Stevens Square Center for the Arts painting is stolen the night of gallery opening

Trish Brock climbed the steps of the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, a 5,500-foot gallery and studio space at 3rd Avenue South and East 19th Street.

Her eyes met a blank part of wall in the showroom where only the night before, on Sept. 7, friends and family of artists had gazed at a painting by Rachel Rolseth.

SEE ALSO: Artists Cope with Stolen and Destroyed Art

Brock, the director of the art center, sent off an email to Rolseth.

"I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach," she recalls.

It's one thing to steal a Picasso -- there's almost something romantic about the high risk and massive profits to be had on the black market. It's quite another to steal from a local artist. But it happens more often than one would think.

Rolseth has a friend in North Carolina, she says, who loses a painting about once a year.

"He's just decided his work is worth a lot of money in the future, and time travelers have come back for it," she says.

All joking aside, one practical theory going around the art center is that the thief had attended the gallery opening and hid in one of the bathrooms. The last person to leave that night -- another artist -- locked the front door. The back door cannot be opened except from the inside.

There were no signs of forced entry -- only a single missing painting. As difficult as it is to stomach, Rolseth and other artists admit there's something flattering about your work being targeted.

Japheth Storlie, who rents a studio at the art center, suspects the thief wouldn't get more than a few hundred dollars for the painting on the street and would likely attract the attention of someone who knows Rolseth.

"The only thing that makes sense is that they wanted it for themselves," he says.

Brock, on the other hand, believes the thief is less of an admirer than a philistine. Literally speaking, Rolseth's painting, entitled "Shedding Skin," depicts a naked woman from behind.

"I really think it was a pervert," Brock says.

Gallery openings could become invite-only, depending on what the art center's members decide, she says. "We're at a cross roads about what to do."

In the meantime, the art center is raising money to help cover the cost of Rolseth's painting, which was 2-by-3 feet and priced at $800. Some of the proceeds may go toward installing security cameras.

"I've decided to laugh this off and roll with the punches," Rolseth says. "Whoever took it, that's your karma now."

Last week, Brock posted a flier with the picture of the painting outside the art center. That, too, has gone missing.

-- Email Jesse Marx at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse

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