NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – The New York Art Crime Team of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently returned two paintings by 19th-century portrait artist Ammi Phillips to Historic Huguenot Street (HHS). The two portraits, depicting prominent New Paltz residents Dirck D. Wynkoop (1738-1827) and his wife Annatje Eltinge Wynkoop (1748-1827), were missing for 50 years, after they were stolen on February 16, 1972 while on display at the 1799 Ezekiel Elting (aka LeFevre) House on Huguenot Street.
Few in the New Paltz community remembered the theft because it happened decades ago, but in 1972, the burglary was widely publicized. Dozens of items were stolen, including silver, ceramic pieces, swords and guns. Many items were recovered a few months later, but the location of the paintings remained a mystery. Then, in 2020, Carol Johnson, HHS trustee and coordinator of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at Elting Memorial Library, raised the theft to Josephine Bloodgood, HHS director of curatorial and preservation affairs, and the two began comparing information from the records.
In their research, Johnson and Bloodgood discovered the two paintings illustrated in a recent online catalog of the artist Ammi Phillips’s work. In the catalog, the subjects portrayed were listed as “unidentified,” but the likenesses and other details in the paintings matched those seen in photographs of the Wynkoop portraits stolen from HHS. The online catalog also revealed that the two paintings had been sold in an auction at Sotheby’s in New York in 2005.
After discussion with members of the HHS Board of Trustees, Bloodgood reached out to the FBI New York Art Crime Team. She shared with them all the information that Johnson, she, and other HHS staff had compiled. During the course of a year and a half, the FBI worked with U.S. attorneys to secure the necessary court orders to track down where the paintings were located. As it turned out, they were several states away from New York, in the home of a collector who had purchased the paintings at auction, unaware of the theft and the paintings’ true ownership.
The collector contacted Mary Etta Schneider, chair of the HHS Board of Trustees, to express support for returning the paintings. The FBI delivered them to HHS on February 17, 2022, exactly 50 years and one day from the day they were originally stolen in 1972.
“We are extremely grateful to the FBI for their important work to locate the paintings and to the collector who so willingly returned them to us,” said Mary Etta Schneider. “Carol Johnson and Josephine Bloodgood’s work laid the groundwork for this significant recovery. It really was an amazing collaboration of all involved.”
About the paintings
The paintings of Dirck D. Wynkoop and his wife were created in the 1820s by Ammi Phillips, the well-known American folk portraitist whose career spanned 50 years. Born in the rural Connecticut town of Colebrook in 1788, Phillips is widely considered to be self-taught, although he may have studied while young with established artists working in that region. During his long career, Phillips produced hundreds of sensitive likenesses of men, women and children throughout New York’s Hudson Valley, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Phillips is considered an itinerant painter, one who traveled from place to place to complete his portrait commissions. The paintings of the Wynkoops are probably among the earliest works completed by Phillips in the area of New Paltz.
The paintings sustained some damage in the 50 years they were missing, including scratches, surface abrasions and distortion of the support on which the canvas of the Annatje portrait is mounted. HHS is raising funds to have the paintings professionally cleaned and condition issues addressed. To support this effort, please contact HHS at email@example.com or by calling 845-255-1660, extension 100.
The paintings will be featured in two special exhibitions at the DuBois Fort Visitor Center in 2022. The first, which is open until July 10, focuses on the recovery of the paintings and the Wynkoop-Eltinge family. The portraits will remain on view in another exhibition focusing on exceptional new acquisitions, which opens on July 16 and remains on display until December 18. The Visitor Center is located at 81 Huguenot Street on HHS’s 10-acre National Historic Landmark District. For more information about visiting the site, as well as general tours and other information, please visit www.huguenotstreet.org.
About Historic Huguenot Street
A National Historic Landmark District, Historic Huguenot Street is a 501(c)3 non-profit that encompasses 30 buildings across 10 acres comprising the heart of the original 1678 New Paltz settlement, including seven stone houses dating to the early 18th century. Historic Huguenot Street was founded in 1894 as the Huguenot Patriotic, Historical, and Monumental Society to preserve the nationally acclaimed collection of stone houses. Since then, Historic Huguenot Street has grown into an innovative museum, chartered as an educational corporation by the University of the State of New York Department of Education that is dedicated to preserving a unique Hudson Valley Huguenot settlement and engaging diverse audiences in the exploration of America’s multicultural past in order to understand the historical forces that have shaped America.