Sometime between July 12 and 16, thieves stole 15 terra cotta masks that had been removed from the façade of the Sun Theater in St. Louis during its $11.5-million renovation, but were being kept on site, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Now the City Museum, to which half of the building’s 29 masks had been donated, is trying to track down the culprits. Estimates of the 100-pound masks’ worth vary between $1,000 and $5,000 apiece.
“Apparently the fence had been cut. It went unnoticed,” Paige Rudd, who was handling the museum’s acquisition of the masks, told the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know what somebody would do with them.” The theft was discovered when museum staff arrived at the construction site to retrieve their share of the masks.
The masks had been left outdoors, behind the fencing, by workers for the Lawrence Group during their renovation of the stately theater for the Grand Center Arts Academy.
“They tell a story of what that building was, what was on it. They’re beautiful,” Rudd said. “Obviously they have some worth but here in the city they’re priceless.”
Several masks removed from the façade had been sent away to Kansas City to have more lightweight replicas made, which could be incorporated into the renovated building. After the theft only 10 were left, six of which have joined the collection of the City Museum, while the remaining four will be reinstalled on the façade once the renovations are completed.
“They didn’t just steal a bunch of clay heads,” Rudd added. “They stole history.”
— Benjamin Sutton
(Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle. Via St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)