Stolen Tulin torso returned to its rightful thighs

The piece on the left, taken from the deck of the Payettes' home on Lake Tashmoo last year, was recovered. — Photo courtesy of Granary Gallery

A special lady with a unique figure that had become a treasured member of the Payette family of Cambridge and Tisbury until she went missing in October returned home last week with some help from an alert UPS driver on Martha’s Vineyard and a member of the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.

For years, a sculpture created by artist Ella Tulin, who was well-known for sculptures that underscore the strength and beauty of women, graced the Payette’s seasonal home overlooking Lake Tashmoo. The sculpture was built in two parts — enlarged thighs set off by a miniature torso. She had become part of the family.

The sculpture rested on an outdoor deck. On a visit to the Island last October, the Payettes discovered that the sculpture was missing the torso. Unlike the thighs, cast in bronze and quite heavy, the torso was light and made of an epoxy composite.

The sculpture was of great sentimental value to the Payettes, who got to know sculptress Ella Tulin prior to her death in January, 2006. The Payettes were greatly disappointed but held out hope.

In a telephone conversation Friday from his office in Cambridge, Mr. Payette described the combination of events that ended with the recovery of the missing torso.

Mr. Payette said Tisbury Police detective Mark Santon arrived immediately last October to investigate the theft. He told the Payettes someone may have taken the head with the notion of selling it for scrap and might then discard it when they realized it had no value.

“He was very constructive,” Mr. Payette told The Times. “Very genuine.”

Mr. Santon contacted The Times, which published a story, “Homeowners, Tisbury police search for Tulin sculpture torso,” on October 17, 2012.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Wendy Whipple said that when Mr. Payette came into the gallery in the fall to report his sculpture was missing a piece, “he was just devastated.”

The winter months went by. The Payettes did not expect a happy ending despite detective Santon’s reassuring view that whoever took the torso might discard it. They held off filing an insurance claim.

About two weeks ago, 25-year veteran UPS driver Craig MacKenzie of Oak Bluffs, was delivering packages in the Tashmoo area when he spotted the torso lying by the roadway. “I knew about it from seeing it in the newspaper [The Times],” he said. “And I knew the people who owned it. Whoever brought it back knew where it was supposed to go.”

Unable to get cell phone reception to call police and unsure if he should touch the missing piece, he continued on his route, which included a stop at Ms. Whipple’s house.

“He said, ‘You work at the gallery don’t you?'” Ms. Whipple said. “And I said, ‘yes.’ And he said, ‘I was just delivering in Vineyard Haven and I think I saw that upper part of the sculpture that’s missing.’

“And I was sort of excited because I was thinking of these people. So I decided to go down there and sure enough, as you drove into the road it was behind the stone columns that are on either side of that driveway.”

Ms. Whipple said it appeared as though the piece had been placed recently where it would be seen and could be returned.

On Saturday morning, May 11, Tom and Virginia Payette, on-Island for their first visit this year, received a call from Ms. Whipple at the Granary Gallery. She had the torso. The Payettes drove out to the gallery and there she was.

“We’d given up,” Mr. Payette said “but the young lady came home with her top part.”

He added, “We’re very proud of the sort of way the Island kind of clicks.”