The missing work of the artist Marin returns after 26 years

Twenty-six years ago, George Sumner, an artist from Marinwood, misplaced two of his paintings in the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this month, thanks to fate and United Parcel Service, they found their way back to her doorstep.

“I’ve always believed in karma,” said Sumner, 82. “I always believed that the missing paintings would end up in good hands somewhere. I am deeply grateful that they ended up in mine.

The first of the images, a 3ft by 5ft oil painting titled “Knights of Old”, shows killer whales and rubbing rocks in the ocean. It was valued at $15,000.

The second, 2 feet by 4 feet, depicted an orca and two bottlenose dolphins. The painting, titled “Silent Knights”, was valued at $10,000.

Sumner created them in favor of his friend Ken Balcomb, who was a board member of the Whale Museum, a natural history center in Friday Harbor, Washington. Summer specializes in environmental art.

“The story I’ve been trying to paint for 50 years is about protecting the environment,” he said. “It’s all about educating people to respect and love nature. That’s what I’ve tried to express throughout my career.

In 1996, Balcomb organized a performance for the museum. Summer and his wife Donnalei, also an artist, packed their van with about 18 paintings and drove to the benefit. Friday Harbor is north of Seattle and located on the coast of one of the San Juan Islands.

Artist George Sumner stands next to one of two paintings recently returned to his home in San Rafael on Monday, July 11, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Once the event was over, George Sumner loaded up the paints and the couple continued on the next leg of their journey to Canada.

It wasn’t until weeks later, when they returned to Marin, that Sumner discovered that two of his paintings were missing.

“He said, ‘I may have forgotten one or two,'” Donnalei Sumner said. “It’s not that we don’t like all of our paintings, but sometimes they get lost in the mess.”

After calling a few friends and contacts, they discovered that a Friday Harbor gallery owner named Doug Bison had picked up the paintings and displayed them in his gallery. Bison said he would try to sell the paintings or return them if he couldn’t, but he and the Sumners did not maintain regular contact over the years. Bison then moved to a new gallery in the area.

In 2019, Bison’s partner contacted the Sumners to report that he had died, but remained in possession of the paintings.

Through their daughter and her husband, the Sumners came into contact with an artist named Richard Nisonger, who said he would purchase the paintings for them and work to return or sell them. But bad luck struck again – weather, COVID-19 and a health alert for Nisonger – and hampered the return of the paintings. For a few more years, the paintings lingered on Camano Island, another site in northwest Washington.

Nisonger was able to take the paintings to a UPS store in nearby Stanwood, where they remained for months. The store was in danger of closing and was often without employees. The Sumners were unsure if the paintings would ever return.

But on July 1, the Sumners opened their door to find two neatly wrapped packages on their porch. It cost the Sumners $737 to ship, but the money seemed insignificant after 26 years, Donnalei Sumner said.

“It was a calamity of things that happened, but to have his two babies back to him, when we showed them to him, George was thrilled,” she said. “They started in Washington and ended up where they were painted.”

For now, the paintings remain with the couple. They said they might try to sell them, but, for now, they’re just reminiscing in their presence.

“You really have to believe that people are good. You will get back what is yours,” Donnalei Sumner said. “As long as we help each other and believe in each other, the karma is there,” she said.

Donnalei Sumner and her husband, artist George Sumner, carry one of two paintings recently returned to their home in San Rafael on Monday, July 11, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Donnalei Sumner and her husband, artist George Sumner, carry one of two paintings recently returned to their home in San Rafael on Monday, July 11, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

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