century artist Paul Gauguin would likely never believe
anyone would fight over a work that might possibly be his.
Nor that the
drama, complete with greed and legal battles, would unfold
in Kitsap County between an artist and a restaurant owner.
post-impressionist died destitute and lonely in 1904 in
French Polynesia. His paintings, created in Tahiti a decade
before he died, were unenthusiastically received by his
Paris peers. When he tried to auction them in 1895, only 27
of 74 sold.
later, his Tahitian works are some of the most celebrated of
an artist now living in North Bend, studied Gauguin for 40
years. With the help of Michelle Moshay, he is writing a
book about Gauguin. He has seen the primitive, mysterious
forms and rich colors of Gauguin's canvas.
For Teekamp, a
coincident isn't coincidental.
Life is full of
mystery, humor and series of incidents. A series of
incidents create a coincident, he says.
Six months ago,
a series of incidents led him into the now-closed Chamorro's
restaurant on Fourth Street in Bremerton. His interest
piqued by a mural outside, Teekamp went in for a cup of
As the lanky
artist sat and sipped coffee, he looked around. There on a
wall hung a 24-inch by 34-inch charcoal sketch of two women
on a beach.
There began the
"Maybe this is
a fantastic plan lined up," Teekamp later said.
As a student,
author and, he claims, a reincarnation of Gauguin, he knew
what he saw.
At worst, it
was a reproduction of Gauguin's work.
At best, it was
an original sketch possibly worth millions and a valuable
addition to the art world.
restaurant owner Melvin Sablan and a sketch told a story
that put the drawing closer to at best.
apparently took a long journey.
War II, the Chamorro -- the native people of Guam -- were
run out of their country by Japanese troops. They, including
Sablan's great-grandmother, retreated into caves.
She rolled up
the sketch, a gift, during the ordeal. After the war, she
tucked it away in her attic for 33 years.
In 1978, she
gave it to her daughter, Sablan's mother, who kept it in her
attic for nearly 25 years until Sablan gained possession of
He brought it
to America in 1999, and, unwitting of its possible identity,
hung it in his Bremerton restaurant.
later, after Sablan researched it on the Internet and was
shown books about Gauguin by Teekamp, the artist bought the
sketch for $5,000.
He and Sablan
hand-wrote a deal that stipulated Teekamp would keep it,
and, if he found it was worth anything, would split the
proceeds 50/50 with Sablan, minus the $5,000 and Teekamp's
pictures of the two looking at a book, smiling in front of
the sketch and shaking hands.
Soon after, the
legal battle began and the friendship dissolved.
Sablan and his
lawyers filed a lawsuit contending Teekamp coerced him into
signing the deal and that the agreement was for Teekamp to
borrow it and help him sell it.
The sketch went
into court custody. Though a judge twice ordered that Sablan
pay a $5,000 bond for the piece, he failed to do so.
Teekamp and Moshay were granted temporary custody of the
They filed to
have the case dropped to avoid appeals and for $50,000 in
compensatory damages because of lost work and delayed
publication of their book.
Weeks before a
judge was to decide the sketch's fate, Teekamp sat in a
chair in his North Bend studio, surrounded by his paintings,
and said, philosophically, that ownership doesn't matter to
"When you dig
in your garden, do you own the flowers?" he asked.
But in the U.S.
legal system, ownership does matter.
legal ownership is needed to authenticate the sketch.
She and Teekam
have been thorough in their dealings, taking pictures,
documenting meetings, recording conversations and making
"I think we've
got a pretty strong case," she said.
But on Friday,
a judge dismissed the case without prejudice, a twist that
allows Sablan and his lawyers to file a lawsuit should they
choose to do so.
who represented Sablan, told the judge that they likely
would. He refused to comment to The Sun, and referred
questions to Sablan's other attorney. He did not return a
call Friday evening.
admitted the legal battle, despite its hardships, is a great
ending to his first book, or a beginning to his next.
wonderful story with a bittersweet ending," he said.
very hurt, Peter will still honor what he wrote down,"
Moshay said Friday.
painting's authenticity remains unknown.
"Right now, I
don't want to know what it is," Teekamp said.