession of controlled substances, simple assault, theft, possession of stolen property and misdemeanor domestic violence.

Sherburne said Englehart was a prolific landscape painter who lived in California and various locations in the Pacific Northwest, including Tacoma. Englehart lived from 1867 to 1951, and often painted under a pseudonym, Sherburne added. According to a web site for the College of the Siskiyous, a community college in Northern California, Englehart “was a prolific painter and his paintings were at times quite good, on the finer side of being ‘tourist paintings,’ but he never achieved the critical acclaim of his contemporaries. Today he is considered to be on the second tier of early West Coast artists.”

Thurston County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Clark said Friday that the painting will be returned to Kelley.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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