SHIRLEY -- After working successfully at her craft for some time, artist Kim Mellema gained local recognition for a series of portraits she painted of Shirley war veterans, from WWII to Desert Storm.
Rendered from live sittings and photos that eloquently captured her subjects' and their places in history, the portraits dovetailed with another ambitious project in progress.
As Mellema worked at her easel, fellow resident Charles Church, a Navy veteran and military history buff who has served as chaplain and later commander of Shirley's American Legion Post, was in the process of collecting town war veterans' stories for posterity. Church's anthology was featured with Mellema's portrait collection when it was exhibited at the Hazen Memorial Library.
After remaining there on loan for awhile, the portraits were returned to her, as agreed. They had also been displayed in the lobby of the former North Middlesex Savings Bank's Shirley branch under a similar arrangement. The veteran paintings are all safely in her possession now.
But other paintings Mellema later loaned to the bank never made it home.
Part of a set of illustrations she created for a book, "Split and Glued" by Vincent Marinaro, some of those paintings came back, Mellema said recently, but four are missing, apparently lost in transition when NMSB merged with Marlboro Savings Bank to become Main Street Bank earlier this year.
Tracing the timeline, Mellema said the "Marinaro paintings" went up in April 2013, on the same day she retrieved all of her veteran paintings from the bank and shuttled them off to the library.
In August, when Mellema and her husband went to get the book paintings that were still on loan to the bank. They noticed four were missing, she said.
They spoke to a bank manager, who "looked all over...with no luck," Mellema said. "I said I'd come back with photos of the missing paintings, which I did."
When she'd loaned the paintings to the bank, Mellema also left a "piece of paper" sketching the informal set-up. The note stated what the items were, that she owned them and that they should be returrned to her, she said. It included her phone number and e-mail address.
A framed photo of Mellema with a short bio hung alongside the paintings in the bank lobby.
With a merger pending, Mellema visited the bank manager to remind her that if the paintings were to be removed for any reason, the bank should contact her. The manager, who still had the note in her drawer, assured her she would do so, Mellama said.
But that didn't happen.
When she reported the items missing, local police speculated that a worker or contractor might have discarded the paintings when the lobby was revamped and they ended up in a dumpster, Mellema said .
But with the case still under investigation, she's hoping for a different outcome.
Mellema, whose father and mother passed away in 2012 and 2013, said it did not occur to her at that time to formalize the loan arrangement and thus had no "contract" with the bank. "I wasn't thinking straight," she said.
But without a contract, the bank told her they could not reimburse her for her loss.
"So I'm out of luck there," she said. "I still hope to find those paintings."
Mellema said the paintings took two years to complete and that the book -- which is popular in its small niche of bamboo rod-building, fly fishing enthusiasts -- contains 92 of her illustrations. Asked if she could put a price tag on the collection, Mellema said she hadn't had an appraisal done but figures the paintings' worth will go up based on the book's increasing value. Abe Books recently listed the slip case edition of "Split and Glued" -- with an original print of one of her oil paintings -- for $350.
"The four missing paintings are important ones," said Mellema, who received awards for her work. One is a cover illlustration of Vince Marinaro "as an old man and in his young days," and chapter illustrations show him with President Jimmy Carter "when they tied flies togeher," she said.
Mellema said she'd put the word out to the fly rod-building community that if the paintings show up on eBay, she's not the one selling them and they should contact her.
But beyond the paintings' possible monetary value, they are priceless to the artist.
"It is very important to me that these paintings are returned and that the complete collection is restored," Mellema said.