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Raiders of the Lost Art: Another San Francisco Sculpture Goes Missing 

Tuesday, Aug 5 2014

For 30-odd years, Cindy Casey and her husband, Michael, renovated ornate elements of city buildings and works of art here in San Francisco. Not so long ago, Michael died. Now Cindy maintains a blog about public art here in the city.

Or, sometimes, the lack thereof. On a recent trip past the Ocean Park Health Center on 24th Avenue, she was expecting to find Sailor and Mermaid, a glorious, 12-foot high copper sculpture crafted in 1970 by Henri Marie-Rose. Instead, all that remains is a stump roughly the size of a garden gnome.

As it turns out, the statue had been gone a long time.

Years ago, the artist's son, Dr. Pierre-Joseph Marie-Rose, a pediatrician with the city's Department of Public Health, visited the site for a meeting. He was shocked to find only the gnome-sized stump. He was even more shocked at the nonchalant explanation health center personnel offered him: They allowed the foliage to cover the sculpture for years and, when they finally cut it back, Sailor and Mermaid was gone.

The San Francisco Arts Commission believes the sculpture was swiped in the early 1990s. Dr. Marie-Rose made his serendipitous discovery in the late 1990s. It was left to him to inform his father of the loss.

In fact, Henri Marie-Rose's lost work could stand in for any number of Arts Commission pieces. The body is undertaking a yearslong comprehensive survey to chart the whereabouts of its 4,000-plus items, many of which are unaccounted for. The commission has additionally loaned out some 754 works to 183 city agencies and offices. It does not know where many of them are.

The list of public artwork stolen or vandalized since 2007 runs to 15 pages. Among the more memorable losses are the serial thefts of the Mahatma's spectacles from the Ferry Plaza Gandhi memorial; the filching of plaques from the Shakespeare Garden; and the theft of all four bronze tortoises from the eponymous Fountain of the Tortoises in Huntington Park. Hundreds of instances of graffiti are documented, including one wit who chose to scrawl "Just sit your fat ass down and relax" on the bronze chairs near the Church and Duboce Muni stop.

Kate Patterson-Murphy, the Arts Commission's spokeswoman, urged concerned residents to report vandalism and contribute to the city's ArtCare fund.

That won't bring back Sailor and Mermaid, however.

Henri Marie-Rose died in 2010. His sole accounting on the Arts Commission's list of public works is a copper relief emplacement on the exterior of a fire station on Sansome Street. It is mounted several stories above the sidewalk.

And, as such, it is still there.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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