When Nate Snell was using the restroom of his Northeast Fremont store last Monday, he found himself staring at a piece of artwork that's hung there since Pip's Original Doughnuts & Chai opened its doors in 2013. “I’m looking at this piece of art and I’m like, ‘This sucks,’” he recalls.
Snell takes great pride in the space he created with his wife Jamie Snell for their much-loved cafe, known for its crisp, made-to-order doughnuts, chai creations, and generous birthday freebies. “My wife and I built everything in our shop ourselves,” he says. “Everything we brought into the shop really resonated with us, it was like creating a second home for ourselves.” When he happened on this particular work of art at a Goodwill store four years ago, he fell in love with it and snapped it up immediately. He even documented his new find on Instagram. Four years later, he was second-guessing his taste. “I wondered—how did this piece of art ever resonate with me? The whole time I thought this piece really meant something to me, and it’s terrible!”
Snell went to take the piece down, and that’s when he made the discovery. It wasn’t his art. “I realized that this was obviously not the same piece of art that I bought,” he says, noting this one was painted on plywood as opposed to canvas, and still smelled of fresh paint. “Somebody has created a really sad replica of it and replaced it. My mind was completely blown.”
An unknown art thief had studied Snell’s Goodwill find—an abstract piece of strong color blocks that measured 13-by-13 inches—painted a passable forgery (see photos above), and hung it in the bathroom after pocketing the original.
Snell announced the theft on social media on Tuesday, October 24, and said he wants his art back.
You know, I thought I’d seen it all, but I was wrong. Someone painted a replica of the original piece of artwork we had hanging in our bathroom, replaced the original and left their fake piece in its place. It’s not a terrible job but they applied the paint super thick and it still smells fresh. Also they made a wooden/canvas using screws. Definitely lost the spirit of the original piece & when you look more closely you see the paint is just laid on super thick and without any soul. I picked up the original secondhand and while it wasn’t worth much monetarily, it originally resonated with me deeply. PLEASE BRING OUR ART HOME. 🙏🏽
He also has some thoughts about the possible perpetrator.
“One of my theories is that this is something done by someone who either has an advanced or rudimentary grasp of art, and is motivated by collecting original pieces of art for themselves,” he says. “But part of their motivation is that they feel really clever– they’re pulling one over on people, and it’s a challenge to them.”
Rather than file a police report and leave things to law enforcement, Snell is hoping publicity will help track the piece and return it to its rightful place. “I think the power of social media and getting the word out there is going to have potentially far greater results for its return than a police report,” he says. “For instance, if someone sees this on social media or in an article and then goes to their friend’s house and sees the artwork hanging up? I think that would be the ultimate karma, for them to call someone out and recognize it.”
Since he broke the news on Facebook and Instagram, other business owners have shared similar tales. “A couple of people emailed to say that they had artwork stolen,” he says. “But none of them have told me they’ve had an imposter piece in its place.”
Now he’s warning business owners to examine what’s hanging on their walls very closely. “I just want to get the word out: hey, if you are a small business owner and you have artwork in the shop, don’t take it for granted,” he says, advising them to double check and make sure they haven’t been living with “a sad imposter.” If he can’t get the piece back, he at least hopes to publicly shame whomever stole it.
Says Snell: “I hope that it takes all of the enjoyment out of them being able to look at that piece and feel smugly self-satisfied that they pulled one over on a stupid business owner."