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Celebrating our community's artists

Dawn Lippo and Lindsey Lally display the Cardinal Quilt Guild’s veteran's quilt. Special to the Pine Journal

For the second year, last week's Cromwell-Wright Area Summer Fest featured a Silent Auction of works by members of our community. Some 30 individual contributors, plus the Cardinal Quilters, the Bethany Quilters, and our Cromwell Area Historical Club contributed items. Artists donated paintings, drawings, photographs, books, quilts, woodworkings, stoneworks, a terrarium of succulents, fabric art, homemade pickles and more. While people waited for the steak to be cooked, and again after consuming it, they wandered around looking at hundreds of items my husband Rod call's "eye candy."

Besides raising money for our projects, the auction showcases the range of artistic accomplishment in our area. Each offering is accompanied by an artist statement that includes photos of the artist, sometimes in the act of creating it, and a few paragraphs about how they started and why they love doing it.

Our auction bridges amateurs with professionals. Four high school students offered works: two paintings, a photograph, and a wooden bedside bookcase. Professional artists like Jo Johnson, whose work was featured this year, and Carole Hill, both with gallery representation, contributed paintings. Brandon Eilers, a professional designer, produced the terrarium. And people who have never sold their one-of-a-kind works, preferring to share with family and friends, gave generously as well.

Our aim to showcase the quality and diversity of artists' works poses pricing challenges for us. We don't like to see any item go without a single bid. This puts pressure on us to keep starting bid prices affordable. We are not a wealthy community! We consult the giver, who may tell us what they would charge on the market and how much work and thought goes into it. Some set the initial bid price. Others leave it up to us — not an easy call! I often consult several people for their views. And, well, there are differences of opinion!

I first experienced silent auctions at recent fundraisers for the Fond du Lac summer language camp and the One Roof Coalition for low income housing in Duluth. I learned how much fun it is — to cruise slowly through the items offered, to hold some of them in your hands, to feel your heart quicken when you see something particularly beautiful or meaningful. And people also engage in fun conversations as they bump into each other eying the quilts or walking sticks or sculptures. You don't experience the group excitement or anxiety of a real auction, but you still sometimes don't want to bid against a friend whose name is last on the list. (One friend admitted to me that she uses a false name when bidding to avoid this problem!)

An amateur producer for this activity, I like the pleasure of recruiting contributors, interviewing them about their creations, writing up the statements, and consulting with them about placement and presentation. We work with what we have in our Cromwell Pavilion — plain functional tables that I cover with rarely-used old-fashioned tablecloths, piano benches, wooden dowel towel hangers, upended pots obscured with more cloths. Jo Johnson's husband, Fran, again this year brought in two large scaffolds for hanging her works and those of others. I think about lighting and placement: which objects would look best with indirect sunlight and which will blow away if too close to the Pavilion's overpowering air-conditioners. I am still madly writing artist statements in the final hours and ferrying them over to the Northview Bank which kindly donates the use of their color printer.

And imagine! After the auction closes, we have just 20 minutes to disburse the items to winners and dismantle all the tables and structures so that our Variety Show can commence. To me this is magic — so many people scurrying around to pick up and pay for their winnings and others pitching in to remove hundreds of pounds of tables.

Our treasurer, Lyn Odegaard, handled the cash box for us. Our earnings totaled just about $1,000!

I'm enjoying the afterlife of this project — reporting to artist and writer Margaret Webster that her books and silkscreened prints of her paintings brought in the highest total earnings for us; phoning or texting artists unable to be there to tell them how much interest and cash their contributions generated. And I'm hearing lots of positive feedback about the various artworks and their makers. I'm hoping that more members of our community will pursue their dreams of designing with their minds and working with their hands!