Experts say it will be "impossible" for burglars to sell thousands of dollars worth of distinctive stained glass art - including a large Pat Hanly work - stolen from a celebrated Auckland studio last week.
The Glassworks, operated by Hanly's son Ben and his wife Suzanne, was broken into overnight on Monday and 11 stained glass panels and bespoke windows were taken.
Suzanne Hanly describes the burglary as "utterly bizarre".
Almost brand new mountain bikes and other easy-to-sell goods were ignored, while at least two people appeared to have taken their time in the studio, unearthing one large stained glass panel from a pile of art materials and unscrewing another that had been fastened across a studio window.
"I just feel like somebody's beaten me up," Hanly told the Weekend Herald.
"We've just been cleaned out. We're absolutely shocked. We've been completely done over - and you can't sell these, they're too hot to handle, they're one-offs. The Pat Hanly window is so distinct. What are you going to do with it? It's like stealing a Colin McCahon."
The Glassworks is famous for its large-scale commissions and collaborations with contemporary artists, including the late Pat Hanly, one of New Zealand's best known painters.
Ben and Suzanne Hanly worked with artists Shane Cotton, Robert Ellis and Nigel Brown on the seven-year stained glass window project for Parnell's Holy Trinity Cathedral and spent two years on the window panels for Peter Jackson's Park Road Post production premises. Their client list runs to former prime minister Helen Clark and the Tongan royal family.
Stolen works include bespoke commissions for clients, and older, more personal pieces, like a Madonna and Child with Angels based on Russian religious iconography and a Hanly bride and groom work earmarked as a wedding present for the original artist's granddaughter.
"She can't have it any more. It's gone . . . we were going to give it to her for the new house, because it's a bride and groom. It would always remind them of that really lovely moment in their lives."
Hanly wouldn't say how much the missing items were worth, but an identical bride and groom piece was exhibited at Milford Galleries Dunedin last month with a $65,000 price tag.
The larger of stolen works would have taken at least three months each to make, Hanly said. She was currently contacting clients and preparing to remake commissions.
"It represents a whole year of my work."
Hanly is appealing to the burglars to return the stolen goods.
"What are you going to do with all this stuff? It's made for particular windows, so they're not going to fit into anything . . . They're so distinctive and, except for the free-floating panels, they're so site-specific. What are you going to do with a Madonna and Child and Angels? Are you going to give it to a church?"
Hanly says the work that was unscrewed from across a studio window was a sample piece for the Nigel Brown-designed "great window" at the rear of the Holy Trinity Cathedral's nave - now lauded as the largest expanse of stained glass in the southern hemisphere.
"We kept it as a memento of that whole project which lasted seven years, so I'm very sad over that one."
Many of the stolen windows would have been too heavy for one person to lift. Hanly said the glass could not be cut down, or melted for re-use.
"You can't resell the glass, it would be worthless in bits and pieces. It would be like cutting a canvas painting up and selling the bits of painting."
Stephen Higginson, Milford Galleries director, told the Weekend Herald the stolen pieces "would be impossible to sell".
"Nobody in the art community would be unaware they had been stolen and nobody would touch them . . . they're so distinctive as to be impossible to run away with. The only sensible action, if you can call a thief sensible, is to return them."
The burglary occurred in the same week Milford Galleries Dunedin dismantled its month-long exhibition "Pat Hanly celebrations". It featured seven Hanly works, including six paintings recreated in stained glass, in collaboration with Ben and Suzanne Hanly.
"Pat's work is so distinctive and beautiful," said Higginson. "Perhaps more than any other artist in New Zealand, the difference between his paintings and stained glass, as a media, is virtually non-existent because of the way he used flat planes of colour. We had one client in here on Saturday who just thought it was blissful - astoundingly accurate and beautiful."
Higginson said he would be "surprised" if there was a link between the Dunedin exhibition and the Auckland burglary.
"New Zealand is a village of course, and information in the art world goes everywhere and nothing is secret, but I would be surprised. Why would it have happened now and not 10 or even 20 years ago? They have been working in this field for a long time."
Higginson said no works from the recent Hanly show had sold, but there was interest from clients "on the other side of the border in Auckland".
"It's not unusual, things take their own time to sell. While we have seen quite extraordinary times in New Zealand art, the last few weeks have been very quiet."
Auckland police confirmed they were waiting on results of a forensic examination of The Glassworks studio. Meanwhile, given how unique the stolen items were, it was hoped a member of the public might spot any attempts to sell them.
• Anybody with information about the burglary, or any attempts to sell the stained glass art, can call 105, quoting file number 211102/9782.