Going From ‘Rags to Riches’ : Annual Auction Raises $40,000 for Laguna Art Museum

Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

About 320 members of the art-supporting public gathered at the Laguna Art Museum on Saturday for the Junior Council’s annual auction--an occasion notable for its first-class buffet, its fast-paced live auction and the $40,000 netted for the museum’s educational programs and exhibitions of California art.

On the block were works by 140 artists, including drawings, paintings, lithographs, photographs, ceramics and constructions. Each artist had received a medium-size sheet of rag paper to use in creating the donated work: thus the evening’s theme, “Rags to Riches.”

According to event chairwoman Cheryle Stemmler, more than 100 of the works incorporated the rag paper in some way--a much higher percentage than she and her committee had hoped for.

“In years gone by, we’ve had themes like box art, or tube art, or pink paint, and a lot of artists just said, ‘Forget it,’ ” Stemmler explained. “This year we didn’t want to get too cutesy. We wanted a large number of artists to participate, so we chose a real neutral medium.”


The auctionables were on display in four galleries, which started to fill with guests at 6 p.m. An hour later, all but a few dozen guests were shoulder-to-shoulder pads in the gallery of choice--also home to the dinner buffet.

Blue-chip culinary choices included seafood en croute, breast of duck stuffed with mango chutney, caviar and cream cheese tortes and lemon crab-meat canapes.

Ted and Betty Magarian of Laguna Hills made a stop at the dessert table, a luscious landscape of chocolate truffles, cream puff pastries and fresh fruit (with a hillock of raspberries that may have cost more than some of the art).

Veterans of three previous museum auctions, the Magarians offered this insight into the process.


Betty: “You can’t believe some of the stuff they sell.”

Ted: “Weird.”

Betty: “You know, they pass out free wine (when the bidding starts).”

Ted: “Really weird.”

Also bellied-up to the buffet was Tom Tierney, who said he had his eye on the John Register silk-screen print.

“I come to these auctions an innocent,” Tierney said, “and the works grab me and take me home.”

On a guided tour through the galleries, museum curator Michael McManus singled out a few works for praise, including pieces by Helen Lundeberg, Martha Alf, Roland ReissQ and Italo Scanga.

McManus noted that there were “maybe 20 pieces--not major works, certainly--but 20 pieces that if offered as gifts I would feel quite comfortable recommending for consideration. You understand the difference between pieces we would accept as gifts and pieces we would purchase, don’t you?”


Money, right?

“Exactly,” he said.

Starting promptly at 7:30 p.m., auctioneer Richard File set a brisk pace--clocking the first 15 pieces in a scant 15 minutes, and completing the auction in just over 3 hours. All but two of the 140 pieces were sold, including, for $60, a pencil and acrylic work by Charles Garabedian and Tom Leesen entitled “Only a Fool Would Buy This Piece of Paper.”