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'Never got a call back': Art seized by Saanich Police included work by Tsawwassen painter

John Horton awaiting word on when he will get his paintings back
john horton with painting
Tsawwassen Marine artist John Horton, pictured here with one of his paintings back in 2017, is anxiously awaiting to retrieve two of his works that were among over a 1,000 pieces seized by Saanich Police last month.

Works by a renowned Marine artist from Tsawwassen were among 1,000 pieces, worth tens of millions of dollars, seized by Saanich Police after investigating an art dealer in Oak Bay.

John Horton says the whole ordeal is in the “homestretch” and he hopes to be back in possession of his two paintings, valued at $7,000 each, soon.  

It was back on April 11 when an art owner contacted police that, in March, they had entrusted a dealer with four pieces of fine art for consignment and potential sale at a gallery in Oak Bay: three original Emily Carr paintings and a Blackwood watercolour. Both are renowned Canadian artists. There were also pieces by Canadian painter Joseph Plaskett.

The owner of the Carr and Blackwood paintings became suspicious when the gallery recently closed and attempts to contact the dealer went unanswered. The police investigation found several other victims who had consigned art to the dealer, only to have all communication cut off.

Detectives with the Major Crime Unit executed three search warrants at storage sites in Saanich, Oak Bay and ­Langford. An initial search found 600 pieces of art, the next more than 100 and the final search more than 300, police said.

Police said in total just over 1,000 pieces were seized, with an estimated value “in the tens of millions of dollars.”

The art is being stored at a secure location.

The dealer, whose identity can’t be disclosed until charges are sworn in court, was arrested on April 21 and released on ­several conditions, with a court date set for July, said Saanich Police Const. Markus Anastasiades.

As for Horton, he had a relationship with the Oak Bay gallery dating back 15 years with several successful exhibitions.

He was unaware it was under new ownership but did agree to have another exhibition last year. When it concluded, the owner wanted to keep four of Horton’s works on display, including two others valued at $45,000 each.

Horton had interest from a Metro Vancouver customer in one of the $45,000 pieces and went over to the Island to pick up all his work. That’s when he learned the gallery was in the process of moving to a new location.

“I said I will come and pick them up and then you can tell me when the new gallery is open, then I can bring some new work. Up until this time, I still hadn't met the owner,” recalled Horton. “So now I get to the old gallery and I get the two $45,000 pieces. And he said, everything else is in storage because of the move and he can't put his fingers on the other two pieces right away. I said fair enough. I'll pick them up the next time I'm over here.

“That was the only time I ever saw or spoke to the owner. After that I started to make phone calls. I never got a call back and no reply to emails either.”

Horton eventually heard from another artist who was looking to retrieve 300 paintings from the gallery. They got a lawyer involved and the police followed. Horton was eventually interviewed by Delta Police as part of the investigation.

“I understand some of the paintings have been damaged, but I don’t know if mine have or not until I go over there and see them. Right now, I’m just waiting for the word that I can come pick them up,” Horton added. “Unfortunately, this isn't the first time this has happened. It brings a bad name to the industry. There's a lot of very honorable people out there but every now and again, you got a bad a bad one. It’s extremely stressful for the artists.”

With files from Darren Kloster, Victoria Times Colonist and Alanna Kelly, Glacier Media.