EUGENE – Mike Leckie thought his discus thrower was gone for good.
After all, it had been about 23 years since the local artist’s bronze bas-relief sculpture of a nude field athlete twisting into his throw had vanished from a downtown Eugene art gallery.
Leckie knew that a crook had swiped it and figured there was no chance it would ever be recovered.
“When somebody steals a piece of art, you never expect to see it again,” Leckie said in an interview at his southeast Eugene home – where, after an unlikely sequence of events, he was reunited with the long-lost sculpture that he created in 1989 for a World Masters track and field meet at Hayward Field.
After the meet, the artwork went on display at the now-shuttered Alder Street Gallery. It disappeared sometime around 1990 “under murky circumstances,” said Tod Schneider, a crime-prevention specialist with the Eugene Police Department.
No one ever filed a theft report with police. It’s not known where the piece spent the 1990s.
About a decade ago, Eugene resident Anne Caldwell came across it as she cleaned out a rental property in the Whiteaker neighborhood after evicting the tenants.
Caldwell said she liked the sculpture but didn’t know what to do with it. So she stuck it in her garden, where it stayed until recently – when her conscience and curiosity got to her.
“I thought it must have been stolen at some point, and I just didn’t want stolen art in my yard,” she said. “I could see that a lot of work had gone into this piece, and I needed to find out if it had a rightful owner.”
Caldwell sent Schneider a photo of the weather-worn sculpture and asked him to help her track down the artist who had made it.
Using the Internet, it didn’t take Schneider long to figure out that the sculpture was likely a Leckie original.
“It was a unique-enough piece that a Web search came up with a very narrow list” of potential artists, Schneider said. “It was clear from looking at (Leckie’s) website that it was probably his.”
Leckie, a lifelong sculptor, has worked extensively in bas-relief, a form in which the sculpture stands out from a flat background. He created a series of pieces for the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, giving pieces to event winners and selling them to the public from a booth outside Hayward Field.
Leckie said he was surprised to hear from Schneider that his nearly quarter-century-old discus thrower was with Caldwell – who he had met previously through a mutual acquaintance.
“This really is a piece that disappeared, and this shows just how small of a town we live in,” Leckie said. “They found me pretty easily.”
Leckie said the sculpture might have sold for as much as $6,000 at one point. But for now, he has no plans to let it out of his sight.
“I’ll probably put it on the wall and look at it for a while. It’s a prodigal son.”