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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Statue of star Native American ballerina is stolen and sold for scrap

By Alyssa Lukpat

At the end of a row of statues in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Marjorie Tallchief, a celebrated Native American ballerina, had stood ensconced in bronze, en pointe in a tutu, since 2007.

But on Friday, her statue, on the grounds of the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, was cut down from its base, hacked apart and sold for cash, said Michelle Place, executive director of the museum.

“It’s just a gut punch,” Place said.

On Monday, Place said, employees at a local recycling center found pieces of Tallchief’s statue, including parts of the torso, tutu and legs. They called police.

The Tulsa Police Department said in a statement that it was investigating the theft but did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls Monday.

Place said that when five sculptures, including Tallchief’s, were installed in 2007, they were valued at $120,000 combined. Someone sold parts of Tallchief’s statue at a recycling center for $266, which paid for the bronze pieces by the pound.

But the museum staff believes that two people might have stolen the statue and taken the parts to two different recycling centers, Place said. The head and the arms from the sculpture have not been found.

“I’m just guessing they had no idea of the significance of these bronze statues,” she said.

Tallchief was a lithe and versatile dancer and an international star with stints in major French and American companies.

French critic Irène Lidova described Tallchief in 1950 as a brilliant and dynamic performer. “Through her quasi-acrobatic virtuosity,” Lidova wrote, “she embodies the perfect dancer for our time.”

Tallchief grew up on the Osage Nation reservation in an Oklahoma oil family and died in November at the age of 95.

She and her older sister, Maria, were part of a group known as the Five Moons, Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma who ascended the heights of ballet in the 20th century when many famous ballerinas were white.

They and the other three — Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower and Moscelyne Larkin — are memorialized in the row of statues outside the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum.

Place said that it was not clear why Tallchief’s statue was singled out, but that it might have been because it was at the end of the row and near a tree that could hide it from view.

Alexander Skibine, one of Tallchief’s two sons, said he was in disbelief when he heard that his mother’s statue had been stolen.

“Why would anybody do that?” he said Monday night.

The Tulsa Police Department had not named any suspects as of Monday night, but Place, who has spoken with police, said the department was pursuing “really good leads.”

The museum is planning to rebuild Tallchief’s statue. Place said Gary Henson, who made the sculpture, told her he would bring the statue “back to life.”

The museum is trying to raise $10,000 to cover the statue’s insurance deductible and $5,000 to install security cameras near the Five Moons, Place said.

In a statement Monday night, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said the statues are “a point of pride” that celebrate the city’s Native American heritage.

“That someone would steal one and destroy it to sell for scrap metal,” he wrote, “is a disgrace.”

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