When she walked through the broken door of her Osoyoos home on the night of Nov. 12, the sight of stark white walls that greeted Gabriele Beyer pierced the shield of denial that she had desperately wielded since Thursday morning.

It was on that particular morning Beyer learned from her mother that thieves had broken into her 89th St. home and stolen almost her entire life’s artistic work.

Beyer says a total of 40 oil on canvas, signed original paintings, and over 1,000 hand-painted silk ties were stolen after thieves brazenly crow-barred their way past her metal-cased wood door.

Boots with Soul

‘Boots with Soul’ by Gabriele Beyer, a painting she says is her favourite and her best work.

It’s an incredulous crime that Osoyoos RCMP Sgt. Jason Bayda said was almost straight out of the movies. “It’s something we don’t normally see where art has been the targeted commodity,” he says.

Beyer, who splits her time between the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State and Osoyoos, was in the US at the time.

The theft occurred at 9 p.m. on Wed. Nov. 10, a time pinpointed by her mother who lives diagonally opposite from her, and her immediate neighbour who both heard a loud noise at that precise time. The neighbour, looking outside, saw some individuals standing at the end of the yard but thought they were neighbours chatting.

Over the course of what Beyer reckons would be between one or two hours, the thieves meticulously went floor-by-floor, room-by-room selecting the best paintings, and carefully removing them from their mounts.

“They took about two-thirds of my paintings, and they took my very best work,” she says, still shaken but resolute on Monday morning as she related the story to the Times-Chronicle.

“Somebody had a discerning eye, somebody had really good art taste, they knew exactly what to take,” she says, adding that contractors who came to look at her door shook their heads about how determined and professional the thieves were.

Mackenzie Sound

Mackenzie Sound. From Beyer’s Inside Passage/Alaska collection.

“From my end, I know that they knew art and were selective to take my very best work. All that said, it makes me think that the art won’t stay in the Okanagan Valley.”

Her artwork roughly falls into three categories: realism (still life and reflective paintings), the Inside Passage, and Alaska paintings and landscapes (primarily rural US Okanogan Mountain themes).

Bayda says that with art, particularly one-off original pieces “it may be something that’s easier to get back than something that’s generic where there are maybe thousands of them out there,” such as a mountain bike.

He added that once photos of the artwork are circulated through the media, “that will certainly improve the chances of getting that art back.”

The theft couldn’t have come at a worse time. With COVID-19 restrictions easing on both sides of the border, Beyer was looking forward to attending craft exhibitions to sell her painted silk ties that support her painting passion.

And this coming summer she was scheduled for the first prominent exhibition of her Inside Passage/Alaska paintings. “For seven years I went every summer on a 64-foot trawler up to Alaska through the Inside Passage and I painted what I saw.”

Gabriele Beyer

Hay Bales, part of Beyer’s landscape collection.

When asked about the value of the paintings she says she never wanted to put a value on the paintings. “Personally I chose not to. I want to hold on to, to have a collection and come out into this world and have a show and create joy for people. To create a counterbalance to all the ugliness in the world and to create beauty and that was my goal,” she says.

“It’s incredibly cruel from the perpetrators. How unaware or aware are they are about what they do to other human beings in this way,” she says. “Basically for them, I don’t know, to think somebody makes a few hundred dollars. . . for me they destroyed my life.

“The thought that I will never ever see a loved painting again is such a pain. It’s like a person dies, you have some memory of them and photos of them but you don’t have the presence and the emotional connection and that’s what I feel with the paintings. They always gave me so much joy and I am just craving to be reunited with my paintings, just to look at them.”

As if this terrible loss is not enough, there is an added cruelty. Beyer grew up in East Germany when it was behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ and experienced the oppression of the regime and its state security police, the Stasi.

She escaped over the Berlin Wall making her way to West Berlin where she ultimately supported herself as a student through black-and-white photography.

One of those photos that she had developed in a Berlin darkroom was hanging in her Osoyoos house when a different kind of oppression robbed her of her treasures, including this very personal connection to a very different time and place in history.

“It’s impacting my whole life,” she says. “But I still have my talent, my skill and my experience. Nobody can take that.”

When asked how she will move forward from this point, Beyer replies simply: “I don’t know. . . It’s too fresh.”

Weariness drives her sleep, but terrors in the night disrupt her rest. “I hope that I can meet the challenge and not be a victim but find a silver lining,” she says, adding that she is now focused on contacting every gallery, every art dealer across the country and south of the border too.

Images of all the stolen paintings appear below. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Osoyoos RCMP or anonymously through CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or online at https://www.crimestoppers.net/submit-a-tip-overview .