Elayne and Russ Lindberg had moved to St. Louis Park in 1950, where Russ worked as a painter and decorator. Elayne had a master’s degree in social sciences, and after her children were grown she became an expert in handwriting analysis. From 1966 to 1968 she worked as a store detective at Dayton’s, using her skills to spot forged checks. In 1970 she worked as a part time policewoman, apprehending shoplifters in an unnamed department store. One report said that she was responsible for locking up the leaders of six major Minneapolis gangs. A Sun article explains that she counseled her often young perps on their strong points using handwriting analysis. She believed that there was good in everyone. She was often called in to authenticate signatures on wills. She also worked for Sheriffs’ offices and wrote the book The Power of Positive Handwriting. She also did handwriting analysis for a psychiatrist.
The Lindbergs were also professional magicians for 15 years, specializing in Houdini’s “escape from the trunk” trick. Russ was also a musician and poet.
In the late 1960s, downtown was getting dangerous and there were more professional shoplifters. After she had success selling oil paintings she’d imported from Europe, Elayne resigned from Dayton’s and opened up her own gallery. In the course of his decorating business, Russ had already accumulated some 200 oil paintings. Elayne Galleries was launched in October 1971 in the Wooddale Professional Building. The business took over more and more space, until she moved to 6111 Excelsior Blvd. in 1977.
THE ROCKWELL HEIST
In March 2013 a book about an extraordinary theft of several Norman Rockwell paintings from Elayne Galleries was published by Borealis Books. The Rockwell Heist was written by local journalist Bruce Rubenstein. Read accounts by Minnesota Monthly, the StarTribune, and the Sun Sailor. The following account includes some details from the book.
On February 16, 1978, up to 500 people came to the gallery to see the largest show of Norman Rockwell’s painting ever held in a private gallery. The show was in honor of Rockwell’s 84th birthday, but because of illness Rockwell himself could not attend. The paintings shown were:
- “Date/Cowgirl” and “Date/Cowboy,” two paintings done for a cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1949, owned by Elayne Galleries;
- “Spirit of 1976” owned by advertising agency Brown and Bigelow;
- “No Swimming” owned by Brown and Bigelow;
- “Summer” owned by Brown and Bigelow;
- “She’s My Baby,” done for a 1927 Saturday Evening Post Cover, owned by collector Robert Horvath
Also on exhibition was an unnamed Renior owned by Robert Verson that turned out to be a phony.
Despite an “audio sonic” alarm system (the cord was cut), a “theft-proof lock” (that was punched) and a Pinkerton guard (who went missing), sometime before 12:30 am that night four thieves took off with the Rockwells and the fake Renior. Three men had cased the gallery the day before but were never identified.
The Art Crime Law dictated that the theft was in the jurisdiction of the FBI. For 20 years leads were chased and tips came in, but it took Elayne’s daughter Bonnie’s perseverance to finally trace the paintings to the home of a Brazilian art collector. Brazilian law did not require the owner of the stolen paintings to surrender them, so payments were made to get them back. The “Date” paintings were returned in 1998 and ’99, and the Brown and Bigelow paintings recovered in February 2002. (“She’s My Baby” was recovered in Philadelphia in 1998.)
Diverging from the account in the book, the New York Times reported on December 13, 2001, that the paintings recovered were “The Spirit of ’76,” “So Much Concern,” and “A Hasty Retreat.” (“National Briefing Midwest: Stolen Rockwell Paintings Found,” NY Times. 13 December 2001)
The book declines to name three of the four robbers who are still living, but Louie Anderson’s brother Kent Anderson, who died in 2007, was named as one of them. No one was ever charged in the robbery.
Elayne bounced back with a Rockwell show on February 14, 1979, displaying 232 works valued at $500,000. In November 1999 she sold the “Date” paintings for $180,000.
After Elayne passed away in 1994 the business was run by their daughter Bonnie Lindberg until 2001. Bonnie remains an art appraiser at her business Appraisal Specialists Midwest.
On the same night as the Elayne Galleries theft, the home of a collector of military paraphernalia, on the 3200 block of Rhode Island Ave., was robbed of his collection, including helmets, uniforms, swords, guns, and medals. The collector was frustrated at the lack of attention the SLP PD gave his case, and was asked to produce an inventory of the items stolen. Unfortunately, one of the items was a Medal of Honor – while it was legal to buy and sell other military medals, it was against the law to buy or sell a Medal of Honor. The case was turned over to the Army, but no charges were filed.