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Clark: Dare’s ‘Au gratin scholar’ missing

Spokane artist Robin Dare poses with one of his works of art, featuring his ‘au gratin scholar’ on Wednesday in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Spokane artist Robin Dare poses with one of his works of art, featuring his ‘au gratin scholar’ on Wednesday in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Robin Dare doesn’t know whether to be mad, flattered or try to call for those art-rescuing “Monuments Men.”

And why is Dare, one of my favorite Spokane artists, in such a state of bemused befuddlement?

Blame the letter that came the other day informing Dare that one of his works – “The Other Theory of Evolution” – has mysteriously vanished from its wall space inside the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.

“Dear Robin,” wrote Esther Luttikhuizen, the curator for King County’s 4Culture public art collection.

“I am writing you with the unhappy news that your very delightful 1988 lithograph  …  has come up missing for two inventory survey cycles, and believing that it has been stolen, we are moving forward with deaccessioning it from the Collection.”

Dare sighed.

“I should put a sign on my back that says ‘I’ve Been Deaccessioned,’ ” he said.

On Wednesday morning I dropped by Dare’s South Hill home/studio to commiserate with his loss.

To be honest, however, I’m not surprised that a Dare work would bring out the larceny in someone.

“The Other Theory of Evolution” is a prime example of how Dare’s stellar drawing skills give life to the bizarre images he dreams up.

The piece portrays the five stages of potato transformation as the spud evolves from lowly New Zealand Pit Tuber to Mr. Potato Head.

Or “Modern Au Gratin Scholar,” as Dare labeled him.

“The print was a popular artwork among staff,” added Luttikhuizen in her letter.

Hmm. “Popular artwork among staff.”

Maybe we have some suspects, after all.

A call to Seattle eased any suspicions about this being an inside job.

“While theft is rare, it’s wrong!” said 4Culture’s Public Art Director Cath Brunner.

In her 20 years with the program, she guessed that no more than six to eight cases of thievery had occurred from a collection that includes 1,700 pieces displayed at 61 facilities.

Statistics don’t mean beans, of course, when you’re one of the unlucky losers.

“We’re all sad,” said Brunner. “It’s a terrible thing.”

In Brunner’s mind, Dare’s satiric take on potato evolution “makes you think and does all the things that art is supposed to do in a public collection.”

So maybe we’re approaching this caper from the wrong direction.

As it turns out, this isn’t the first hiccup Dare has encountered with this particular work.

Flash back to the early 1990s, when Dare sold one of the 100 potato prints he had made to Hillsboro, Ore.

Or so he thought.

The letter from a Hillsboro official said it had been selected by a committee and would hang soon inside a new law library.

Pack it, ship it and mail us a bill, Dare said he was told.

The artist did as directed.

But when Dare tried to collect, he was told the deal was off. Some elected big shot with hair-trigger religious convictions claimed Dare’s potato piece contained inappropriate content.

Cut to the chase: Dare eventually got his money, but only after taking the Lord’s name in vain and threatening to sue.

Could this be what we’re dealing with in Seattle, some Bible-thumping zealot who believes Mr. Potato Head couldn’t have evolved?

Mr. Potato Head had to be divinely created?

“We haven’t heard that complaint here,” said Brunner between laughs.

It’s hard to say which is more offbeat, Dare’s art or the reactions it sometimes provokes.

My favorite Dare tale dates to August 1996, when the Pez Candy company threatened to sue the artist for trademark infringement.

At issue was “Shirley Temple Goes to Pez Land,” a surrealistic pencil drawing that Dare spent a full year creating.

He drew the heads of famous people like Teddy Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II and Temple onto Pez dispensers and had 1,000 copies printed.

Not everybody was a fan.

“The celebrities depicted in your prints have never been associated at any time with Pez Candy and dispensers,” barked Louis P. Falango of the Pez legal department in perhaps the silliest cease-and-desist letter ever composed.

Needless to say, Falango’s hot air quickly blew away in a hurricane of guffaws and belly laughs.

Dare seized what little fame he garnered from the flap by raising his print prices.

No such opportunity this time, alas. According to Dare, his letter from 4Culture speaks volumes about where he hangs in the Washington art gallery.

He’s probably right.

Let’s say hypothetically that some rascal stole one of glass master Dale Chihuly’s masterworks from the King County art trove.

All of Seattle would be aghast. The world would soon be abuzz about such a brazen heist.

But what does a Spokane artist get when his spud art takes a powder?

Small fries, that’s what.

“I am sorry that someone decided (in spite of security mounts) to take it home,” wrote Luttikhuizen in her letter.

We all are, Esther. We all are.

Doug Clark e can be reached at (509) 459-543c2 or