Artist’s stolen painting anonymously mailed to Charleston library

The painting, entitled “Flame Nebula,” was stolen from the Charleston County Library in July.

Alizey Khan had little hope she’d ever see one of her cherished paintings ever again after it was stolen in July from a Charleston County library. But the Charleston artist got a surprise when a library official called her on Friday to give her the good news: the painting had been mailed back to the library anonymously.

In total, seven pieces of artwork, with a total value of $5,825, had been stolen from exhibits in the Saul Alexander Gallery and the lobby at the Main Branch of the Calhoun Street library, including three of Khan’s paintings. This was the final one of hers to be recovered.

Khan, 23, said the library received her painting, “Flame Nebula” by mail from Rock Hill two weeks ago.

“They said it came from the UPS store,” she said. “I figured it was out of the city. But I didn’t realize it would actually come back to me in such a way.”

Nancy Sullivan, the library building manager, opened the package and said she immediately recognized the painting as the stolen piece.

“I was very surprised because it didn’t have anything in the box with it, just the art, just packed in bubble wrap and popcorn and that was it,” Sullivan said.

Khan retrieved the painting from the library on Friday afternoon, when she tweeted: “It is quite damaged but I can fix it by sanding down and re-coating the top layer!”

The painting had been part of a display of artwork at the main branch library when it was stolen on July 30.

A man with a backpack snagged the paintings, took off, then hawked the stolen works to a Reid Street business owner, Charleston police said. Then, with the thefts all over the news, the thief allegedly strolled into the library for a second helping of artwork.

Investigators arrested Robert Wayne Russell, 57, of Meeting Street later that same day and charged him with grand larceny in connection with the theft of seven paintings valued at nearly $6,000, police said.

With all her stolen paintings returned, Khan plans on re-displaying the pieces in her next show at the Coastal Community Foundation starting on Oct. 17.

“I’m going to figure out a locking mechanisms,” she said.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or