Owner of Olympia antique shop helps recover stolen painting

Sheriff’s deputies arrested a local man Thursday after he tried to sell a stolen $2,500 painting by a 19th and early-20th century American landscape artist at the same downtown Olympia antique shop where the theft victim had originally bought it, court papers state.

Dennis Avery, 48, was ordered held at the Thurston County Jail Friday after a judge found probable cause to support allegations of trafficking stolen property and possession of stolen property. He was being held at the jail Friday on a no-bail warrant due to an allegation that he violated a domestic violence protection order, a jail official said.

Jerry Sherburne, a co-owner of Sherburne Antiques and Fine Art on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia, said he recognized the J.J. Englehart oil painting when Avery came into the shop on February 19 and tried to sell it for $500. Sherburne said he realized, “I’ve owned this painting before. I don’t ever forget a painting.” After Avery left the shop, Sherburne called Richard Kelley, the man who had originally bought the painting from the shop. Sherburne then learned that it had been stolen from his residence on Union Mills Road about a year ago.

“Mr. Kelley indicated he did not sell it and it was stolen,” Sherburne said.

Sherburne then contacted the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and detectives helped him set up a “buy/bust operation” at Sherburne Antiques. After several missed connections, Avery arranged to bring the painting to Sherburne Antiques on Thursday.

When a detective introduced himself to Avery at the antique shop, he told Avery he was in possession of a stolen painting. Avery said, “I didn’t know it was stolen,” but refused to answer questions about where he had purchased it, court papers state.”I want to consult with an attorney,” Avery said, according to court papers.

The sting

Sherburne said the “sting” operation was “nerve-wracking,” adding that it was the first time he has ever helped law enforcement recover a stolen painting.

A deputy stated in a report that if Kelley “was an innocent party, he would’ve gladly provided an explanation of where he got the painting from and probably would have provided a recorded statement.”

Avery has a lengthy arrest history, including numerous arrests on suspicion of possession of controlled substances, simple assault, theft, possession of stolen property and misdemeanor domestic violence.

Sherburne said Englehart was a prolific landscape painter who lived in California, and various locations in the Pacific Northwest, including Tacoma. Englehart lived from 1867 to 1951, and often painted under a pseudonym, Sherburne added. According to a web site for the College of the Siskiyous, a community college in northern California, Englehart “was a prolific painter and his paintings were at times quite good, on the finer side of being ‘tourist paintings,’ but he never achieved the critical acclaim of his contemporaries. Today he is considered to be on the second tier of early west coast artists…”

Thurston County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Clark said Friday the painting will be returned to Kelley.