Famed 19th century
artist Paul Gauguin would likely never believe anyone would
fight over a work that might possibly be his.
Nor that the drama,
complete with greed and legal battles, would unfold in Kitsap
County between an artist and a restaurant owner.
post-impressionist died destitute and lonely in 1904 in French
Polynesia. His paintings, created in Tahiti a decade before he
died, were unenthusiastically received by his Paris peers.
When he tried to auction them in 1895, only 27 of 74
A century later, his
Tahitian works are some of the most celebrated of modern
Peter Teekamp, an
artist now living in North Bend, studied Gauguin for 40 years.
With the help of Michelle Moshay, he is writing a book about
Gauguin. He has seen the primitive, mysterious forms and rich
colors of Gauguin's canvas.
For Teekamp, a
coincident isn't coincidental.
Life is full of
mystery, humor and series of incidents. A series of incidents
create a coincident, he says.
Six months ago, a
series of incidents led him into the now-closed Chamorro's
restaurant on Fourth Street in Bremerton. His interest piqued
by a mural outside, Teekamp went in for a cup of
As the lanky artist
sat and sipped coffee, he looked around. There on a wall hung
a 24-inch by 34-inch charcoal sketch of two women on a
There began the
"Maybe this is a
fantastic plan lined up," Teekamp later said.
As a student, author
and, he claims, a reincarnation of Gauguin, he knew what he
At worst, it was a
reproduction of Gauguin's work.
At best, it was an
original sketch possibly worth millions and a valuable
addition to the art world.
owner Melvin Sablan and a sketch told a story that put the
drawing closer to at best.
The sketch apparently
took a long journey.
During World War II,
the Chamorro -- the native people of Guam -- were run out of
their country by Japanese troops. They, including Sablan's
great-grandmother, retreated into caves.
She rolled up the
sketch, a gift, during the ordeal. After the war, she tucked
it away in her attic for 33 years.
In 1978, she gave it
to her daughter, Sablan's mother, who kept it in her attic for
nearly 25 years until Sablan gained possession of
He brought it to
America in 1999, and, unwitting of its possible identity, hung
it in his Bremerton restaurant.
Seven days later,
after Sablan researched it on the Internet and was shown books
about Gauguin by Teekamp, the artist bought the sketch for
He and Sablan
hand-wrote a deal that stipulated Teekamp would keep it, and,
if he found it was worth anything, would split the proceeds
50/50 with Sablan, minus the $5,000 and Teekamp's
Moshay took pictures
of the two looking at a book, smiling in front of the sketch
and shaking hands.
Soon after, the legal
battle began and the friendship dissolved.
Sablan and his
lawyers filed a lawsuit contending Teekamp coerced him into
signing the deal and that the agreement was for Teekamp to
borrow it and help him sell it.
The sketch went into
court custody. Though a judge twice ordered that Sablan pay a
$5,000 bond for the piece, he failed to do so.
and Moshay were granted temporary custody of the
They filed to have
the case dropped to avoid appeals and for $50,000 in
compensatory damages because of lost work and delayed
publication of their book.
Weeks before a judge
was to decide the sketch's fate, Teekamp sat in a chair in his
North Bend studio, surrounded by his paintings, and said,
philosophically, that ownership doesn't matter to
"When you dig in your
garden, do you own the flowers?" he asked.
But in the U.S. legal
system, ownership does matter.
Moshay said legal
ownership is needed to authenticate the sketch.
She and Teekam have
been thorough in their dealings, taking pictures, documenting
meetings, recording conversations and making
"I think we've got a
pretty strong case," she said.
But on Friday, a
judge dismissed the case without prejudice, a twist that
allows Sablan and his lawyers to file a lawsuit should they
choose to do so.
Ali Nakkour, who
represented Sablan, told the judge that they likely would. He
refused to comment to The Sun, and referred questions to
Sablan's other attorney. He did not return a call Friday
Teekamp admitted the
legal battle, despite its hardships, is a great ending to his
first book, or a beginning to his next.
"It's a wonderful
story with a bittersweet ending," he said.
"Although we're very
hurt, Peter will still honor what he wrote down," Moshay said
painting's authenticity remains unknown.
"Right now, I don't
want to know what it is," Teekamp