Spotlight

Story Spotlight – Stolen Art: Uncle Steve’s Desperate Search

Steve Nootenboom is my great uncle. My family loves his many dramatic stories. Some tell about climbing icy peaks, hang gliding above miles of cactus, or sailing to beautiful islands. But others tell of how seemingly hopeless, random problems clash with Providence.

One story in particular involved a $5,000 painting called the Santa Barbara Riviera, a robber, and an epic quest to deliver the painting to its buyer.

Steve began selling his paintings as a child. Now sixty-two years old, he has 130 art collectors worldwide. Recently, he painted the Santa Barbara Riviera for the third time, an oil painting that took him weeks to complete and tested his patience enormously.

Some years ago, Steve opened a gallery of his art in Santa Barbara, California. Through this experience, he developed new collectors. Two new collectors, a man and his wife, walked into his gallery one day and wanted to buy a three by four foot Santa Barbara Riviera, a replica of a six by eight one he had sold previously. Before buying the painting, the people left the gallery for a few hours, and when they returned, found that someone had already purchased it. The man’s wife really liked the painting, so they left disappointed.

Time passed, and after a while, Steve received a phone call. The man wanted to fly from his home to meet Steve at a restaurant in Santa Barbara, so my great uncle met him at the restaurant, ate a meal, and talked with him. Apparently, the man’s wife had died of cancer, and he wanted to commemorate her by commissioning Steve to paint a third Santa Barbara Riviera for him. Steve agreed on the man’s further condition of sending photos of the painting’s progress and soon invested himself in spending days upon days creating a scene he had tired of long before. However, he found motivation in the fact the man wanted it for such a noble reason.

When he finally finished the painting, Steve built a special crate to protect it as it traveled through the mail to Texas, where the man lived. As a final touch, he drew a cartoon of a surfer on the outside of the crate. He then sent the crate with his wife, Tanya, to the UPS. Tanya parked at the UPS, walked into the restroom, and came back to find the painting stolen from the roof-rack. $5,000 dollars vanished before her eyes. She called Steve, who felt as if someone had just punched him in the stomach. Instead of telling his purchaser the fresh news, Steve resolved to find the painting. He looked through police reports, called the California Highway Patrol in case the painting fell out of the robber’s truck bed, and prayed with family and friends. My mom, dad, sister, and I prayed he would find it somehow. When Steve woke up the next morning, he followed advice Caltrans [California Department of Transportation] had given him and called the Caltrans’ yard. On the other end of the line, a man who answered told him that Caltrans usually do not answer the yard phone, and he was lucky to have gotten through. Then the man gave Steve good news. Apparently while on patrol, he had come across someone who had dropped stuff out of his truck bed. With intentions to help, the Caltrans man picked up a large crate and walked towards the truck driver. When the truck driver saw him, though, he ran to his vehicle and drove away, leaving the Caltrans officer mystified. Placing the crate in his vehicle, the Caltrans man dropped it off at the yard and drove home for the night. He had come back in the morning and would have crushed the crate within an hour to prepare it for the dump. Fortunately, he answered the phone first, and found the man who the crate belonged to. Steve could not believe his ears, and he drove to the yard, picked up the crate, and took it to the UPS.

After its long journey, the painting found its home at the collector’s house. Shortly thereafter, Steve flew out to visit the man and his painting. Steve told the man that if his wife looked down from the clouds, she would say, “I did not get the painting in earthly life, but now there is nothing that can stop the painting from staying with its rightful owner.”

My great uncle Steve recently shared with me that the world would call him fortunate, but that he believes God has favored him. “I don’t believe in coincidence,” explains Steve “I believe in miracles.” He considers himself blessed that he can follow his passion, sell his art—and deliver his crates!

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