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Mission boy discovers, returns stolen painting

Langley artist Reet Herder smiles happily with Matthew Hanna, 11, after he returned her oil painting to her after it had been stolen in 2005. Hanna found the stolen painting at an auction and bought it with his own money. - Monique Tamminga/Langley Times
Langley artist Reet Herder smiles happily with Matthew Hanna, 11, after he returned her oil painting to her after it had been stolen in 2005. Hanna found the stolen painting at an auction and bought it with his own money.
— image credit: Monique Tamminga/Langley Times

At 11 years old, Matthew Hanna is a true Canadian Picker, spending each weekend digging through other people’s unwanted goods and finding treasure.

The “A” student and hockey goalie from Mission spent every Saturday with his grandfather Bill, who was his best friend. They went to garage sales and picked out things that could be worth money or would be neat to keep, he explained. He’s kept an old piggy bank from Ohio and really old lighters, to name a few treasures.

“Matthew bought a surfboard with his grandpa. He paid $15 for it. We thought what the heck does he want a surfboard for?” said his dad Steve. “He sold it for $500.”

But then his grandfather passed away 18 months ago. It was a devastating blow for Matthew. In an effort to keep their Saturday tradition alive, Matthew’s dad picked up where his own dad left off.

The pair went to garage sales together, but also decided to up the ante a bit by going to the auction at Big Valley in Aldergrove every Wednesday.

The pair go view all the items up for auction the evening before and Matthew writes down which items he might want to buy and starts researching them online to see how much they might be worth. He found an old desk that was worth triple what he paid for it.

Fast forward to July, 2012. Matthew found a seascape oil painting he liked the look of at Big Valley. He wrote it down and went home to research it. The painting was called Harbouring Great Memories by artist Reet Herder.

“Matthew came to me and said “Dad, the painting is stolen. Let’s buy it and return it to the rightful owner,” said Steve.

It wasn’t going cheap. By the end of the auction, Matthew had purchased the painting with $70 of his own money. The painting came from a bailiff seized storage locker.

The auctioneer and owner of Big Valley got word that evening of what Matthew had done and thought it was so special, he cut the price of the painting in half for him.

Matthew took his purchase home and put it away in a closet, wanting to make sure it stayed intact, without his cats scratching it. His next steps were to get in touch with the artist or the police.

“He believes in doing the right thing,” said his dad. “For him, it’s about returning it home.”

As it is a small world on the World Wide Web, Matthew found all of Herder’s information. The next thing the Langley artist knew, she received a phone call from this young man, explaining that he had her stolen painting.

Facilitated through the Langley RCMP, Herder met Matthew on Friday and her Harbouring Great Memories oil painting was returned to her.

The pair shared hugs and Herder was so pleased with Matthew’s efforts, she is giving him a giclee (digital print) of the painting he likes so much.

In August 2005, Herder’s painting along with 16 other paintings were stolen from the Fort Langley caboose, where exhibits are often on display.

“I came in on the Sunday morning to the caboose and saw that the door was open and there was paintings and other items on the floor,” said Herder. “I didn’t clue in that someone had broken in and stolen our paintings.”

Herder called police and they investigated. The local papers did a story. Herder posted her stolen artwork on Myartclub.com.

But nothing turned up until she received a phone call from Hanna. She actually had  four paintings taken that day. This is the first to be returned to her.

Matthew told Herder he is now going to be on the lookout for the remaining three.

Langley RCMP Const. Craig van Herk said he is very impressed with Matthew.

“At this young of an age to want and know to do the right thing is very impressive.”

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