June 11, 2008 / 1:13 AM / in 10 years

Some of stolen Canadian artwork damaged by thieves

SURREY, British Columbia (Reuters) - Police have recovered all but two works of art stolen by “unsophisticated” thieves who broke into a Canadian museum, but some of the items were damaged, officials said on Tuesday.

The recovered items, including gold jewelry and other art by Canadian Haida artist Bill Reid, were found in two raids in suburban Vancouver, and police believe the two missing items are still in the Pacific Coast city.

Three people were taken into custody during the raids but later released. No charges have yet been laid, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Fifteen items, including three Mexican necklaces, were stolen on May 24 from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver by thieves who broke into the building during the night, apparently bypassing the alarm system.

The items were valued at about C$2 million ($2 million), but museum officials and art experts have said the cultural significance of the works as examples of aboriginal art was priceless.

Museum officials and Reid’s wife had initially feared the theft was motivated more by the value of the gold than the value of the artworks, and voiced concerns the jewelry would be melted down and destroyed. More than C$50,000 in rewards was offered for the items’ safe return.

“This does not appear to be an international art theft ring; it is more local in nature. These were unsophisticated (Vancouver area) career criminals,” Inspector Brendan FitzPatrick told reporters.

Investigators were still analyzing the condition of the stolen items, but the gold necklaces appear to have been taken apart by the thieves. The recovered items also included a prized gold box with an eagle on top, sculpted by Reid.

The artist also made the two items that are still missing, including a gold eagle pin that investigators theorize may have been traded away by the thieves not long after the break-in.

Police and museum officials renewed pleas for information leading to their safe return.

Reid, who died in 1998, crafted the works with designs inspired by the stories and legends of the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands on Canada’s Pacific Coast.

Museum officials said they will assess the items’ condition once they are released by police, and hope to eventually put the artwork back on display.

($1=$1.02 Canadian)

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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