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Disorderly, Intoxicated Ulster County Man Destroys Outdoor Artwork

Artist Mark Smith hopes to reattach the sheared wings of his "Spirit of Woodstock" butterfly.
Artist Mark Smith hopes to reattach the sheared wings of his "Spirit of Woodstock" butterfly. Photo Credit: Provided

A drunk man continued the decade-long tradition of destroying street artwork used for a yearly Chamber of Commerce initiative, resulting in a felony charge, police said.

Ulster County resident Vincent DeBellis, 43, was witnessed ripping the tye-dyed wings off of a fiberglass butterfly decked out for the Chamber's "Fluttering Around Saugerties" event at nearly 2 a.m. on Aug. 17 outside of the Pig Bar on Partition Street. 

Police were reportedly summoned to the scene when a 911 caller told dispatch that DeBellis was throwing items at passing vehicles. He was charged with the felony of third-degree criminal mischief. 

In previous years, area artists have painted and bedecked rocking chairs, rocking horses, cars, lighthouses and galloping stallions. 

Regardless of the chosen theme, however, at least one of these sculptures has been destroyed nearly every year since the event was first devised in 2009. 

"I thought we were over this, but I guess not," said Mark Smith, both the artist who decorated the butterfly and the chair of Saugerties' Chamber of Commerce. 

The butterfly, called "Spirit of Woodstock," is one of 35 that line Main and Partition Streets, the village's hub for restaurants and bars. 

Area artists submitted applications to participate in the project in May, before businesses chose drawings of the individual's designs to sponsor. 

As they have done since 2009, the Chamber will auction off the butterflies (this year's auction is virtual, given the limitations of COVID-19) auctioning off the artworks-- one-third of proceeds will go to the artist, another third will go to the Chamber of Commerce and the final third will go to an area charity. 

The first incident in this rash of statue-bashing took place in 2009, at the hands of a Saugerties police officer. 

Then-Officer John Mullen was stripped of his position and arrested on charges of felony criminal mischief, two counts of misdemeanor falsely reporting an incident and one count of misdemeanor obstructing governmental administration after knocking over a fiberglass horse sculpture for that year's iteration, "Horsin' Around Saugerties."

Nine other horses were stolen from their metal pedestals lining the village streets that year. 

In July of 2016, components of another fiberglass horse were stolen--the sculpture, "Bathorse and Robin," was found missing a small bird sculpture that accompanied the horse clad in a Batman costume. 

Another horse, called "Wonka" and modeled after a piece of wrapped chocolate, was punched by a passer-by that year. 

In September of 2016, a 28-year-old North Carolina man ripped off the head of another horse sculpture at around midnight, throwing it into the street. 

Judah J. Signor reportedly hit a police officer in the process of his booking, and kicked items in the booking room; he was charged with the misdemeanors of obstruction of governmental administration and criminal mischief.

Signor's sister, 26-year-old Deborah A. Signor of Brooklyn, was arrested, too, after she came to pick her brother up from the Saugerties Police Department and reportedly pulled a fire alarm when she grew impatient with the dispatcher--she was charged with falsely reporting an incident, a felony. 

In June of 2018, yet another drunken man, 38-year-old Daniel V. Keogan, punched a hole into a sculpture made for the Chamber event and accrued two misdemeanors. 

The theme that year was sailboats--both artists repaired their fiberglass sails, which had holes punched into them, before that year's gala. 

Similarly, Smith plans to repair his sculpture. The sheared-off wings were reportedly in the possession of the Saugerties Police Department for a number of days before they were returned to Smith. 

"They were evidence of a crime, a felony in fact," explained Assistant District Attorney John McGovern. 

According to Smith, many more instances of vandalism have taken place and gone unreported, with at least one sculpture being damaged or tampered with per year. 

He insists, however, that despite their tendency to be molested in the night, sculptures for future Chamber fundraising will be kept outside, rather than locked behind storefronts. 

"As far as I'm concerned, they'll always be outside," said Smith. "It's street art, and it always comes with the territory for someone to wreck something that's outside on public display. We just have to take the chance and hope that people respect the art."

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