Christmas ends with art theft 

Christmas closed on a less than festive note for Bigfork gallery owner Kathy Leslie last week, as hundreds of dollars worth of artwork was stolen from her storefront display on Electric Avenue.

The theft at Artfusion occurred sometime late on Dec. 25, and involved an unknown number of thieves cracking open a glass display case with a chisel and crowbar. Leslie estimates between 15 and 20 items were taken, including handmade jewelry, ceramic plates and even several plate stands.

"They're really devastating to us because it's all out-of-pocket expense," Leslie says of such thefts. "I'm working on the total right now, but I think it'll end up somewhere around $1,500."

Leslie will reimburse the artists—all from Montana—over the next few months.

This is the third and most extreme theft at Artfusion this year. A number of items went missing in July, and someone stole several expensive sculptures from the gallery's patio in August. Leslie says this type of crime is a serious concern among Flathead businesses, a sentiment justified by the 845 cases of theft reported by the Flathead County Sheriff's Office for 2009.

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So far Leslie's inquiries around Bigfork have drummed up no leads, probably, she says, because few people were downtown on Christmas night. She isn't holding out hope that she'll see the artwork again.

"You really want to trust people, and that's my nature," Leslie says. "I don't even think about theft, but then it happens and you realize that you have to be at least somewhat vigilant, which is a bummer."

The incident came as something of a lesson, prompting Leslie to consider installing a security system on the display.

"We're looking into that now," she says. "Hate to do it. Bigfork is such a wonderful, lovely, community-oriented small town that you don't think you have to. Maybe it's a sign of the times, I guess."

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