Otter’s odyssey ends with happy reunion

The artist thought his bronze ‘Oscar the Otter’ was a goner, after it was stolen last year. See how, and where, the missing statue was returned to its owner …

It was from this building, the former Day’s Music Company on Foster Road, that “Oscar the Otter” was stolen in May of last year.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When Portland Adventist Academy teacher and fine artist Mark Kooy returned from a trip last May, Tim and Sue of the Day Theater (formerly  Day Music Company, at 5444 SE Foster Road) seemed happy to see him, but looked a bit sheepish – as if they had bad news for him. They did.

“They told me that my bronze casting of an otter, on display at their arts studio, had been stolen, along with some of their construction equipment,” Kooy said.

Police released this “mug shot” of the recovered stolen bronze statuette, seeking its owner.

He wasn’t concerned, at first, Kooy commented. “I thought their insurance would cover it. But because it was in part of their building that was being remodeled, it was not insured. I then found that my insurance didn’t cover it either, when it was off my property. I figured we were out of luck, and had lost ‘Oscar the Otter’ forever.”

He had visions, Kooy said, of this figure – commissioned more than two decades ago, by the Oregon Zoo – being hacked into pieces and sold for scrap metal – which would net the thief less than $200.

“It cost $2,000 for the casting; its value is set at $6,000.”

Portland Adventist Academy teacher and fine artist Mark Kooy tells students the history of the bronze casting he named “Oscar”.

Kooy recalled seeing Oscar’s “brother” – the original casting installed at the zoo – after it was installed. “A visiting family’s youngest girl, about two years old, went over to the sculpture, and climbed up on its tummy, put her hands on either side of his head, and kissed him on the nose.

“It’s always fun to see people enjoy your work.”

Kooy said he and his wife were recently researching to determine if he could write off Oscar as a property causality loss on his taxes. But that notion changed, when he took a phone call put through to the classroom where he’s taught art for 28 years at Portland Adventist Academy.

“I prefer not to take calls when I’m trying to teach kids,” Kooy said. “But the office said ‘It’s the police calling.’ The caller said, ‘We found this bronze otter, and we wonder if you know anything about it’.”

“My response was, ‘like, well, yes’!”

The school’s principal, Gale Crosby, prepares the students to welcome back the missing artwork – about to be brought into the auditorium by Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Peter Simpson.

On February 10, Kooy was reunited with Oscar the Otter during an assembly at Portland Adventist Academy. Kooy and the school’s principal, Gale Crosby, related the story of the bronze artwork to the student body before introducing Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sergeant Pete Simpson.

As Sgt. Simpson walked in, greeted by applause and the cheers of the students, Crosby said, “Our Police Bureau is our friend in many ways. The police are here to serve and protect us.”

On stage, Simpson told how the stolen bronze otter sculpture had been located.

Greeted with applause and cheers, Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Peter Simpson brings in the recovered statue …

… and reunites Oscar the Otter with its owner, Mark Kooy.

“Not long ago, East Precinct detectives got a search warrant for a particular location, looking for stolen property that included stolen meat – lots of meat.”

The students laughed as he continued, “You can’t make this stuff up! During a search of the house, they came across this sculpture; it clearly did not belong to the people in the house. They had no answers about from where it came.”

After failing to match the statuette against stolen item reports, the detectives asked for help from the Bureau’s Public Information Office, Simpson continued.

“We found that there was an identical bronze at the zoo, but they reported theirs wasn’t missing. We did learn from the zoo that, according to their records from 20 plus years ago, the artist was listed as ‘Mark Coy’.”

The misspelled name briefly slowed their efforts to find the sculptor, Simpson said. “But we put out the word, and within a matter of an hour, we got several e-mails, apparently from former students, that the correct spelling is ‘Kooy’.” That led us here.”

It’s not often the police get the opportunity to return stolen property, Simpson commented. “But, our detectives knew somebody out there was missing it. While it was in our office, we got attached to it because, I must say, he’s pretty cute! We had him sitting up on a desk looking out the window.”

As together, they hold Oscar, the artist offers his sincere appreciation for the return of his statuette.

Now, Kooy said, Oscar will again reside in his home – and again be the centerpiece of artwork he sells to help support his nonprofit organization that takes student artists on worldwide tours.

To learn more about Mark Kooy, see his website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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