Art Thefts: Ripped Off While You Eat

Someone stole three paintings from a local deli and may be behind a rash of similar robberies

NeWorlDeli's Sarah Bontempo (l) with artist Leanne Venier
NeWorlDeli's Sarah Bontempo (l) with artist Leanne Venier

Talk about your daring daylight robberies: Some time on July 19 or 20, someone walked into the NeWorlDeli on Guadalupe at 41st, took two paintings by artist Leanne Venier out of their frames, and left with them. Then the following Sunday, about 1:30pm, a woman with a black trash bag strolled into the same deli and, in full view of the lunch crowd, took another of Venier's oil abstracts off the wall, stuck it in the bag, and absconded with it. Each of the paintings, which had been hanging since June 1, were priced at $695.

Venier doesn't know who the thief was or why her artwork was hit twice. "My initial reaction the first time was: 'Well, that's pretty flattering. Somebody likes my work enough to risk going to jail to own it!' Then I immediately thought, 'Something good is bound to come of all of this.' The second time, I thought, 'OK, now the universe is really trying to tell me something!' And I felt even more confident that something positive was going to come of all of it."

Venier notified the media to help warn other artists and establishments that show art about the thefts. After coverage in the Statesman and on KXAN and KTBC, Venier received numerous e-mails not only from friends, fellow artists, and art collectors expressing sympathy but also from artists who knew of similar incidents in recent years in which art was stolen from Upper Crust Bakery, Kerbey Lane Cafe, Z'Tejas, and other Austin eateries. That's made the artist feel even more strongly that "people need to know about and talk about what's happening with these art thefts."

Venier wants artists to be prepared for theft. "First of all, any time something like this happens," she says, "the police should be called immediately." In her case, those calls allowed police to obtain fingerprints from the frames that were left behind and a specific description of the culprit in the second robbery: a woman about 5 feet 3 inches, mid- to late 40s, very thin, dark complexion, long black hair with white streaks, carrying a black umbrella.

Venier also recommends that artists add insurance coverage that protects them in case of theft or damage to their work. Establishments that display art can help by installing a hanging system that makes it harder for work to be removed and by alerting their staffs to watch out for people trying to remove art. She urges staff members and patrons alike to ask such people what they're doing and, if they claim to be the artist or helping the artist, to ask them for identification.

As for something good coming out of this, Venier was invited to exhibit her work in another eatery in the same neighborhood. She now has 20 paintings hanging at Hyde Park Bar & Grill, where they will remain through Sept. 21. A reception for the artist will be held Tuesday, Sept. 9, 4:30-6:30pm, at Hyde Park Bar & Grill, 4206 Duval St. For more information, visit

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art thefts, Leanne Venier, NeWorlDeli

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