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Police recover rare artwork missing from Cambridge for 30 years

Posted by Brock Parker  July 17, 2012 02:47 PM

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Praying Knight.jpg

The rare "Praying Knight" statue that disappeared from a Cambridge school in 1980 has been recovered from a Somerville home. Photo courtesy the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum.

More than thirty years after it mysteriously went missing from a Cambridge high school, a valuable bronze statue by a famous Arlington sculptor has been recovered by police.

Now school officials in Cambridge say they plan to rededicate the rare statue, which late Arlington artist Cyrus Dallin was commissioned to create in 1929 to memorialize 11 Cambridge students who died while serving in World War I.

“I think time had erased everybody’s knowledge about it,” said James Maloney, the chief operating officer of Cambridge Public Schools, about the sculpture. “We’re extremely excited about its return.”

The three-foot tall statue, entitled “Praying Knight,” had been missing since 1980 when it disappeared during a renovation project for the merger of Rindge Technical School and Cambridge High and Latin School, where the artwork had been kept for 50 years.

The disappearance of the statue was so long ago that Cambridge Police have purged records that would detail whether the artwork was reported stolen at the time, said police spokesman Dan Riviello.

Maloney said he had even forgotten the statue, and he used to see it in the hallway at Cambridge High and Latin School, where he graduated from in 1969.

But the statue finally resurfaced a few months ago when a Boston art dealer contacted the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington attempting to identify a bronze statue signed by Dallin. The art dealer was attempting to appraise the item for a client, but Heather Leavell, a co-chair of the board of trustees for the museum, immediately recognized the artwork, contacted the museum’s attorney, and then notified Cambridge Police.

“The trustees were always trying to keep an eye out for it,” said Leavell.

Cambridge Police Detective Brian O’Connor followed up with the family that had the statue and then recovered it from their Somerville residence in late May.

Police said that the father in the family had come home with the statue many years ago and it had been in the home ever since.

Riviello said the father recently passed away, and when his son then decided to look into the statue the family discovered the artwork had either been stolen from Cambridge or had been misplaced.

The family was cooperative, agreed to return the statue, and police are not filing any charges. Riviello said police aren’t releasing the family’s name because they were thrown into the situation through no fault of their own by a family member whom can not be questioned because he is now deceased.

“We’ll never know for sure where he got it from, or how he got it,” Riviello said. “We’re just happy we recovered it.”

Leavell said the statue looks to be in good condition and is considered “extremely valuable,” but the museum trustees are not appraisers and would not give a dollar estimate on the value of the work. She said Dallin made one other copy of “Praying Knight” in 1932, which was then given to a Boston school.

Dallin, who died in 1944, was renowned for a number of his works, including his equestrian “Paul Revere” statue outside Old North Church in Boston’s North End and the “Appeal to the Great Spirit” statue in front of the Museum of Fine Arts that depicts a Native American with his arms reaching to the sky.

Maloney said Cambridge Public Schools have left the “Praying Knight” in possession of Cambridge Police until the school district chooses a suitable location for the artwork. He said one ideal spot may be in the lobby of the newly renovated Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

He said the school district will likely hold a dedication ceremony in the fall to mark the return of the artwork, pay tribute to the artist, and to honor the 11 graduates who were killed in World War I.

The school district is also discussing allowing the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum to put the artwork on display at its Arlington facility sometime this summer.

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