The piece, artist Pauline Leilani Badamo said, was inspired by the issues of land sovereignty and environmental stewardship.
Titled "Kuleana," the sculpture is crafted from steel and copper and features two travelers — one Hawaiian, the other Shinnecock — embracing in a Hawaiian ceremony called Honi: the sharing of breath.
It took Leilani Badamo, 34, of Deer Park, about two months to create and it carried a sales price of about $16,000.
It took far less time for someone to steal it late last month from the outdoor display area at the Patchogue Arts Council Sculpture Garden on Terry Street — and, both Leilani Badamo and gallery trustees fear, turned into scrap metal for, at best, maybe a few hundred dollars.
Suffolk County police believe the piece, which Leilani Badamo said measured about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, was stolen sometime between Aug. 25 and Aug. 27.
Police have estimated the value at $1,000, though Arts Council Board of Directors president and treasurer Lori B. Devlin, who also is Patchogue village clerk, said Wednesday the council had filed an insurance claim for about $7,500, based on the value of the work.
"We've never had problems with work on display before," Devlin said, adding: "The artist is really beside herself. … This piece was about unity, about bringing people together, and what we have is someone would've had to pull a vehicle up, taken the sculpture — either selling it for scrap metal or someone just liked the way it looked. … Either way, it's a sad situation."
Born in Hawaii, Leilani Badamo came to Long Island when she was about 4 years old, growing up in Franklin Square and attending Valley Stream North High School. She was inspired by a recurring dream in which she envisioned the idea of land taken from her Hawaiian ancestors — and, from the Shinnecock Indian Nation — and thought of two travelers in a canoe, which "is what brings these two cultures together," she said.
An artist who creates handcrafted jewelry and teaches welding, Leilani Badamo said she built the framework for the canoe and the travelers out of steel, then layered it in copper.
She included a message that, in part, she said included the passage: "They took our language, they took our land. … "
And now, she said, someone took her artwork.
The piece had previously been shown for several months at the Southampton Arts Center and it was supposed to be on display in Patchogue until November, Leilani Badamo said.
She had plans to have it shown at other galleries, including in Baltimore.
"I felt at first, when I learned someone had taken it, it was a big" insult, Leilani Badamo said. "But then my immediate thought was that if someone was that brazen, I'm assuming they might've really needed the money — and so I've kind of come to terms with it all."
A cash reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the theft. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 800-220-TIPS, using a mobile app that can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or by visiting P3Tips.com.