Update: A man was charged with receiving stolen property after the Kansas City police recovered pieces of a stolen statue of a Native American woman. Clay County prosecutors charged Charles Fuentes, 56, and he was being held on $25,000 bond. Tips from the public helped detectives find a large section of the statue, but it had already been cut into pieces, the police said.
A 7ft-tall, 400-pound bronze statue of a Native American woman has been stolen from a memorial in a park in Kansas City, Missouri, causing alarm for those who commissioned it from a local artist to celebrate the city’s founding.
The work disappeared sometime between 2 and 4 August from a limestone bluff overlooking the planned François Chouteau and Native American Heritage Fountain, Heidi Markle, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City parks and recreation department, said today.
The work, valued at $80,000, was part of a trio of sculptures by the noted Chinese-born artist Kwan Wu depicting one of the city’s founders, the French-American fur trader Chouteau, bartering with two Osage Indians, she adds. The works were installed in April 2020, and the site recently hosted a celebration marking Missouri’s bicentennial.
Steven Downing, a detective with the Kansas City police department, said that he assumed several people were involved in the heavy sculpture’s removal, which involved sawing off three mounting bolts that anchored it to a platform on the bluff. “We’re getting a few tips that a truck and a crane were involved, but the information is still conflicted,” he says.
Given that copper likely made up 90% of the metal used to make the statue, the police suspect that the thieves intended to chop up the work and sell it to a salvage yard, says Downing, who estimates that the copper would have fetched $1,500 to $2,000. He noted that the police deal frequently with the theft of copper pipes and wiring from houses in the city.
Markle says that memorial plaques and wiring have been stolen from Kansas City parks for their metal value in the past. “But in the 15 years I’ve been here, we’ve never had an entire statue taken,” she says.
The planned fountain and the sculptures were commissioned by a foundation seeking to honour the role played by Chouteau and Native Americans such as the Osage in Kansas City’s early beginnings as a fur trading post in the 1820s. A fourth statue by Wu, depicting a Kaw hunter, was installed near the bluff last month.
Dana Nelson, a co-chair with the foundation, told The Kansas City Star that at first, she was “extremely angry” about the sculpture being stolen. “And then I was hurt that someone would devalue something that was an original piece of art,” she added.
Meanwhile, the police were hoping that an informant will emerge who can lead investigators to an intact statue. “We’ve been getting this out on social media,” Downing says. “We’re hoping that someone will see this and do the right thing.”