February 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 3°F


Public Safety investigates loss of $6,000 Williams Hall painting

The Office of Public Safety is investigating the disappearance of a portrait of former college president George C. Williams.

Wagner is offering a reward to anyone with information regarding the painting’s disappearance.

The portrait, which hung in the lobby of Williams Hall, was reported missing Oct. 14 and is the second painting to be misplaced on campus in four years.

Tom Dunn, an investigator with the Office of Public Safety, said the office has been investigating the incident, and there were no leads as of Friday. He said Public Safety is holding the replacement value of the painting at $6,000.

Gail Wagner, purchasing manager at the Office of Facilities, said the painting is worth more than the $6,000 value Public Safety has attributed to it.

“It’s an old, historic, original that can never be replaced,” Wagner said. “If that painting isn’t found, they will get some photographs and have it reproduced to look like it did.”

Williams was chosen by founder William Grant Egbert to be the college’s second president. He was responsible for having the school’s name changed from the Ithaca Conservatory of Music to Ithaca College.

Wagner said the last painting to go missing was a portrait of Ellis Phillips, president of the college from 1970 to 1975. The painting was stolen from Phillips Hall in 2008. Though a student on campus witnessed its theft, the portrait was never found and was eventually replaced, Wagner said. To digitally recreate one of the portraits and to frame it costs about $7,000, she said.

The latest incident, Wagner said, enticed her to offer a reward for information on the painting’s whereabouts.

“The college has decided to not personally offer a reward,” Wagner said. “They did the same thing with the Phillips portrait, but I thought if we could, I’m willing to personally offer $50 for any information, no questions asked, or if they bring the painting back and just leave it with Safety or here with me in the Office of Facilities.”

Laura Durling, assistant director of investigations at the Office of Public Safety, said not much can be done to improve security around the portraits.

“Sometimes buildings are open after hours,” Durling said. “It’s difficult to monitor that. It depends on, generically, if there’s a problem in a certain area we might do some surveillance but added security depends on the circumstance.”

Durling also said that the nature of the crime makes it hard to investigate since property crimes do not often have witnesses.

The portrait was made by Pittsburgh artist Paul Laessle in the 1930s, when Williams was president of the school.

Wagner said she is disappointed with the way the situation has played out.

“We can’t point fingers at IC students,” Wagner said. “But who else would be over here doing that? It just sounds like a prank, and it’s really a shame. It’s grand larceny, plus defacing college property. It’s totally irreplaceable, and it won’t be the same.”

Anyone with information should contact Public Safety at 274-3333.