NORMAN, Okla. – A plane flew over pregame tailgates and celebrations Saturday, asking University of Oklahoma President David Boren to “return the stolen art” on display in a school museum.
“We want people to understand that something is happening,” said OU sophomore Eric Sundby, who passed out fliers to people passing by on the corner of Asp Ave. and Lindsey St. “We’re not trying to bash anyone. We’re not trying to hurt anyone. What we’re trying to do is raise awareness.”
Sundby estimates his team handed out thousands of fliers, bearing the headline: “Hitler stole it. The University of Oklahoma has it.”
The controversy surrounds “Shepherdess bringing in Sheep,” a painting from the 1800s by Camille Pissarro. It was donated to the museum but actually belongs to a Jewish family. The painting was stolen by the Nazis during World War II.
Lawmakers have tried to get OU to return the painting to its rightful owner but, so far, unsuccessfully.
President Boren has told NewsChannel 4 returning it could set a bad precedent for the University by “automatically giving away other people’s gifts to anyone who claims them.”
“Obviously, the university is on the wrong side of history,” said Sundby, who is also a president of the school’s Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society. “We want to stand on the right side of history.”
That message made an impact with some of the Sooner fans milling about before kickoff.
“As much as I love the university and the athletics and everything this should be returned to them,” said Randy Rickert, who had just seen a movie about Nazi art theft with his fiancee, Jessica Martinez.
“If this belongs to a family and it was stolen, if we have it it should be something that should go back to the family,” Martinez said.
Most tailgaters say they saw the airplane flying above, though not all of them could read what the message said.
Others, weren’t interested in looking into the cause any further.
“There’s an appropriate way to approach that and address that with the university and I’m not sure this is the right place to bring that out,” said Ron Diggs, who was tailgating with his family. “It was distracting.”
NewsChannel 4 could not reach Boren for comment, but he told the OU Daily in a statement that he viewed the flyover as “inappropriate.”
“The University is seeking a solution that will be fair to the family that first lost the art and to the family, which purchased it in good faith and gave it to the OU Foundation, so that the public could enjoy it free of charge,” Boren said in a statement.
The Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Limited Government paid for the flyover and the fliers.