By Michelle Trauring
Frank Wimberley is not one for procrastination.
Historically, the Sag Harbor-based painter has conceptualized and executed his annual creation for the East End Hospice “Box Art Auction” months ahead of schedule.
Until this year, that is.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the artist was feeling the pressure, considering people are still talking about last summer’s auction — an event he has never missed in its 18 years, and a night he will never forget.
“You know what happened last year, right?” Wimberley asked with a goodhearted laugh. “I got a bid of the highest it has ever been — a bid of $10,000! I thought it was absolutely amazing. Everybody cheered and jumped up and down. We still can’t get over it. I was at the Parrish Art Museum the other day and they say, ‘You’re the guy!’ It’s nice when somebody remembers you! Everybody likes to be remembered.”
The 92-year-old artist was feeling optimistic ahead of this year’s 19th annual auction on Saturday, August 24, at St. Luke’s Church in East Hampton, where bidders flock to see the collection of small, unadorned boxes transformed into one-of-a-kind creations by some 90 East End artists.
All proceeds from both the silent and live auctions will benefit East End Hospice, which provides care for terminally ill patients, their families and loved ones living on the North and South Forks, according to benefit chair Arlene Bujese.
“Our primary goal is to increase awareness that hospice offers respect and comfort and care and dignity for end of life,” she explained. “And the boxes are just terrific. They never let me down. I think it does get better each year. It’s almost competitive among some of the long-timers who have been with us over the years. I have a feeling they kind of check out one another, as artists do.”
Joining the roster of Box Art Auction veterans is a rite of passage for East End artists, explained Felisa Dell, one of this summer’s 11 new faces. Her box incorporates one of her mounted floral watercolors — affixed to both the top and bottom of her box, to be viewed as a whole when displayed on the hinge.
“It is prestigious to be part of it; they ask a lot of artists from all over the area,” she said of the auction. “Most of the boxes are very much works of art.”
Each artist is given a donated cigar or wine box, and are encouraged to use the box as a canvas or base — inside and out — for their individual medium, be it painting, collage or assemblage to ceramics, sculpture and even needlework on fabric.
Artist Eric Dever tapped his inner Lee Krasner as the inspiration behind his first-ever contribution to the auction, as well as his summertime fascination with “l’heure bleue,” an oft-shimmering time at twilight. Regarding the box as a five-sided canvas, he used a back-and-forth painting and collage technique — similar to that made famous by the Springs abstract expressionist — and sealed it with intention.
“The opening is actually on the bottom and I thought of it, spiritually, as having the interior as a space filled with hope and peace for all beings,” he said. “Given the context of hospice, that could be a personal peace, maybe from grief and mourning to some kind of acceptance. As a people, it seems we are so divided right now, and we really have to knit ourselves back together again. There’s a hopefulness in that.
“And as far as our planet goes, it’s being destroyed and we need to wake up and stop it, and repair the damage,” he continued. “It goes from really micro to a macro level. But there’s this idea, ‘Let peace begin with me,’ with every single person — whatever form the peace is that someone needs.”
For Carol Hunt, she finds peace at the Box Art Auction itself, a gathering place for her friends in life and art, and an event she has eagerly awaited — and participated in — every year since its inception.
“We end up collecting — buying — more boxes every time we go. We’ve got 18 years’ worth of boxes and sometimes we buy two or three. One year we bought four,” she said. “It’s a great way of getting a little piece from an artist you might not be able to afford otherwise. One year we bought a Frank Wimberley sculpture and had no idea he had ever done sculpture. He’s such a great painter, but he’s also a really good sculptor. He’s amazing.”
Occupied by his first-ever solo exhibition, Wimberley very nearly decided to forgo this year’s auction, refusing to present a piece that did not best represent him. “I’m a little long in the tooth right now, so I have to do everything properly,” he said.
But Bujese refused to take no for an answer, and not so subtly delivered three boxes to his home — stoking the flames of his imagination, and an inspiration that came to the artist in a dream state.
When he awoke abruptly, he had an epiphany — his attention laser-focused on a sculpture that “had been sitting in a corner for a long time,” he said, and promptly affixed it to his box with glue.
“It is really very old and I can’t remember the year I put on it because I don’t think I was putting the year on it at that time,” he said. “But as far as I’m concerned, it’s competitive. It’s one of my better sculptures, I think — that’s not for me to say, though. I hope somebody else likes it, too. I just hope it looks nice. Keep your fingers crossed for me.”
East End Hospice will host its 19th annual “Box Art Auction” on Saturday, August 24, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. at St. Luke’s Church Hoie Hall, located at 18 James Lane in East Hampton. The live auction will begin at 5:45 p.m. and admission is $75. Leading up to the event, the boxes can be previewed on Wednesday and Thursday, August 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A free “meet the artists” reception will be held Wednesday, August 21, from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information or to place an absentee bid, call (631) 288-8400 or visit eeh.org.