Artist files suit after loaned paintings are vandalized

By Kyla Asbury | Sep 7, 2010

CHARLESTON -- A Charleston artist whose paintings were badly damaged while on display for a local theater group said she will think carefully before exhibiting again.

Mary Russell said she loaned six original oil and acrylic paintings to Kanawha Players in May to hang at their building at Lee and Beauregard Streets.

While the paintings were hanging inside the facility, they were vandalized, she said.

Russell said what is worse is that she believes the vandalism was done by Kanawha Players members or supporters who were upset over tensions that were causing serious rifts in the group.

She said she had other artists who were represented in the display had been excited about getting invited to the exhibit.

"I was told how safe it was going to be, how they would be locked up," she said.

Russell said she was told by the theater group they could not compensate her for the paintings' estimated worth -- $2,395 -- so she filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Magistrate Court.

"There was a big civil war between the board and the president," she said. "I think they assumed I was on one side or the other. It was just a malicious act against me."

Russell learned this week that Kanawha Players hired an attorney and opted to move the case to the circuit court.

"I was willing to have a hearing and let a magistrate decide," she said. "Now they've made it into this whole big thing."

Russell said at the time of the vandalism, she was told she would be paid for the paintings because they were for said. It wasn't until later that she was told that their insurance company would not cover it.

Russell is also asking for court costs and $1,000 in punitive damages.

In June, Frank Guthrie took over the presidency of the Kanawha Players after a short term by John Halstead. The group has been plagued by recent problems, including a $64,000 lawsuit filed against them by the construction company that worked on their remodeled church home.

Russell said she has displayed locally before with no problems, including at the Pro-Art store, the University of Charleston and Art Emporium. She paints a variety of topics -- portraits, flowers, buildings, coal miners -- and is currently painting a series of Charleston churches.

Last year she was awarded a first-place prize in the Rhododendron Arts and Crafts Festival. Recently, she sold a painting of the P.A. Denny on the Kanawha River for $1,500.

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