Family’s legal battle continues: Local artist attempting to recoup costs of sculpture damaged by city


For nearly two years, local artist Terry Champ has tried to get the city of Seymour to pay for damages to a steel sculpture with gold leaf detail he created and loaned to the city for a public art display.

Now, Champ is prepared to sue the city for “intentionally and willfully or through gross negligence” destroying the sculpture and causing prejudice to Champ’s “honor and reputation,” according to a letter, from Champ’s attorney, Jonathan S. Chernow from the New York law office of White, Fleischner & Fino.

Champ, 77, said the city is responsible for removing the sculpture, called Trinity, from its agreed upon location in the traffic island at Second Street and Community Drive without his permission in April 2016.

“Trinity was a work of recognized stature and its location enhanced itself and the property it stood on,” Chernow said in his letter. “Trinity was protected as a work of visual art under the Visual Artists Rights Act and is subject to copyright protection. At all times, Seymour had care, custody and control of Trinity.”

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No lawsuit has been filed as of yet, and city attorney Rodney Farrow said the city denies liability for any alleged damage.

The sculpture was part of an Adopt a Spot Art initiative organized by the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce in 2010. The pieces were supposed to be on display for two years and then new ones added, but only four pieces were ever commissioned and used. Trinity was sponsored by the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

The city’s board of public works approved a request on April 14, 2016, from Seymour Community School Corp. to remove the artwork, but agreed Champ needed to be contacted first, so he could provide direction on what to do with the sculpture.

Champ said he was never contacted by the city and later found Trinity lying on its side in gravel at the Department of Public Works garage in Freeman Field.

The 9-foot sculpture was heavily damaged as a result of being removed and tossed aside, said Champ’s daughter, Christi Baine.

Mayor Craig Luedeman has said city workers did not remove the sculpture, and the city is not to blame.

Covered in a pearl auto paint with two different techniques of hand-done gold leaf pattern, Baine said the paint job and gold leaf were ruined and are expensive to fix.

The family estimated it would cost more than $31,000 to repair the artwork. According to Chernow’s letter, the sculpture was valued at $35,000 at the time it was loaned to the city.

When the damage was discovered, Champ filed a claim which was turned over to the city’s insurance provider, but that claim was withdrawn by the city in January 2017.

“If Mr. Champ filed a lawsuit against Seymour in Federal District Court in Indiana, he would be entitled to recover his actual or statutory damages from Seymour as remedies for the infringement upon his rights with respect to Trinity,” Chernow wrote in his letter addressed to Luedeman.

That letter, dated Oct. 24, 2017, gave the city 30 days to resolve the situation by paying for the damages before pursuing litigation.

If Champ sues and the court was to decide a willful violation on the part of the city, the maximum enhanced statutory damages awarded could be up to $150,000, Chernow said. Champ also would be entitled to recover his costs and attorney’s fees.

Champ’s daughter, Kimberly Champ, has said the family would like to have the sculpture fixed so it can be displayed again in the community, possibly at Cornerstone Community Church, where the family has been longtime members.

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