Patriot Newspaper Articles

About Peter Teekamp's Legal Battle

Peter Teekamp, renowned mural artist, is in the midst of a legal battle over a charcoal sketch that may be an original work of Paul Gauguin.

By Celeste Cornish

It’s not often a cup of coffee results in a lawsuit, but that’s exactly what happened to mural artist Peter Teekamp.

During a brief stint in Bremerton, Teekamp was at Chimorro’s Restaurant on Fourth Street for a morning java fix when a framed drawing on the wall caught his attention. The picture didn’t look like much — it was a black and white drawing of two women sitting on the beach. It was the kind of picture an untrained eye would look at, consider for a second, then disregard.

But Teekamp’s was not an untrained eye. He is an artist with a borderline-unhealthy obsession with the French impressionist Paul Gauguin. Gauguin is commonly regarded as a father of modern-day impressionists. Other artists and scholars look at Gauguin’s legacy and see a man who died flat broke and was unable to support his own children. Teekamp sees a misunderstood artist who made profound statements about capitalism and preserving pristine environments. Gauguin was facing a prison sentence at the time of his 1903 death for defying authority. After Gauguin died, most of his paintings were sold at auction or simply destroyed.

Teekamp has been studying Gauguin’s works for nearly four decades and is currently working on a book about Gauguin.

Teekamp would know a Gauguin sketch if he saw one.

And he was fairly sure he did see one: it was one entitled “Tahitian Women,” which Gauguin sketched in his first of two trips to Tahiti. The sketch would have been the precursor to the painting, as Gauguin used charcoal sketches to create the outlines for his paintings. While he sketched, he used a type of carbon copy paper to create duplicates. The duplicates became the paintings.

The sketch hanging on the wall at Chimarro’s piqued Teekamp’s interest. Teekamp called Chimarro’s owner Mel Sablan over to his table and pointed out the drawing. Sablan explained it had been in the Sablan family for at least four generations. His great-grandmother somehow acquired it and kept it rolled up in a protective sleeve. The great-grandmother passed it down to her daughter, Sablan’s grandmother, who lived in Guam. When the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941, the family fled its home and took up residence in a cave. One of the few possessions Sablan’s grandmother took was the charcoal sketch, still in its protective sleeve. When Sablan found the sketch in his mother’s attic in 1991, he asked if he could have it. To him, it was a family heirloom and he wanted to frame it and hang it on the wall in a restaurant he was going to open in Bremerton. Sablan told Teekamp when he unrolled the picture to have it framed, he got charcoal on his hands. The word “charcoal” set off artistic alarm bells in Teekamp’s head.

The Sablan’s family history also fit into the time line of the sketch, which was done in 1891.
Teekamp paid for his coffee and left the restaurant. But he couldn’t forget what he may have seen. The next day, Teekamp went back to Chimorro’s with one of his books about Gauguin in hand.  “This is what I think you have,” Teekamp told Sablan, pointing to a picture of the painting “Tahitian Women.”   If Sablan did have the sketch, it could be worth millions.

Teekamp returned to the restaurant a couple more times to see the sketch and drew in his business associate and co-author Michelle Moshay of North Bend. She, too, was a Gauguin scholar.

On Dec. 16, they briefly discussed the drawing and what it could be, emphasizing it may not be the original. The authentication process could take years, they told Sablan. When Teekamp went outside for a smoke break, Moshay and Sablan talked about the sketch. More importantly, they talked about what the sketch might be.

According to Moshay, Sablan became antsy about the possibility the sketch could be the real McCoy. Sablan, who declined comment through his attorney, Seattle-based Michael Tompkins, was hard up for cash and was going to sell the sketch for $5,000 at the first available opportunity, Sablan said.

“I told him ‘You don’t want to do that. You don’t know what you have,’” Moshay said. “I told him we needed to go through the right steps to make sure it’s real, to keep cool and keep it to himself.”

In response, Moshay said, Sablan told her he didn’t know what to do and asked the pair to help him.  Moshay and Teekamp agreed to assist Sablan, she said. At this point, Sablan told Teekamp about wanting to sell the painting immediately. Teekamp offered to buy the painting because he thought finding a bonafide Gauguin would make a great ending for his book, he said.

Teekamp also insists he didn’t care about the money; he believes it was his destiny to find the sketch. If the sketch is real, it would make a great ending for his book; if the sketch is not real, it would make an interesting chapter for his book.

On Dec. 17, the three sat down together and drew up a contract.

