Art Thief

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If I was only a little more dishonest I could be a millionaire. I’m not talking bank robber dishonest or even banker dishonest. And I have no taste for blackmail or kidnapping. But international art thief? Well maybe.

I’ve had my opportunity.

In 1986, Canada Post commissioned Jean-Paul Lemieux, a well-known Quebec artist to produce a limited edition (15 copies) set of prints representing his vision of Canada’s ten provinces and two territories (Nunavut didn’t come along until 1999). They were in celebration of the organization’s 100th anniversary). At that time, I was Executive Assistant to the Premier of the Northwest Territories. The presentations of the portfolio of prints was made during the annual Premiers conference which we were attending (as observers — the Premiers didn’t invite the full participation of the territories until 1992).

As the EA I was generally the custodian of all such presents and I dutifully lugged them back to Yellowknife. Once there I made some calls to see who would take them off my hands. We might have hung them on the wall — after all the Commissioner had a dozen A.Y. Jacksons in his office — but my boss only wanted art by northern artists. So I called the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. ‘We’re a museum not an art gallery’ was their response. The department of culture had no facility and the Archives were worried about the quality of care. So they sat in my office for a year. Every once ina while I took them out and looked at them. I quite liked them.

I felt pretty privileged to have these prints in my office though I had no idea as to their value. Other Canadians got to see them too- the Post Office issued all twelve as stamps — but I was one of the few people who got to see them full size. I have no idea what happened to the other sets but I don’t think they are on public display anywhere.

The year passed and I still had the prints. An election was coming and I was moving to another job in advance of the vote. What was I to do with the prints? For a day or two I contemplated taking them home. If nothing else they would look nice in my apartment. And maybe they would be worth some money in my retirement (though how I would sell such rare items I had no idea  — if only I knew about Craigslist or eBay, but that was long ago…)

I made a final round of calls and, finally, a day before I was to leave my office the Heritage Centre ‘took them off my hands.’ That was the last I saw of them until 15 years later I had lunch in the caucus lounge at the new Legislative Assembly. And there they were — nicely framed and on display. I enjoyed telling the assembled MLAs of their provenance.

By the way, a Lemieux painting recently sold at auction for $2 million. Yeah, I could have been rich.

And that’s ten minutes.

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