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Monday, August 2, 2021

Pence Gallery offers $1,000 reward for arrest and conviction of vandals who beheaded statue

Downtown art gallery offering $1,000 for information leading to the capture of vandals after “White Light Madonna” sculpture destroyed in courtyard

A sculpture in the courtyard of the Pence Gallery in Downtown Davis was beheaded in an apparent act of vandalism on the night of Jan. 23. The gallery is offering a $1,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. 

The gallery posted a picture of the destroyed ceramic and glass sculpture on its Facebook page on Jan. 29, thanking followers for their support and asking for any information about the act. 

“We are also thankful for the support of our community members following the destruction of Donna Billick’s ‘White Light Madonna’ sculpture in our outdoor patio,” the post reads. “This took place last Wednesday night, and was truly shocking for our staff to find the following morning — If you have any information about who may have done this, please let us know.”

Natalie Nelson, the director and curator at Pence, said that the decapitated statue was discovered before opening the morning after the incident occurred. Most of the statue’s head above the chin had been smashed off and its pieces were scattered throughout the courtyard where it stood, according to Nelson. 

According to a Facebook comment left by the gallery’s official page, this is the second time the sculpture has been vandalized.

Police arrived that morning to gather information for a report, Nelson said. The gallery does not have external security cameras pointed at the courtyard, so no footage of the incident or perpetrators is available. The gallery put forth a reward in the hopes that someone with knowledge of the crime might come forward. 

“We are offering a reward,” Nelson said. “One of our members offered $1,000 if someone can tell us information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever did this.”

The sculpture’s destruction comes with a host of associated costs, Nelson said. In addition to the lost value of the artwork, Nelson said the gallery would increase security measures to prevent future vandalism.  

“The sculpture is valued at $6,000,” Nelson said. “We consider it a total loss, and now we have to spend thousands on security cameras and all sorts of other issues. We have to pay for it to be removed.” 

The gallery does not plan to attempt to restore the sculpture, according to Nelson, as the extent of the damage is too severe to repair.

  “We will have to remove it,” Nelson said. “[Restoration] is next to impossible — you can’t just create a new head and just plop it back on. And we don’t want to put any new artwork in the courtyard because someone could just come and smash it again.”  

The community response has largely been shock and dismay at the sculpture’s destruction, Nelson said. The “White Light Madonna” is a fairly well-known public art piece in Davis, even appearing in city promotional materials. 

“Part of the reason we put it outside was to give something back to the community outside the gallery walls,” Nelson said. “That sculpture’s been used in all this Downtown Davis marketing material. Her face was on all sorts of things — even was part of a wedding at the Pence where they dressed her up. It’s just really sad.” 

The “White Light Madonna”  was first installed outside the gallery in 2014, according to Nelson. She said the statue’s artist, Donna Billick, has been notified about the vandalization of her statue. Billick, who currently lives in Mexico, according to Nelson, could not be reached for comment. 

Billick is the artist behind many iconic Davis public art pieces. Among them are the “Cow Fountain” and “Dancing Pigs” sculptures in The Marketplace shopping center, as well as the ceramic sculptures found at the Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis. A biography on her website notes both her commitment to public art and involvement with the university. 

“Billick is a Northern California artist that has been doing community build projects with a focus on environmental awareness,” her website reads. “Her 43 year commitment, as director of Billick Rock Art and Todos Artes with creating large scale public art, has brought her to UC Davis where she is co-founder of the Art/Science Fusion Program.”

Written by: Tim Lalonde — city@theaggie.org

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