Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From Stanwood to Siberia, artist Jack Gunter's 25-year hunt to recover his paintings


Jack Gunter’s airplane paintings are on the second floor of his studio gallery on Camano Island.

“Here’s one where there’s a 747 going straight down and going to crash into Helen’s Kitchen,” Jack says, gesturing at a large canvas. Nearby, a jumbo jet is menacing a group of senior citizens. Another shows a plane looming over grazing cows.

The paintings date to the early 1990s, when Sea-Tac Airport was looking to expand, and someone floated Stanwood as a possible site for a new runway. Jack was not a fan of this plan. 

“I did a whole series of paintings where airplanes were crashing into Stanwood, in various fashions. And I took everything that Stanwood loved, and I crashed a 747 into it,” Gunter says.

Jack has painted hundreds, probably thousands of pieces since the airplane series. But these paintings are special, because they were missing from his collection for nearly 25 years — trapped, half a world away, waiting for Jack to take a crazy, winding journey to recover them.

It began when Jack’s art caught the eye of a group of visiting Russians, who invited him to Siberia for a series of museum shows. Jack lugged the huge canvases overseas, with plans to retrieve them a year later.

But then a few things happened during that year. The Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union began dissolving, and Russia was thrown into chaos.

As a result, Jack was unable to bring his paintings home. Years stretched into decades until, in 2015, Jack got an unexpected message from his Russian contact. It would send him back to Siberia, this time with a film crew, on a quest to recover his lost paintings.




Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.