Barbara Maslen did not have to stray far to find inspiration — or raw materials — for her inaugural entry into the popular Box Art Auction, an event that raises tens of thousands annually for East End Hospice.
The Sag Harbor artist’s late father, John Maslen, was a talented jazz saxophonist and would often bring home boxes of sheet music when he was teaching himself how to play. “There were all of these hand-written notes along the borders,” recalled Maslen, who kept her father’s customized sheet music for years.
Her mother, with whom she shares a first name and who also died young, was an expert quilter.
And both received hospice care at their Cape Cod home prior to their deaths.
Though she never attempted quilting, and gave up trying to learn the saxophone at age 12, Maslen inexplicably found herself folding her father’s old sheet music into squares and carefully patching them together to create what she describes as a “jazz quilt.” She then tapped a newly learned skill, origami, that she picked up by taking a class at the John Jermain Memorial Library in her hometown of Sag Harbor, to make the paper cranes that rest inside the cigar box, hidden from view until opened.
“This is a homage to them — both died fairly young,” Maslen said referring to her unique creation that showcases her parents’ talents. “I did some research and learned that cranes are a symbol of hope and healing.”
Her artwork is one of 85 entries that will be sold to the highest bidder on Saturday, August 25, as part of the 18thannual Box Art Auction benefitting East End Hospice. The silent and live auctions, which organizers expect to raise between $55,000 and $65,000 combined, run from 4:30 to 8 p.m. inside St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s Hoie Hall in East Hampton. Tickets start at $75 each.
Those interested in examining the entries before bidding can do so between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, August 22 and 23, at the hall. A free preview reception will run from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, at the same location for those interested in bidding but cannot make the auction. The artworks can also be viewed online at eeh.org. Absentee bid forms can be downloaded from the East End Hospice website.
Arlene Bujese of East Hampton has chaired the auction for 14 years and serves on East End Hospice’s Board of Directors. She noted that there has been an uptick in absentee bids recently, and that all potential bidders can attend the free reception if they want an up-close view of the works but cannot attend the auction itself.
“We want the whole community to have access,” said Bujese, who thanked the dozens of local artists for donating their time and expertise to help a great cause.
She did note that organizers had to place a cap on the sizes of the finished pieces, explaining that some were getting a tad carried away with their outside-the-box techniques. “We had to limit the size to 18 inches by 18 inches,” Bujese added. “It needs to be a portable work of art. After a few years, some were getting a bit out of control in terms of size.”
Abstract expressionist Frank Wimberley, who splits his time between Sag Harbor and Queens, agrees that his last two offerings have stood out though not because of their size. Rather, their bold color cannot help but demand attention.
“It’s abstract and it’s bright orange,” said Wimberley, who has been contributing works since the auction’s inception 18 years ago.
The 92 year old recalled one of his earlier pieces fetching $3,300 at auction, a personal high. His last two offerings were abstract sculptures affixed to cigar boxes and painted in the same bright hue, and last year’s took home around $800 for East End Hospice.
He hopes that his newest contribution will continue providing financial assistance to the Westhampton Beach-based not-for-profit that provides care for terminally ill patients, as well as their loved ones, across the East End. The organization also runs the Kanas Center for Hospice Care, its first in-patient facility that’s on the water on Quiogue.
“I think it’s a very worthwhile thing to do, if you want to do something to help others,” Wimberley said, adding that he fully intends to donate another work for next year’s auction.
Darlene Charneco, a mixed media artist who recently moved to Westhampton Beach but has a Sag Harbor studio, has been a donating artist for the past 15 years. She said her motivation was Ms. Bujese, explaining that her friend curated her first art show out of college, providing her with an opportunity to pursue her passion.
“Most of my art is inspired by a vision of what is possible when we are giving and doing things together,” Charneco said. “This falls right in there.”
Originally hesitant to share details, Charneco eventually agreed to identify the materials she used to piece together this year’s unusual artwork: vintage Legos.
“Some were discolored by the sun, some were scratched and dented,” she said. “I was using more of the white ones and these pieces created their own composition.”
She explained that the blocks were leftovers from her other works, some of which incorporate children’s toys into their design. “I’ve been holding onto all these odds and ends … and they all just came together perfectly.”
A first-time contributor and former illustrator, Malsen always wanted to donate a unique piece to the auction, explaining that she had a childhood fascination with boxes, including those that play music and even jack-in-the-box toys. Box Art Auction artists must incorporate either an old cigar or wine box into their design; the latter is a recent addition though not as many artists appear as interested in the option.
“I was always fascinated by the artists and how clever they were,” said Malsen, whose more recent work has focused on large-scale murals. “And I like doing art that’s more than just a square on the wall. That’s what I do with murals.”
She had been following the auction for the past five years but decided to sign up this year following the March 2017 death of her close friend, Francesca Mercer, a hairdresser from Sag Harbor who died from lung cancer at age 51. Mercer received at-home care from East End Hospice prior to her death, according to Maslen.
“As an artist, I like to donate what I have, which is time and talent rather than money,” she said. “We have a lot of good things going on out here but, ultimately, what is more important than hospice?”