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Vandal targets 'Shepherd' sculpture

The "Shepherd" sculpture, located on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest, near Tutto Bene, had its staff stolen sometime last weekend. Al Belleveau, who installs sculptures for the Bemidji Sculpture Walk, is asking for the public's help in returning the missing staff. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - A shepherd's staff has been stolen and a local artist wants it returned.

While driving downtown this winter, Al Belleveau, a local sculptor and sculpture installer for the Bemidji Sculpture Walk, noticed something was off about the "Shepherd" sculpture located on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest, near Tutto Bene.

The sculpture, which depicts Jesus holding a staff and rescuing a lost lamb in a tempest, was missing the top part of its staff. Belleveau assumed the piece had fallen off and was likely lying beneath the snow on the sidewalk.

After the snow had melted, Belleveau stopped by the sculpture last Friday, but could not find the top part of the staff anywhere.

When he returned Sunday morning to take measurements of the staff so sculptors Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby of Aberdeen, S.D., could make a replacement part, he was surprised to see the staff had been stolen.

"It looked like there was a pretty good time had by all there Saturday night," Belleveau said, referring to St. Patrick's Day festivities.

He speculated the lower part of the sculpture's staff would have been difficult to remove because it was welded in two places.

"The top part of the staff, I could see someone fairly large being able to break that loose," he said. But the bottom part took an awful lot of effort.

The sculpture is worth $15,000 and the cost to replace the staff is $2,000, Belleveau said. If the staff is not returned, the sculptors will have to foot the bill to replace the part.

"(The Bemidji Sculpture Walk Committee) has such a minimal budget in order to do what we do, we couldn't afford that type of insurance on the sculptures," Belleveau said.

In 2010, the 11 beaver sculptures displayed throughout the city were insured because insurance expenses were included in a grant that the committee received from the George W. Neilson Foundation.

Belleveau said money in the Bemidji Sculpture Walk budget goes to pay artists and to cover the cost of installing and removing the sculptures.

Leuning and Treeby, the sculptors of the "Shepherd," are known in Bemidji for creating several other sculptures that have been featured in the Sculpture Walk.

The pair created "Grannie's Garden," which was featured in Bemidji's 2009 Sculpture Walk, and "Tuckered Out Guardian Angel," which was featured in Bemidji's 2010 Sculpture Walk. Both of these sculptures won the People's Choice award.

This is not the first time Belleveau has seen sculptures damaged.

"Gaea," the controversial beaver sculpture, was vandalized in 2010.

A sculpture fixture located on the outside wall of the building that houses the Lumberjack Shack and Indigenous Environmental Network, disappeared and was found two and a half years later by some hunters in the woods in the Cass Lake area, Belleveau said.

Belleveau said once he made a steel weather vane in the shape of a beaver for the Bemidji State University baseball field and even built it similar to how jail bars are made.

"If you tried to hacksaw it off, the rod inside rotated," he said. "It stayed up for a number of years but eventually they were able to saw it off."

But with all the vandalism he has seen over the years, Belleveau has not given up on wanting sculptures to be displayed in public.

"Sometimes people in society make wrong decisions in the spur of the moment. Sometimes they are influenced by things they consume," he said. "It's worrisome, just like sending your child off to school. But it doesn't stop you from sending your child to school. You hope for the best."

He said, more than likely, someone saw what happened to the "Shepherd" sculpture's staff.

He is asking anyone with informational about the vandalism to call him at (218) 243-2685 so the sculpture's staff can be returned.

"I believe it was someone thinking it was a good idea at the time to break it off and eventually throw it someplace," he said. "All I hope for is these pieces are returned."