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Missing eagle statue found
Recovery began with tip from merchant
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The eagle statue, which was recovered last night, sits in the back of a sheriff's truck. - photo by Jim Dean (previous profile)

A bronze statue of an eagle stolen from the Forsyth County Big Creek Greenway was recovered in good condition late Wednesday night.

A keen eye and a tip from a local business owner brought the “Inquisitive Eagle,” as the artwork is known, into the possession of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

No arrests have been made, authorities say, and the investigation is continuing.

Forsyth County Commissioner Todd Levent said the eagle was recovered from a shed at a mobile home park in south Forsyth.

An employee of the parks department reported Aug. 28 that statue had disappeared overnight, according to a sheriff’s report.

The bronze sculpture had been on display since May at the Bethelview Road trailhead of the Big Creek Greenway.

The statue is 60 inches tall, 54 inches wide, 45 inches deep and weighs about 400 pounds. It has a retail value of about $16,500.

Investigators had said it likely took at least two people to remove the statue from its base.

The county was leasing the piece from sculptor Gregory Johnson for a year through a grant provided by the Forsyth County Arts Alliance.

The recovery began with a tip Wednesday afternoon.

Lance White, owner of Lance’s Jewelry, said he received a text message from a man who does odd jobs for him. He asked White if he or anyone he knew would want to buy a bronze statue.

“He said it’s an eagle. It’s got a 4-and-a-half foot wing spread,” White said. ”At that time, I got chills up and down my spine.”

White called county officials, including Levent, to see how he should proceed. A sheriff’s investigator then came out to his home to meet the man and see a photo of the statue.

The man said he’d bought the eagle from the back of a truck, knowing that it had value from experience at a job in Mexico.

“He bought it and put it in his house, his trailer,” White said. “I said, ‘Well what if it was stolen from somewhere here in the community?’ He said, ‘No. I drive around here everywhere, and I’ve never seen anything like this.’

“At that point I knew that he didn’t really steal it.”

Once White told him it had been stolen, the man asked if they could go put it back.

“When I knew that we were going to be able to get it back, I was really excited,” White said. “I think the community will be too.”

Authorities credited media attention and a $500 reward offered by Johnson, the artist, for generating tips in the case.

“The involvement of the community in providing information is what led to the recovery of the sculpture,” Sheriff Ted Paxton said.

Theories for a motive in the case have ranged from a high school prank to the bronze statue being sold as scrap metal. Bronze is 90 percent copper and the remainder is trace metals, Johnson has said.

The sheriff’s office had alerted metals recyclers in the area and across the Southeast to be on the lookout for the statute.

Johnson, who creates works for cities across the United States and Canada, said he was “thrilled” to hear that the statue had been recovered. It was the first of his 18 sculptures in 15 cities to be stolen.

He wasn’t sure where “Inquisitive Eagle” would be stationed next, but indicated it likely could use a new location.

“I want to honor my commitment to the Forsyth County Arts Alliance,” he said, “but I also don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth twice.”

Johnson planned to discuss the matter with county officials within the next few days.