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Gorvy statue thieves never knew what they stole




If the police’s suspicions are correct, the buyer, who would have smelted it down for scrap metal, probably also didn’t know he had stolen a community treasure.

The statue belongs to the Moyo Zoo Lake restaurant. While police are investigating the theft, they have suggested to the restaurant’s operating partner Brian Bridle that the “child” piece from the statue entitled “The Family”, was stolen for the metal and was likely already sold for scrap and had been through a smelter.

The original owner of the Moyo brand, Jason Lurie, commissioned the statue almost a decade ago and placed it outside of the art-filled restaurant’s security-fenced perimeter, between the restaurant and the boathouse – so that it could be enjoyed by all – and not only his customers.

It certainly did just that, as Johannesburg Parks’ estimates suggest it would have been seen millions of times since its installation.

The statue’s insurers have hired experts in a bid to establish a monetary value of “The Family” and are offering a substantial reward – a percentage of the value of the three-piece statue – for the return of the stolen “child”.

There are numerous difficulties in placing a monetary value on the piece. The sculpture is unique and was the last large statue that Gorvy produced in over 70 years as an artist. She continued to make art well into her nineties. Her prolific oeuvre of sketches, prints, paintings, sculptures and poetry, seldom comes up for sale. There is a small etching of hers on offer on the OLX website for R18 000.

Jewish art writer Robyn Sassen,told Jewish Report that Gorvy’s work is “of value because she was an important South African artist”, underrated but important. “She was also tremendously prolific,” says Sassen, and she suggests that Gorvy’s etchings fetched the highest prices.

The three works at the Moyo restaurant had been mounted on a cement base, Gorvy’s eldest daughter, Hilary Hirschmann, told Jewish Report this week. She had accompanied her mother to the commissioning of the piece and to the foundry for the casting.

The smallest of the three pieces – the one stolen – stood 1,5m tall and it would take two or three people to carry. The two larger ones, says Hirschmann, had to be lifted into place with a crane and she doubts they could be uprooted and carried off.

“I didn’t know anything about it (the theft) until a friend of my daughter, Lara, read it in a newspaper.” Hilary said when she found out, she “felt a sense of horror and anger at the same time”. She was horrified that the owners “of a piece like this could have left it so unsecured – had it been cemented in properly, it could not have been stolen,” she said.

Moyo’s Brian Bridle is also hopping mad and said that the criminals deserve to be jailed or fined heavily for their actions.

“These are irreplaceable pieces of art. Every single one of these is irreplaceable,” he said. Bridle said two copper water features had also been stolen from outside the restaurant’s fenced perimeter.

In commissioning the work, Jason Lurie had also insisted that the huge version of “The Family” be the only large version to be made by the artist, thus adding to its yet-to-be-determined value. Ashley Heron, who had originally done the interior decorating for Lurie, recalls going with him to commission the piece – but cannot recall what he had originally paid for it.

Everything Rhona Gorvy created was about her life and love of family, says daughter Hilary. That’s why “The Family” epitomised Gorvy’s works, she says. “We were exceedingly close,” Hilary says, “I was with my mom every day of her life. My husband Jacob, and children Lara, Daniel and Adam were too.”

Says Bridle: “The family made a plaque last year in honour of her,” and mounted it onto the smaller statue – the one that was stolen.”

The Zoo Lake Users Committee were also most perturbed to learn of the theft. “It is most concerning that this type of criminal activity is taking place at Zoo Lake. The Committee is in consultation with the City with regard to an increase of security at Zoo Lake,” said Fran Haslam, chairman of Zoo Lake Users Committee. 

Who is Rhona Gorvy?

Rhona Gorvy grew up in Johannesburg and completed her BA in logopaedics, speech and hearing therapy at Wits in 1944. She worked as a supervisor at the Speech and Hearing Clinic, and later lectured in speech pathology.

With regard to her art, Gorvy was largely self-taught. She had expressed herself through different art forms from an early age, and when she was at Wits, her passion for and experimentation in art grew further. For over 70 years, she produced sketches, prints, paintings, sculptures and poetry that document her empathetic experience of the inner and outer worlds.

She engaged with a wide range of themes relating to life and the human condition; for example, exploring motherhood, loss, abuse, addiction and other conscious and unconscious processes. Her artwork captures almost everything that she has touched throughout her life: family and places she had visited as well as her own grappling with the lingering questions of what it means to be human.

This sense of understanding and deep connection with her subjects and themes, is what makes her artwork remarkable.

This sense of intense empathy and deep connection with her subjects and themes is what makes Gorvy’s enormous archive of work remarkable. She seems to have an innate ability to capture something beyond the surface in little more than a line drawing, abstracting the human psyche and body, at times at an archetypal level, into an emotional realm.

Exhibitions of her works continue and one is planned for later this year. Her grandson, Daniel, who had a special bond with Rhona, now lives in London. He has catalogued her work and is also an artist in his own right.

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