The Hamline art heist: half returned

An art theft on campus leads to larger discussions in the Art Department and increased safety measures by Public Safety.


Nathan Steeves
Drew Fine Arts houses Hamline’s visual, performance and musical arts. The artwork was stolen from this building.

Lydia Meier, News Reporter

 Professor Andrew Wykes sent a message to one of his classes on October 6, informing them of an art theft. Sometime in the previous week, an unidentified individual stole two 30” by 30” oil on canvas paintings from a stairwell in Drew Fine Arts (DFA).

The paintings hung adjacent to the Soeffker Gallery, where Hamline houses its permanent collection, featuring artists like Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol.

Wykes reached out to his students and to Public Safety for answers, but found none. Director of Public Safety Melinda Heikennen explained that although there are several cameras in the area around the Soeffker Gallery, none face the wall where the paintings were hung. 

After reviewing the security cameras, Public Safety was “unable to clearly identify anyone removing those specific paintings,” Heikennen said.

However, in a strange turn of events, one of the paintings returned. 

“Mysteriously,” Wykes said, “The following week … one of the paintings appeared by the painting studio turned facing the wall.” 

The other painting is still missing.

The theft has left Wykes pondering the state of DFA.

“It does bring up the concerns I have heard from students and faculty about the situation of DFA.  Since COVID, DFA has become a shell of what it was. In fact 21 years ago when I was hired the building was thriving with people,” Wykes said. “Recently the division lost its administrative assistant and was told that the position will not be replaced. That means there is no full-time human presence at the office by the entrance. If I don’t put on all the buildings [sic] lights at 8:30 upon my arrival … DFA will remain in semi-darkness all day.” 

He worries about a theft from the Soeffker Gallery itself, saying that such an event would send “shock waves to the administration.” Overall, Wykes feels that the DFA has a “distinct sense of being rundown.”

Although a somewhat abandoned DFA could have led to the theft, many art students seem puzzled about the thief’s motives. Max Ridenour is a sophomore who plans on minoring in Studio Arts and is confused about how this happened.

“It’s hard for me to imagine what kind of person would have the idea to steal a painting from an institution with such a small art department to begin with,” Ridenour said, “And what they would stand to gain from such an action if they ended up returning it without incident.”

Some art students, like Ridenour, have felt that Public Safety has increased their presence around the art studios since the theft, which has made them feel uncomfortable. 

“Public Safety has been incessantly patrolling the studios on Taylor [Avenue] since the theft,” Ridenour said. “They’re supposedly responding to threats to steal equipment from the studios that they received, although I’m unable to assess the validity of these threats, and the heightened presence of Public Safety has felt to me like a nuisance more than anything.”

Heikennen stated that she is not aware of any shift in Public Safety coverage around the studios. 

“In order for us to ensure the safety and security of the campus we spend time in a variety of areas for different lengths of time,” Heikkinen said. “We are not there to monitor students moving about campus who just happen to be in the same area at the same time.”

Whatever the case, a perceived sense of increased security has the Studio Arts department buzzing about the incident.

Ridenour, for one, is puzzled by the whole chain of events. 

“I’m thankful that the paintings got returned, but I honestly think the entire situation is pretty goofy. I hope we get to learn more about who stole the paintings and why, because it seems like such a movie-villain grade of shenanigans that I have trouble associating with my mental conception of the average Hamline student,” Ridenour said. “I will simply say that I’m impressed by the sheer distinctiveness and wanton behavior of such a scheme.”

As of October 16, the Studio Arts department is hoping for a safe return of the second painting.