Moshay and Teekamp say the sketch was purchased out-right for $5,000. To prove the money was secondary to finding a possible rare piece of art, Teekamp built a clause into the contract: if the sketch was real and it were sold at auction, Teekamp would take his $5,000 back out of the proceeds of the sale, then the remainder of the sale would be split 50-50. In the contract, which is part of a one-inch legal file in the Kitsap County Superior Court, it was agreed on by both parties that they would keep in touch during the authentication process. The process would require photographs of the sketch being sent to professionals in New York, Moshay said. Once the sale was complete, Teekamp took the sketch out of the frame. The framing job, which Moshay described as “tragic,” entailed the sketch having to be glued a hard surface; after about 100 years of being rolled up, the sketch protested being laid flat. After Teekamp examined the sketch and took photographs, the sketch was placed in a secure location.

On Jan. 22, Teekamp was surprised by an unpleasant visit from Tompkins. Tompkins, representing Sablan, pounded on Teekamp’s downtown apartment door so hard it scared Teekamp into thinking he was in danger. Teekamp called 911. Teekamp was shocked to find out Tompkins was at his door to serve him with a restraining order and a document demanding he give up the whereabouts of the sketch. In a lawsuit filed by Tompkins against Teekamp and Moshay, Sablan expressed concern the two were going to take the sketch out of the state and/or country to an auction, sell it and he would receive no proceeds from the sale, which would cause Sablan “irrepairable financial harm.”

According to the lawsuit, Sablan was under the impression the $5,000 “was an investment to secure an option in determining the validity and authenticity of said drawing.” He claims he was “coerced” into the contract.

Since the time Teekamp was served with the lawsuit, the sketch has been confiscated by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office for safekeeping and is being held on a $5,000 bond.

While the sketch remained in impound, the three awaited the next step: a court date was set for Friday in Superior Court to sort out who, exactly, owns the sketch. The court case took place after press time, so the results are unavailable.

For now, the legal ownership of the sketch hangs in the balance.

The irony of the sketch being impounded and lawsuits flying back and forth is that as of yet, the sketch has not been authenticated. According to an e-mail Moshay received from Liz Clark of Christie’s auction house, it is Christie’s opinion “it is not authentic and it is perhaps a later study by a follower of Gauguin.”

Regardless, Teekamp still thinks it was his fate to find the painting. He is inspired by one of Gauguin’s most famous quotes: 

“Perhaps one day, after my art has opened everyone’s eyes, some enthusiastic soul will come and rescue me from the gutter.”

See next week’s Patriot for the continuing saga of Teekamp, Moshay and Sablan.


© Copyright 2004 Bremerton Patriot

 

By Celeste Cornish
One one side of the Kitsap County Superior Court room stood Peter Teekamp, an eccentric artist with a French accent, wearing faded blue-jeans and a brown corduroy jacket.

On the other side of the room stood Mel Sablan, a dark-haired, Guamanian man wearing baggy slacks and a button-up T-shirt.

Both men looked as out of place in a courtroom as a toddler at a prom, yet that is where they have been spending a lot of time lately. The two are at odds over the legal ownership of a charcoal drawing that may or may not be an original Paul Gauguin.

During the court appearance on Friday, Jan. 30, the two stood in front of Superior Court Judge M. Karlynn Haberly, both sides eager to have a say: Teekamp argued that he bought the drawing outright and it should be his. Sablan’s attorneys wanted the drawing to stay where it was — impounded by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department — or to be placed in a storage facility with a non-biased third-party to watch over it.

The drawing, as of press time, is still impounded. On Friday, Jan. 30, Haberly gave Sablan until Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. to post $5,000 bail to get the drawing. As of press time Thursday afternoon, bail had not been paid. Another court hearing was to be held Friday.

In mid-December, Teekamp was at Sablan’s restaurant, Chamorro’s on Fourth Street, when he noticed the sketch. In subsequent visits, Teekamp told Sablan he believed the sketch to be an original Gauguin, but cautioned it would take years to authenticate.

A few days later, on Dec. 17, Teekamp gave Sablan $5,000. Teekamp says he purchased the painting outright; Sablan has filed a lawsuit stating he was “coerced” into taking the money and that the money was only an investment, not a purchase.

Sablan’s attorney, D. Michael Tomkins of Seattle, argued that the drawing should be put into storage until the rightful owner could be determined.

Teekamp countered that the drawing is his because he bought it; its rightful place, he said, is on his wall.

“Their goal is to lock up the baby for 10 years. They told me that if that’s what it takes, that’s what they’ll do,” Teekamp said. “I bought a print to put above my bed. Now I’m in court. This is nuts.”

Gauguin is commonly regarded as a father of modern-day impressionists. He was often regarded as controversial for his paintings of nudes. He was unable to sale most of his artwork during his lifetime and died flat broke in 1903. At the time of his death, he was facing a prison term for defying authority. After Gauguin died, most of his paintings were sold at auctions or simply destroyed.

Teekamp has been studying Gauguin’s works for nearly four decades and is currently working on a book about Gauguin.

