Partnership breakup forces Caswell to sell inventory
by: File photo A legal dispute with a former partner has led to Rip Caswell closing his gallery in downtown Troutdale.

Bronze sculptor Rip Caswell will close his gallery in downtown Troutdale on Thursday, Sept. 15, and auction off his inventory of sculptures as the end result of a legal dispute with a former business partner.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court jury ruled in mid-May that Caswell was not at fault when he ended a three-year business partnership with Vancouver, Wash., resident Gretchen Brooks, an art collector and a member of the Casey family, which established UPS and founded the philanthropic Casey Family Programs.

Caswell's attorney, Mick Seidl, said the jury also found that Brooks was liable for $2.4 million in damages related to the partnership.

As a result of the dissolution of the business partnership, Caswell will close the gallery and auction off the inventory of sculptures that he created during his partnership with Brooks. The proceeds from the auction will be distributed between Brooks and Caswell's two companies, Seidl said.

Seidl said Caswell entered a business relationship with Brooks in January 2006 with the intention that she would provide funding for the expansion of Caswell's businesses, including the renovation of his gallery a few years ago and the marketing of his work at the international level.

However, their business partnership did not work out so Caswell ended it in November 2009, Seidl said.

Brooks filed a $5.2 million claim in January 2010 against Caswell's companies, Rip Caswell Sculptures Inc. and Caswell Properties, alleging the partnership was wrongfully terminated and that she should be repaid for her investments.

Caswell then filed two counterclaims alleging that Brooks breached her fiduciary duties - or breached her duty of care to the partnership and failed to act in good faith - and that he had the right to end the partnership.

Seidl said the jury agreed with Caswell on both claims. The jury awarded Brooks $1.8 million for money she put into the remodel of the gallery and $2.4 million to Caswell's companies. A final hearing on the dissolution of their business partnership will be held Sept. 26-27, Seidl said.

Seidl said both of Caswell's businesses also will end as a result of the dissolution.

The court also required that the building's tenants, which include a jeweler, a wine company and a custom framing business, vacate the building by Sept. 15.

Seidl said the 16,000-square-feet building's fate will be determined at the September hearing.

Dennis Noreen, owner of Strategy Insurance, said he moved into the gallery as its second tenant in January 2010.

He said he and the other tenants are now looking for new places to relocate.

'It's a bummer that we're going to be displaced,' Noreen said. 'After two years, it's like losing a family.'

Noreen said the closure also will affect East County, noting the gallery is a popular place for locals and visitors, especially during the monthly First Friday Art Walks.

Caswell, who opened his original gallery on the Historic Columbia River Highway in 1991, said he was exploring his future options for the business.

Seidl said Caswell started a new company, Caswell Studios Inc., and is waiting for the business partnership to dissolve.

'Rip has been a significant contributor to the Troutdale and Gresham communities, both in community activism and artwork, and he fully intends to continue his art career,' Seidl said.

Caswell's bronze sculptures, which can be found throughout the United States and internationally, includes the trout on Troutdale's Centennial Arch, the 'Rainbow Splendor' sculpture in Troutdale's Mayors Square, the Gov. Tom McCall Memorial in Salem and a giant elk that is owned by actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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