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Artist Laments Over Snatched Pelican Statue

David Clemons of Idaho said he spent six months crafting the 700-pound bronze work and thinks he knows why somebody stole it last week.

The artist who spent six months full-time crafting a 700-pound flying pelican out of bronze expressed sadness over the statue’s theft from a Novato park and said he believes he knows the motive.

David Clemons, who was contracted by the to create Omay, a Coast Miwok word for pelican, was somber when reached at his studio in Idaho on Monday. He said the heist — sometime between Oct. 3 and 8 — from a perch on the south end of could be a crass symbol of the sagging economy. Clemons said he imagines the thieves would attempt to cut the pelican into pieces and melt it down for the copper.

Sgt. Eric Riddell of the Novato Police Department said copper is going for about $9 per pound, which figures to $6,300 for a 700-pound statue. A $1,000 reward has been set up for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves.

“Lots of people are going through hard times,” Clemons said. “Even if it was an act of desperation, we’re all struggling. But, geez, if you just need to steal some copper wire — which on the face of it is mostly what it is — then go steal it from a warehouse or a corporation yard. This is awful. It’s senseless, really.”

Clemons, who was paid $27,500 for his work, said he feels badly for the residents of Novato who grew to enjoy Omay and for the Native Americans for which it served as a link to their past.

“It’s tragic because they’re taking from everybody, not just the artist,” he said of the perpetrators. “They are just thinking about what (money) they can get for this stuff. They don’t know the amount of work or the amount of creativity that went into it. It’s like, gosh, they’ll just go get another one from an art store. It’s not like that. This was made by hand in a very long process.”

It took about 18 months from the start of the planning stages in 2007 to the installation of the nine-foot statue, Clemons said. Many people were involved — from city parks personnel to a citizen art review committee to a city engineer. The installation was covered by the local press and thereafter kids often were seen marveling at Omay.

Clemons said he has heard of artwork vandalism more and more. Omay was situated about 100 yards east of Redwood Boulevard and 100 yards west of Highway 101, leaving it in a hard-to-view position at night. He said having such statues be illuminated at all times would help prevent more vandalism.

“Even those that aren’t that valuable but might be more out of the way in a natural setting are prone to vandalism,” he said. “It helps to have a camera pointing on it, but in remote places that’s not really possible.”

Finding the pelican intact at this point is unlikely, he said. He could make a second one because he kept the molds.

Clemons had a message for the thieves:

“Theft is always wrong, but you haven’t just stolen from my artistic legacy. You haven’t just stolen something from the people of Novato or the Native Americans who live in that area. You have dishonored what it stood for. The whole purpose of that park is to be a flyway for birds, a sanctuary for wildlife. It’s a symbol of their freedom. Now that’s been taken away.

“Please rethink what you have done. No matter how desperate a situation you’re in, if you return it you are returning the honor to all the work that went into it — the community fundraising, the vision and dedication. This is about respecting people’s honor. This (statue) was a final touch to that park project up to that point. So there’s an awful lot of people whose work has been squelched by one person or a team of people who ruined it for everybody.”

Anyone with information about the statue's disappearance can contact the at 897-1122 or the department's tip line at 800-848-0101.

— Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

Jack October 11, 2011 at 03:42 AM
I find it hard to believe that the pelican was put a remote place and no one thought of the possibility it may get stolen. I knew it would happen someday the minute I saw where it was locate.
Sigrid Boehm October 11, 2011 at 05:07 AM
I have visited this statue several times and taken photos of it. I could not find a sign telling the visitor who the artist is and when this beautiful pelican was erected. I feel terrible that anyone would touch this work of art, so well done. I often ask myself what is wrong with people today.. I want to thank David Clemons for this beautiful piece of art that so many people enjoyed. Maybe in the future we have to fence in each statue to prevent it from being stolen. Sigrid Boehm 10/10/11
Born & raised October 11, 2011 at 05:30 AM
$27,500.00? Seriously?
Steve B October 11, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Two things: 1) This gorgeous hunk of copper was placed right next to Leafwood Apartments, duh, duh, DUH!!! (More affordable housing in Novato anyone?) 2) Our state needs to get its act together and make it so ONLY licensed, bonded recycling contractors may get paid for scrap metal- not just anyone, any-thief.
Karen Turnbaugh October 11, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Better to steal from businesses? Sorry for the loss, but suggesting it would be better to steal from employers is perverse.
Tom S Baker October 11, 2011 at 02:49 PM
The city once again spends your cash and you keep voting them into office . They will buy a new one for you dummies
Jay Strauss October 11, 2011 at 02:55 PM
This story is a national news item -- just google it. Why? Because art is often the best and most lasting thing that any civilization has to offer. The theft or defacement of public art is not a crime against any individual or business, it is a crime against the community. It spits in all of our faces, it disrespects all of our better selves.
david clemons October 11, 2011 at 03:45 PM
You are right. It was flippant .. I spoke without measuring my words when I learned over the phone of the theft. I regret that the comment . I wish I would have said: I understand that the price of metal is climbing at a rate that far outshines the stock market and if the statue is melted down and sold for raw materials it could bring an influx of cash into a desperate situation, but these are desperate times for all of us. I have supported myself as a full time artist for 27 years. The era of being a full time artist has been an honor but may be coming for an end for me, as I am actively searching for new ways to support my family. The economy is forcing people to scrimp for the things they need and ignore the things they want. Art is in the "want" category for most of this nation's citizens these days. As much as I love beauty and the elusive quest to capture it in art,... art for art's sake does not feed my family. I may change my vocation, lifestyle, and shelve my passion, but stealing to maintain the life I love isn't an option. I would encourage the people who currently have the statue in their possession to pursue other options as well. There have to be other options then selling our honor so cheaply. If the years ahead mean that we must focus on survival rather than insist on expanding culture, that is a sadness we must face, but to cannibalize the culture we already have is a great tragedy. Thanks for holding me accountable Karen! David Clemons
RJM October 11, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Jerry , who do you think took it ? Please , once your in office , don' t replace it.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) October 11, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I have uploaded some photos of what the pelican perch looks like today without Omay.
Tina McMillan October 11, 2011 at 04:21 PM
It's not just this statue that was stolen. Look at the police logs and you will see a pattern of theft of copper, bronze and platinum. Buildings along Novato Blvd have been vandalized by thieves looking for coppering wiring. Bronze plaques have been stolen throughout town. Spools of copper wiring have been stolen. Catalytic converters have been stolen. This statue is the largest piece that I have read about but the crime for metal for resale is rampant. I have no pity for the thieves. I do not believe this is about "hard times". I believe this is a form of crime that is organized, insidious and will continue to hurt residents until we get more police on the street and we stop the practice of selling metal without showing the source.
JAN October 11, 2011 at 04:34 PM
The art piece was stolen to be scrapped out for whatever it will bring. It will wind up in a Bay Area metal salvage yard sooner or later. Probably the same company that buys all of the bronze fire plug caps that are missing in Novato and Marin County.
Sigrid Boehm October 11, 2011 at 04:58 PM
How disrespectful
Holly October 11, 2011 at 05:20 PM
I agree with Karen. Bad choice of words and shame on you Mr. Clemons for saying such a thing.
RJM October 11, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Did anyone check to see if it was thrown or rolled into the pond by kids?

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