FBI agents have recovered and returned a 19th-century oil painting of a whaling ship to the Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient that was stolen at least 14 years ago.
The painting of the Bark Washington, which has historical ties to Long Island, was one of the four valuable items reported stolen by the society in 2001, said Amy Kasuga Folk, the society's manager of collections.
The painting, whose artist is not known, measures 18 inches by 24 inches and has white lettering on the bottom saying, "Sperm Whaling in the Bark Washington of Sag Harbor."
It was returned Tuesday by FBI agents to Folk and the society's interim director, John Holzapfel.
Folk said Thursday the group is "so excited to have it back," adding that the painting has ties not only to Long Island's historic whaling industry, but to the community of Orient itself. She said Edwin Brown, one of the ship's captains, was a native of the tiny hamlet on the eastern tip of the North Fork.
The painting of the whaling ship and the other items were discovered missing during an inventory of the society's holdings in 2001, Folk said. It had been donated to the society in 1986, the last of the four missing items to be donated.
Kelly Langmesser, an FBI spokeswoman, said an unidentified man who had bought the painting at an antique shop in East Marion, just west of Orient, in 2001 for a few hundred dollars decided to look up the painting on the FBI's Stolen Art Database. The man discovered it was stolen, contacted the FBI, and said he wanted to return it to its owner.
The other three stolen items, still missing, are an oil painting of the Jennie French Potter, a five-masted schooner that transported goods along the East Coast at the beginning of the 20th century; and two busks, inserts used to help support women's corsets, made of whale bone that often were hand-carved by sailors with elaborate decorations for wives or girlfriends.
Langmesser said the FBI did not know the value of the Bark Washington painting, but the total value of the four stolen items in 2001 was $32,000.
People used to say, " 'I wish you could have seen the picture,' and now they can," Folk said.
But they will have to wait awhile. The society is open during the summer, Folk said. It closed on Tuesday and will reopen in June.
The society also plans to raise money to restore the painting. It had apparently been kept in a smoke-filled room and its surface is yellowed, Folk said.
Anyone with information on the stolen artifacts can contact the FBI's Art Crime Team at 212-384-1000 or submit a tip to tips.fbi.gov, the agency said.