The drawing has been in Sablan’s family for at least four generations. His great-grandmother somehow acquired it and kept it rolled up in a protective sleeve. The drawing was passed down two more generations and given to Sablan to hang up in his restaurant, Chamarro’s.

Sablan and his attorneys have declined to comment.

Photo above by Jesse Beals
Photo Above:  Superior Court Judge M. Karlynn Haberly listens to arguments from both sides of the courtroom concerning ownership of a charcoal sketch that may be an original work of Paul Gauguin. Peter Teekamp, one of the litigants, speaks as Mel Sablan and his attorneys look on.

© Copyright 2004 Bremerton Patriot

By Celeste Cornish
Peter Teekamp’s “baby” is on eBay.

The charcoal drawing that may be an original Paul Gauguin sat in the Kitsap County Clerk’s Office for more than a month before being sprung free by court order Friday, Feb. 6. Superior Court Judge M. Kathlynn Haberly released the drawing to mural artist Teekamp because Mel Sablan, owner of Chomorro’s Restaurant on Fourth Street, did not post a $5,000 bond by the Wednesday, Feb. 4 deadline.

When Haberly gave the order, Teekamp looked at Haberly and asked, “So the baby is free?”
“The baby is free and it is in your possession,” Haberly responded.
After he collected the sketch, Teekamp said he was going to put it “in a secure place. It will be in the center of the Earth. The Earth is round, so where ever it goes, that is the center.” In just a few hours, Teekamp posted the art piece on eBay under the title “In Honor of Paul.” His lowest-bid asking price is $1,000.

The sketch is described as being a “Black and white watercolor of two Tahitian women, full size with frame ... Thought to have been done by an admirer/follower of Gauguin.” The listing expires today.

The location of the sketch is listed as “North Bend, Washington” which is where Teekamp and his co-author, Michelle Moshay, are currently living.

The sketch landed in the clerk’s office by court order when attorneys for Mel Sablan, owner of Chomorro’s Restaurant, filed a restraining order keeping Teekamp away from the drawing.

Sablan’s attorney, Seattle-based Michael Tomkins, did not return phone calls for this article.

Teekamp noticed the drawing on the restaurant wall in mid-December. Teekamp had studied Gauguin’s work for almost four decades and told Sablan he believed the sketch on the wall may be an original work of Gauguin. Teekamp is working on a book about Gauguin and thought finding an original artwork would make a good ending for his book.
Gauguin is commonly regarded as a father of modern-day impressionists. During his lifetime, he was unable to sell his paintings and died flat broke and was unable to support his own children. Gauguin was facing a prison sentence at the time of his 1903 death for defying authority. After Gauguin died, most of his paintings were sold at auctions or simply destroyed.

The sketch that sparked the court-order and the lawsuit was suspected to be one entitled “Tahitian Women,” which Gauguin sketched in his first of two trips to Tahiti. The sketch would have been the precursor the painting, as Gauguin used charcoal sketches to create the outlines for his paintings. While he sketched, he used a type of carbon copy paper to create duplicates. The duplicates became the paintings.

After a few days, Teekamp gave Sablan $5,000 for the drawing. Teekamp said he bought the sketch outright, while a lawsuit filed by Tomkins stated the money was viewed as an investment and Sablan was “coerced” into accepting it. Now, the lawsuit over the legal ownership of the drawing is still pending in Superior Court.

The two signed a contract stating that Teekamp would maintain contact with Sablan during the authentication process, which could take years. There was a clause built into the contract that if the drawing were authenticated as a Gauguin original and sold at an auction, Teekamp was going to take his original $5,000 out of the purchase price then split the proceeds with Sablan.

In court two weeks ago, Teekamp said he just wanted to hang the print on his wall.

Apparently, he’s had a change of heart.

On Tuesday afternoon, Teekamp said he posted the sketch on eBay “as soon as I got it out. I just want to get rid of it.”

When asked if a lawsuit was still pending over ownership of the sketch, Teekamp responded “I don’t know and I don’t care. It is my print. I’ll do exactly what I want with it. Does that make sense?”

Photo Above:  by Celleste Cornish Michelle Moshay and Peter Teekamp pose with a charcoal sketch outside the Kitsap County Courthouse Friday, Feb. 7.


© Copyright 2004 Bremerton Patriot

For inquiries about Peter's art or the book

"Pass It On Art HIStory"

please contact Michelle Moshay at:

PassItOn@Blackhills.com

Commissions are encouraged and begin at $500 depending on size and detail. Commissions can be done through the mail/email with photos.  Prints are available signed by the artist. Prints start at $50 and can be purchased on Randee's www.muralsbypeter.com. Prices are subject to change. Please call or email Michelle for more information.

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