Published: November 13, 2007
Area residents were invited to an art showing of sorts at 255 Main Street on November 8, but the exhibition featuring a trove of recovered allegedly stolen art was not hung salon style, nor was the venue †the second floor hallway and a conference room inside the Waterbury Police Department †conducive to considered examination, cocktails and conversation.
The impromptu showing followed the November 5 arrest of a Waterbury resident, 52-year-old Diane Catalani, as Waterbury police discovered approximately 180 paintings and other antiques at Catalani’s Greystone Avenue home. It was being conducted so that those who believed their missing artwork might be among the recovered items could come in to identify them.
Police arrested Catalani after an employee at the Chase Collegiate School reported that the woman had been thwarted from carrying out a valuable painting from the school. She got in her car and drove away, but not before school employees were able to write down her license plate number. Traced to her home, Catalani invited detectives inside and what they found was “unlike anything we have ever seen before,” according to Sergeant Duane Tedesco, lead investigator in the case.
Over a period of at least three years, possibly more, police believe Catalani entered publicly accessible places in the area, such as churches, schools, museums and historical societies, and simply walked out with the paintings, crucifixes, historical documents and other items that were found hoarded throughout her house and attic. Published news reports quoted her husband and other family members as saying that the woman suffers from a severe mental illness marked by endless tag sale forays and hoarding.
Catalani was being held on $1 million bond at York Correctional Facility in Niantic, Conn. Waterbury Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Chris Corbett said that additional charges are being filed and that sentencing guidelines vary depending on the severity of the charges. At a press conference conducted in conjunction with the display of the artwork on November 8, Corbett estimated the value of the recovered items as being in the $500,000 range. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Theft division is being brought in to help identify the artwork and establish values.
One of the recovered paintings, an Old Dutch Master painting after Dirck van Santvoort (1610‱680), so far has been valued at $50,000. The overall quality of the stolen artwork, however, ranges from “hotel art” to sentimental portraiture to landscapes and architectural depictions of local landmarks. That Catalani may have had an “eye” for the art she allegedly stole is borne out by one forlorn grouping of “Best Western”-style paintings that Tedesco said were of the type she put out in her driveway with a sign that read “free.”
So far, according to Corbett, there is no evidence that Catalani forcibly broke into any of the places in order to steal the artwork. “Her method was that everything was stolen from public places; she would simply walk in and walk out,” he said.
Fortunately, the police have made a great deal of progress in identifying the rightful owners of many of the recovered items. “We have a fair amount ID’d so far,” said Tedesco, “mostly from historical societies, churches and commercial establishments.”
Indeed, on a walk-through of the assembled trove of paintings, each work leaning precariously on another, Tedesco pointed out many local scenes †St Ann’s of Waterbury, Bunker Hill Congregational Church, South Britain Congregational Church, Naugatuck Valley Technical College (five large scenes), a needlework from the Southbury Historical Society, a scene of Litchfield, England, that had been gifted to the Litchfield town hall, as well as a painting titled “Challenged Children Playing Sports” that had been donated to the Southbury Training School and reported stolen just this year, among others.
Missing from the lineup in Waterbury because it had already been seized by Naugatuck police investigators was the 150-year-old Bible once owned by famed Naugatuck inventor Charles Goodyear that was reported stolen from the Naugatuck Historical Society over the weekend of June 16‱7 [See Antiques and The Arts Weekly, July 6, 2007]. Also taken that weekend †and among the recovered items †were an Ansonia clock, circa 1890s, and lipstick cases from the Risdon Manufacturing Co.
Allegedly, Catalani had joined one of the many tour groups that had passed through the society’s main viewing area and taken the Bible from an unlocked case where it had been displayed since being donated by Goodyear descendants Victor and Nicholas Dewey of Kansas in April.
“We’re all just thrilled to get these items back, especially the Bible because it was such a special gift presented to us by the Deweys,” said Bridget Mariano, president of the historical society. She added that the Bible will go back on display once it is returned by Naugatuck police, but this time it will be placed in a locked display case.
Corbett said that while there is an opportunity to view and identify the artwork, all of it is being held for evidence and none of it will be released while the investigation continues. “We will try to get items back to their owners as soon as possible,” he said. Those who believe an artwork may be among the recovered items being held by the Waterbury Police Department can contact Tedesco at 203-574-6911.
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