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December 12, 2011

Burlington Woman Searches For a Painting Missing Since October

Burlington police have apparently recovered music critic Ben Hardy's stolen guitar, a Telecaster signed by the members of Pearl Jam, that once belonged to Hardy's late older brother. Now maybe the cops can find this painting.HelmerVertical

Last October, Sammie Schenker Friedman was helping her mother move from a Burlington condo to an assisted-living facility nearby, when the abstract painting by Robert Helmer (right), which had been in the family for 47 years, disappeared.

"I'm searching for it like a lost puppy," says Friedman, who works at Fletcher Free Library.

An art historian, Friedman worked for years in New York and Los Angeles galleries and once transported a Renoir in her own car. She knows how to handle art in a big move.

"I did a checklist," she says of moving her mother's belongings in October. "I know how to ship a painting, I know how to hang it. I had the approximate space on the wall. It was there, and then it wasn’t."

Friedman prefered not to disclose the name of the assisted-living facility to protect her mother's privacy.

Friedman reported the case to the Burlington Police, but she says they haven't turned up any leads. Now she's working with Burlington's Parallel Justice program.

She just wants her painting back. It's already been through a lot — it even survived Hurricane Katrina.

In August of 2005, Friedman traveled to New Orleans, as she does every year, to visit her parents, who still lived in the house she grew up in. It was her father's 80th birthday.

The night before Katrina touched down, Friedman loaded her parents, a friend, their 80-pound basset hound and a few supplies and valuables into the car. They left everything else behind, including many works of art. "I had nowhere to take them," says Friedman of her parents. "So suddenly, we were in Vermont."

Floodwaters rose to five feet in her parents' neighborhood — three feet in the house. But the artwork made it out unscathed.

Friedman's father, Robert Schenker, was on the faculty of the Tulane School of Architecture with Helmer, the painter whose work went missing last fall. "Over the years, my father both collected his colleague’s works and used them to decorate the houses he built," says Friedman. He acquired the painting in question around 1963.

The painting — oil and gesso on wood panel — is 40 inches tall, 15-and-a-quarter inches wide and signed in the upper right corner. "On the back," says Friedman, "it looks like a bookshelf plank."

But it was more than a painting to Friedman. It was a part of her family.

"I still get choked up when I think about it," she says. The painting is certainly valuable, she adds, but "it wasn’t about money for me. It was about what’s been in my life, my whole life, my mom, my dad."

Friedman is offering a $50 reward for accurate information leading to the painting; $500 for its recovery. E-mail [email protected] or contact Corporal Paul Glynn at Burlington Police Department, 658-2700, [email protected]

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