Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a valuable piece of artwork stolen from Blackpool Council during a night-time raid.
The bronze statue called The Gaucho – depicting a cowboy and his bucking bronco – was on display in Central Library until it was put into storage.
But two years ago the sculpture, which had been valued at £15,000, was stolen in what is believed to have been a well planned operation.
Council chiefs said they kept the theft secret amid fears publicity could lead to the statue, which is also known locally as ‘Buffalo Bill’ due to its likeness to the showman, being damaged or even melted down.
The Gaucho – known locally as ‘Buffalo Bill’
But despite a police investigation and the theft being registered on a database of stolen artwork, no clues to its whereabouts have been found.
Now the council is appealing for information amid fears the treasure may have been lost forever.
Council leader Coun Lynn Williams said: “It is very sad that this theft has deprived Blackpool of one of its most popular collection items.
“At the time of the theft, the most important priority was to try to get it back in one piece. It was felt that the best way to achieve that was not to send out a widespread public alert in case that led to it being damaged or melted down.
“Unfortunately, after being on the international stolen art register for two years, no information has come forward. Obviously, if anyone does have any information on the theft or the whereabouts of the piece we would urge them to contact the police.”
Cast in bronze, the sculpture by Walter Winans is 146 cm high, weighs approximately half a tonne and was last valued at around £15,000. The location of the storage space and whether the item was insured have not been disclosed by the council.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on the council, has called for an investigation into the loss of the statue.
He said: “When I was the cabinet member for culture, I remember the statue being on display at the entrance to Central Library.
“But it was moved when the library was refurbished and never put back. Nobody knows how it came into the council’s ownership, it’s a bit of a mystery.
“This sculpture is extremely heavy so it would be difficult to remove without some lifting equipment or more than two people. It would also need a transit type van to transport it away.
“The council have not disclosed where they were storing this important piece of art, but obviously it couldn’t have been in a very safe place and in a location that was easily known to the thieves and very accessible.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful that Blackpool Council has failed to protect an important and historic piece of world class art and I want to see a full internal investigation in regard to why it wasn’t protected more securely.”
Coun Tony Williams has also questioned whether the sculpture is by Walter Winans, or is the work of another well known American sculptor Frederic Remington from the same era.
Remington was also famous for his bucking bronco sculptures, with one having been on display in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington DC until recently.