Last spring, woodworker Chick Rauch received an oak storage bin from the Maine Discovery Museum. He had the summer to transform the plain, rectanglular bin into a work of art to be auctioned at the eighth annual Maine Discovery Museum’s Benefit Dinner & Auction, which will be held 5-9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor.
Rauch wasn’t alone. For the “Outta Sight!” auction, 58 artists from Portland to Lubec created artwork from 24-inch-tall storage bins with removable lids.
“I enjoy it and hopefully I’m giving it to someone who enjoys it,” said Rauch, 85, of Glenburn. “And they’re going to give money to the Discovery Museum in the process. It seems to me that it’s one of the few things in life when everybody wins.”
The money raised will go to scholarships and the nonprofit museum’s general operating costs.
Rauch has been working with wood for about 50 years, and this will be the fourth Discovery Museum auction he’s participated in.
His “Maine Wildlife IN Sight” is one of the few unpainted bins. The four sides are decorated with intarsia images of bear, deer, moose and eagles. Intarsia images are constructed from wood of different shades and colors. Rauch used ebony, aspen, maple, rosewood, redwood and walnut. For the lid’s handle, he carved a black bear.
“You just don’t do it over the weekend,” he said. “I do it over a two- or three-month period of time.”
For the majority of the artists, the project is time-consuming and high on their priority list, as evident by the quality of artwork produced this year.
“I think this year especially, the value of these pieces as works of art is so evident and outstanding,” said Maine Discovery Museum Executive Director Andrea Stark on Friday morning as she looked at the collection of finished bins on display at the museum.
The artwork will remain at the museum until the night of the auction for people to view and enter absentee bids, which can be placed at www.mainediscoverymuseum.org.
The collection of artwork will be split between a live auction and silent auction, giving people on Saturday an opportunity to bid the way they prefer.
The idea of mixing art with furniture for a museum stemmed from a display of decorated, life-sized, fiberglass cows that visited Bangor nine years ago. The popularity of the display inspired the creation of the artsy bears of Belfast. But not everyone can display a life-sized bear or cow in their home, so the museum decided to have artists decorate more practical household items for an annual auction.
For their first auction, “Sitting Pretty,” artists decorated children’s rocking chairs. In the following years, the museum gave artists mirrors, benches, chests and clocks as canvases for their imaginations.
The participating artists and crafters receive nothing in return for their work except the pride of displaying their art, the good karma of donating to a nonprofit and the ego boost of seeing people fight for their furniture during the auction.
“It’s just enormously generous of them,” Stark said. “For some, they enjoy it, especially for those for which art is a pastime. But at the heart of it, I think people really believe in what we’re doing to give so much time and talent.”
Every year, the auction committee is faced with the challenge of choosing a piece of furniture that is practical and affordable.
“It needs to be something the artists can be inspired by,” Stark said. “I know they like to be challenged, but I also know they like flat surfaces.”
This year, Stark was concerned that the rectangle bin had too much surface area to cover, but the artists stepped up to the task. Some used the four sides to tell a narrative, while others wrapped a landscape panorama around the bin.
Maine animals and seasons are two recurring themes, but flowers, trees, country houses, abstract designs and geometric patterns also appear in the collection.
Alma Johnson, a self-taught painter from Glenburn, titled her bin “Feed the Birds” and painted herons, blue jays and pheasants into mystical landscapes.
“I’m sitting here right now watching birds out in my back yard,” Johnson said Sunday in a phone interview. “I just thought [the bin] would make a great birdseed holder.”
Most of Johnson’s artwork goes to various charities and fundraisers. She has submitted art in the museum auction all eight years.
“I love children, and if I can do anything to help them, I’ll do it,” Johnson said. “I enjoy giving.”
Only a few artists worked in a medium other than paint.
“The Umbrella Tree” by Irvin Krupke is decorated with stained glass. The four panels of hand-cast glass have centers of beveled glass and triangular corners of antique glass pieces from Germany. With the lid off, the bin is perfect for placing an umbrella in.
“Everyone who has seen [the bin] sitting in his hallway said that it’s beautiful,” said Sandra Krupke, Irvin’s wife. She estimates that he spent 60 hours or more on the piece. “There’s a lot more to glass than meets the eye.”
Krupke, 68, prefers to restore antiques but will attempt any project that isn’t too big for his worktable. He has crafted lamps, windows, ceiling lights and dishes. This is his fourth year submitting work to the auction.
Though many are repeat auction participants, there are a few new artists participating this year.
“We always have people asking how to participate,” Stark said. The auction began and remains unjuried.
“I’ve seen other people try [similar fundraisers],” Rauch said. “I think this one comes out better than almost anything else in this area.”
If you go …
Reservations to the auction — $50 per person — can be made through Oct. 29. For information about the auction, including a link to the auction invitation, online reservations, photos of items with artist biographies and contacts, and information about placing absentee bids, visit www.mainediscoverymuseum.org/index.php?id=5&sub_id=153 or call the Maine Discovery Museum at 262-7200.
Bangor Daily News, People’s United Bank, Quirk Auto and Dead River Co. sponsor the event.