SOUTH-CENTRAL : Pastor Searches for Missing Art

Under cloudy skies last week, Pastor M. Andrew Robinson-Gaither began his walk through another local swap meet. For nearly two weeks, he has been hunting for five artworks taken from Faith United Methodist Church.

"And I've called some of the art stores and described to them what was missing," said Robinson-Gaither, who began his search after reporting the artworks missing April 13 to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

He estimated the works are worth about $2,200.

The case is now inactive, said Sgt. Michael Kwan of the Lennox sheriff's station. Kwan said a lack of evidence has stalled further investigation, but he acknowledged that investigators failed to gather fingerprints at the church.

The art disappeared April 12 from the building next to the chapel. Robinson-Gaither said he realized that the art was missing about 11 a.m. when he looked up to find that an African image of Christ, matted in a gold-leaf frame, was missing.

"I looked around and said, 'Oh my God,' and then I noticed two other (works) in the hall were missing. Then I went to the big window and noticed it was missing," he said.

The five artworks, including a print of Cornell Barnes' "Famous Faces," represent more than a material loss to Robinson-Gaither.

"We have been going through a transition for the past five years of trying to make our church art reflect our congregation," said the pastor of the church at 1713 W. 108th St., whose congregation of 200 is predominantly African American. "The art represents our Afrocentric thrust here. It represents our understanding that our liberation is grounded in our understanding that our liberator, Jesus Christ, looked like us."

Robinson-Gaither said that in addition to alerting merchants of the theft, he has been working to get the word out to the community. Several calls were made to KJLH-FM 102.3 during a Saturday morning public affairs program.

"A caller getting off the topic happened to mention the art was taken and how awful it was. And that prompted someone else to call who said how awful it was," said Jacquie Stephens, the station's director of public affairs.

Said Robinson-Gaither: "Many of us are kind of shattered because we open our building to all people out of our belief that this building belongs to the community. And that someone knowing of our openness would take this art . . . they took all the signature art."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World