Cathie Antoniuk (left) of Onoway and Andrea Hatch (right) of Stettler hold pieces of art that were stolen last week at a Las Vegas competition.

Cathie Antoniuk (left) of Onoway and Andrea Hatch (right) of Stettler hold pieces of art that were stolen last week at a Las Vegas competition.

Stettler entry among Alberta art stolen from Las Vegas competition

When Andrea Hatch of Stettler’s Cabinet of Curiosities went to Las Vegas last week to compete in a picture-framing contest,

When Andrea Hatch of Stettler’s Cabinet of Curiosities went to Las Vegas last week to compete in a picture-framing contest, she didn’t think her visit would end in a police station.

Hatch and Cathie Antoniuk of Onoway both submitted pieces in an international competition put on by the Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA). And out of all the pieces in the competition, their works were the only ones stolen.

“Out of all the pieces in the international competition, it would have to be mine and Cathie’s,” Hatch said Monday. “It was just bizarre.”

Hatch’s piece, a signed comic book by Stan Lee, is estimated to be worth about $3,000. However, Hatch said that she is having it properly appraised, and that number might be low.

After most of the judging was finished, Hatch and Antoniuk came across the finished pieces, which were sitting in the hallway with no security, waiting to be hung so that everyone could view them.

“I kind of cracked a joke to Cathie about it not being as secure as it usually is,” Hatch said. The two women looked for their pieces and saw that they weren’t hung yet, and then moved on.

They thought nothing of it until they went to the expo later where all the pieces were displayed, and noticed that their pieces were not there.

They told the organizers, who said they would look into it. Hatch and Antoniuk tried to keep calm, but that didn’t work for long.

“Cathie goes, ‘You’re not doing good, are you?’ and I said ‘No, I’m not! I’m freaking out!’ Because the Stan Lee comic book is not an inexpensive object,” Hatch said.

The two couldn’t concentrate on the expo, and left to figure out what happened to their pieces. Hatch hoped there was an easy explanation, like it had been dropped — which had happened to her before. The organizers promised they were looking into it, and Hatch left for a workshop.

She still couldn’t concentrate and left early. She saw who she thought was the vice-president of the PPFA with a security guard — not a good sign. “I walked up to her and she just looked up at me and is like, ‘Andrea, they’re gone. They’re just gone.’ And I still get goosebumps,” Hatch said.

After Hatch filled out a report with the security guard for the expo, risk prevention for Caesars was called. In attempt to make them feel better, he made a joke about their work ending up on Pawn Stars.

“I’m like, ‘OK, that’s not really making me feel happier!’ ” Hatch said.

He then went on to say that they should feel lucky, because in all the time that Caesars resorts have been open, they have never had a piece of artwork stolen. Two women from Alberta were the unlucky recipients of that honour.

“And I’m just sort of looking at him like, ‘Wow, you really thought that one through before you opened your mouth,’ ” Hatch said. “It’s not a really good claim to fame to have.”

They spent most of the day in the security office filling out forms, and then security called the police. However, security told the women that the police wouldn’t come, so they would have to go to the station themselves.

“We learned the next day, the police won’t come to a casino for a theft if it’s under $40,000,” Hatch said.

“Kinda crazy. It’s a totally different culture than we are. It doesn’t make sense. But apparently, it makes sense in Las Vegas.”

She was exhausted from the ordeal, and opted out of going to the station. The security guard told them he would finish filling out the forms and then file the police report, although Hatch knew he probably wouldn’t. And when they asked about it the next day, she found out she was right. So Hatch and Antoniuk were at the police station until an hour before they had to leave, and ultimately very little was done.

The strangest part is that Antoniuk’s piece was a family photo from 1920 of her father-in-law’s family — nothing like Hatch’s piece, and nothing that appears obviously valuable.

In addition, Hatch’s piece was stacked in front of everyone else’s, but Antoniuk’s was several rows over and tucked in behind.

“It’s a signed Stan Lee comic book — I understand that,” Hatch said. “Everyone looks up and goes, ‘Yeah, I understand Stan Lee, but I don’t understand why Cathie’s got taken as well.’ ”

Which brings up the obvious question of whether they were targeted for the theft.

“There were 40-plus pieces in the competition,” Hatch said. “Why would they search through the pieces and pick the two Canadian pieces? I don’t know why we were targeted, but we were definitely targeted in some manner.”

So now, Hatch is trying to figure out what to do next, which could involve a lawsuit.

She said she has been happy with the competition in previous years, but if it’s run the same way, she would have “serious reservations” about returning. She wants to see changes in the competition.

For example, the competitors are also not allowed to put any identifying markers on the finished pieces, which means they are easy to steal. Hatch would like to see a better way of securing the pieces, and would like to have a system in place to track the items if they go missing.

“It seemed like everyone relied on someone else to rely on someone else to rely on someone else,” she said. “And no one had the ball when everything went wrong. So there’s a comedy of errors that just resulted in, now I have no Stan Lee comic book.”

Hatch remembers saying that she had to find something funny in the situation, and she suggested that the two of them frame the police reports and submit them next year.

Ultimately, though it’s been hard, Hatch has managed to take something away from the situation.

“It’s been a lesson about things I should do before I leave, and things that I should expect for them to have,” she said from her Stettler store. “When you put your faith in a professional organization, you expect them to do what they’re supposed to do. And obviously, they didn’t.”