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A thief in the night using heavy equipment stole eight giant bronze sculptures, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds with a total value of nearly $400,000, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff?s Office.

By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers

A thief in the night using heavy equipment stole eight giant bronze sculptures, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds with a total value of nearly $400,000, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff?s Office.

John Waddell reported the theft after walking to view the sculptures with friends.

Ruth Waddell says Feb. 16, she and her husband had an early lunch with friends before heading up to the plateau to view some of her husband?s work in the sculpture garden.

When the group approached the end of the tour, expecting to see ?Gathering,? John Waddell stood astonished. Instead of seeing statues he named after models who stood before him, Waddell saw empty bases.

According to Ruth Waddell, the seven sculptures in ?Gathering? totaled $385,000.

An eighth, an independent statue, cost $70,000.

Her name was ?Andrea.?

?Andrea? was also stolen, leaving nothing more than a circled depression in the dirt.

In 2003, before the Sedona Cultural Park went bankrupt, Waddell withdrew three groups of sculptures he called ?Generations.? In addition, ?Gathering,? ?Circle of Womanhood? and ?Expulsion from the Garden of the Earth? were removed.

Waddell brought the tremendous ensemble home and placed them throughout a plateau overlooking his acreage below. It was the beginning of the Waddell Sculpture Garden.

According to Ruth Waddell, over the years Boy Scout troops, Outward Bound and locals from around the area assisted the Waddells by making stone-bordered walking paths around the garden.

For 15 years, the Waddells allowed people to enjoy the sculpture garden as long as they respected the space. They never imagined anyone would desecrate an inspirational setting of art and nature.

YCSO criminal investigator Sgt. Dan Winslow says eyewitnesses place the statues in the sculpture garden Thursday afternoon. Since the Waddells discovered them missing Friday afternoon, it?s assumed they were stolen overnight or early morning, Winslow says.

Winslow adds, though YCSO maintains jurisdiction over the case, the Phoenix Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are involved considering the value of the items.

To make matters worse, Ruth Waddell says none of the sculptures was covered by insurance. To insure the artwork was ?prohibitive,? she admits.

Saturday morning, after authorities finished gathering evidence and taking

photographs, neighbors helped the Waddells transport the remaining sculptures closer to their home.

?Pinuu,? ?Michele? and ?Dorice? lie on a trailer pulled by one of Waddell?s vehicles. Each model?s sculpture resembles a different ballet position for which it is named.

??En Balance,? ?Entourate,? ?Ves Grand Jeté,?? Ruth Waddell says.

Their delicate poses contradict the temporary awkward state they lie in.

Waddell points to an open relief sculpture hanging from the front bucket of a tractor. Chains secure the piece firmly.

The relief is called ?Jennifer?s Dance of Life,? but Waddell?s weary description emphasizes the couple?s confusion and loss instead of celebration.

With the high price of bronze these days, it?s more than likely the sculptures will be scrapped and melted down, the Waddells say.

Winslow agrees. This is one reason police are investigating scrap yards and businesses with the ability to melt bronze into ingot.

According to Rob Meyers, co-owner of Sedona?s Artscape Bronze Casting, the price of bronze is around $4.50 per pound.

Meyers says he used to receive pallets weighing 3,000 pounds, which cost around $3,500. Now the same pallet size costs $12,000.

?We had people come all the way from Texas to buy our scrap metal ? they wanted to pay more than we did for it,? he says. ?They must have known the price of bronze was going up.?

Considering the weight of each sculpture ranged between 750 and 1,500 pounds, thieves could earn more than $32,000 from the robbery — only a fraction of the sculptures? artistic worth.

John Waddell, surprisingly, calls the incident more of an ?annoyance? than anything.

His idyllic space of nearly 40 years was violated, but most importantly, so was progress on his latest masterpiece.

For the past 10 years, Waddell has put his efforts into one relief. The 40-foot high by 20-foot wide relief is a depiction of women walking, overseen by others in flight as if they are guardians. He calls the relief ?Earth to Sky.?

In the meantime, there is nothing more the Waddells can do except wait and hope.

Ruth Waddell says her husband could block off the front entrance to his property like he did Friday evening, but he won?t. Instead, he?ll continue sculpting ?the beauty of individual differences.?


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