April 05, 2020

Benchmarks in fundraising Maine artist do their part for Discovery Museum’s gala dinner auction featuring bunches of benches

You can sit on it. Put your feet up. Stand on top of it to reach a pot – or, if you’re a kid, help mom or dad roll out cookie dough on the kitchen counter.

Or you can simply admire its beauty, as in the case of dozens of hand-painted benches being auctioned off Saturday at “Hold Everything!: Maine Discovery Museum’s Annual Gala Dinner Auction” at Spectacular Event Center in Bangor.

Bidding, starting at $75 for each of the 77 benches, has already begun online at the museum’s Web site where all the pieces are on view. Bids can also be made at the live auction starting at 8 p.m. Saturday. The gala kicks off with a reception at 5 p.m. followed by dinner.

Celebrated Maine author Stephen King has also contributed a plain black bench with his signature in gold. That piece, however, won’t be auctioned off Saturday. The museum has put it on eBay, in a 10-day auction starting Thursday, Nov. 2, in hopes to increase public exposure for the museum, and to collect even more bids. Interested buyers can search for “Stephen King bench” on eBay.

“It’s very understated,” Susan Carlisle, event organizer and vice president of the MDM board of directors, said. “It’s just black with his signature in gold. I like to say it’s black as midnight in ‘Pet Sematary.'”

Form follows function is the unofficial motto for “Hold Everything!”

“[Benches] are useful because they can be for a child or for an adult. You can use it as an end table, or for extra seating,” Carlisle, who has headed up the auction for the past four years, noted. “But they’re also beautiful.”

From Millinocket to Portland, Maine artists were commissioned to decorate a 24-by-11-inch wooden bench constructed by local contractor Tom Hutchinson. Many of the one-of-a-kind pieces are on display in storefront windows throughout downtown Bangor, from Merrill Merchants Bank on Main Street to the Briar Patch bookstore on Central Street. A walking tour list of stores displaying the benches can be found at the museum’s Web site.

“We provide the raw material, and then our artists paint them,” said Carlisle. “A few even asked to make their own benches. Viki Kennedy in Bancroft [Aroostook County] didn’t want to bother us by having us have to deliver a bench to her. She and her husband make furniture for a living, so they made two and painted them. They’ve got these gorgeous mermaids on them.”

Some of the most imaginative creations include Glenburn artist Alma Johnson’s tea party featuring a wolf, chicken, puppy and little girl sitting on papier mache chairs around a blue and white bench, which serves as their table. There’s even a storybook to accompany it.

Young Bangor artist Andrew Bradford, a former student at Rockport’s Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, used a polished tree branch and piece of raw wood to create a truly funky looking bench.

Portland’s Elizabeth Fraser painted one of the standard benches with riotous shades of pink, purple, blue and yellow, in her striking depiction of a sunset along the Maine coast.

“Some of them are colorful and wild, and some are scenic and floral. Some are just for kids,” said Carlisle. “We get such a variety each year.”

Brad Finch of Bangor and 8-year-old daughter Lily, both longtime Maine Discovery Museum patrons, created “Salamander Quadrille,” a bench painted in bright green and blue, featuring highly detailed images of beetles, dragonflies and salamanders. Meanwhile, Anson resident Lynn Harwood painted dreamy clouds and a pale blue sky on her bench.

And some aren’t painted at all.

Barbara Rosenthal of Bangor decoupaged handmade paper maps onto her bench, and then put stamps from around the world on the various countries. Wally Warren of Ripley used found objects made of metal, plastic and rubber on his fun, hodgepodge bench titled “Evolution.”

Each year Maine Discovery Museum focuses on a different item to be decorated by Maine artists – something useful, but also nice to look at – for its benefit auction.

“Every year we try to choose something different,” said Carlisle. “The first year it was rocking chairs, the second year we did mirrors, and the third year we did treasure boxes.”

In past years, the auction has raised around $30,000 for the Maine Discovery Museum. Carlisle hopes to beat that total this year, of course, especially with the introduction of absentee online bidding, available at www.mainediscoverymuseum.org.

“You can go online and make a bid before the auction,” said Carlisle. “And if you don’t bid, in the museum we keep scrapbooks of previous year’s events, with pictures of each item and biographies of each artist. People are welcome to come in and see those, and see what you missed out on.”

“Hold Everything!: The Maine Discovery Museum’s Annual Gala Dinner Auction” is set for 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Spectacular Event Center on the Griffin Road in Bangor. Tickets are $40, and can be purchased by calling the museum at 262-7200. Emily Burnham can be reached at eburnham@bangordailynews.net.

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