2 KU students charged with felonies for allegedly stealing panel from ‘Native Hosts’ artwork at Spencer Museum

photo by: Ryan Waggoner

The "Native Hosts" series by Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds is KU's Common Work of Art, pictured on display outside the Spencer Museum of Art.

Two Lawrence men have been charged with felonies for allegedly stealing a panel of artwork from the Native American art exhibit outside the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus.

Samuel C. McKnight and John W. Wichlenski, both 22, were formally charged in Douglas County District Court on Wednesday with theft of property of a value of at least $1,500 but less than $25,000, which is a low-level felony. A spokeswoman for the University of Kansas said both men are enrolled at the university.

They are accused of stealing the artwork on or about Sept. 29, according to charging documents provided to the Journal-World. That coincides with a second incident at the museum this fall when a fifth panel of artwork from “Native Hosts” was stolen just weeks after four panels of the artworks were vandalized.

Judge James T. George on Wednesday set a $1,500 own-recognizance bond for both of the men’s cases. They are required this week to report to the Douglas County Jail to be formally booked.

Wichlenski was booked around 11:30 a.m. Thursday and McKnight was booked around 11:15 a.m. Friday, according to the booking log.

The exhibit was KU’s Common Work of Art, titled “Native Hosts,” by artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds. “Native Hosts” consists of five aluminum signs in front of the Spencer Museum on Mississippi Street. The signs name Native tribes who historically or currently inhabit the region now called Kansas. On each sign, the colonial name is printed backward while the name of the land’s original occupants is printed forward.

Four panels of the artwork were initially damaged by two individuals on Sept. 4 shortly after 11 p.m., the Journal-World previously reported. In October, KU Deputy Police Chief James Druen said in an email to the Journal-World that the two men from the initial incident were identified by an anonymous tip and information for charging consideration was forwarded to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.

KU police did not release the names of the two individuals related to the vandalism case, and no one has been formally charged for that incident.

Later in September, a fifth panel was stolen from the artwork, allegedly by McKnight and Wichlenski. KU police recovered the panel the next day, and were speaking to a “person of interest,” the Journal-World reported.

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