BELFAST, Maine — The young woman stands naked at center stage, facing row upon row of empty chairs with roses tossed forgotten at her feet.
“Final Stage,” a photograph by Charles Dufour of Belfast, has special meaning for him. It represents his mother when she was still alive and suffering from advanced dementia. The roses are the loves she had had in her life and the empty seats represent people she had known, he said this week.
For him, the image is moving and evocative, and he hopes that others will be struck the same way by it. Dufour has donated it to a benefit auction for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy on behalf of people with mental illness and their families.
“This issue in particular is one of those that’s important to me,” Dufour said. “When this touches closer to home you feel more tied to the cause.”
He’s just one of dozens of artists who have donated to the auction, including some with national reputations, according to NAMI Maine Development Director Larraine Brown.
She said that artist Harold Garde of Belfast has donated a “very important” piece that has a retail value of $10,000. Other contributing artists include Robert Shetterly, Daniel Anselmi, Cathy Melio, and Neal Parent, along with jewelers and artisans.
Brown said that the generosity of the artists and other donors has been heartening.
“It is not unknown in the art world that there are struggles around mental illness,” she said. “I think that artists are particularly compassionate and sensitive to these issues. I also think that mental health knows no class or political boundaries.”
The NAMI Maine auction will be held 5-8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta. Items for the live and silent auctions are available to view in advance at: www.biddingforgood.com.
All proceeds will be used to support NAMI Maine, which has nearly 15,000 contacts each year with families, young people, veterans and others. Brown said that the organization’s help line also receives thousands of calls a year, and other programs include crisis intervention, first responder training and veterans’ groups.
“Like every organization in these kinds of fields, our programs are always in danger of being cut,” Brown said. “The hope for the auction is that we will be able to maintain our programs.”
That’s crucial, said George Myers Jr., a Waterville city councilor and artist. He has donated a painting called “Off Monhegan” to the auction.
“One of the reasons I wanted to support [the auction] is that the state funding levels have dropped off the map,” he said. “One in four of us experience some kind of mental health problem in a given year. If you live in Maine, you deal with depression during the wintertime. I also have a family member dealing with drug issues.”
Myers said that there still is a major stigma around mental illness, and in his day job working for mental health and substance abuse agency Kennebec Behavioral Health he sees both the need for and the benefit of more programs and more attention.
“It’s a topic that just doesn’t get talked about as much as it should be. There is help for it, if you can get there,” he said, adding that he hopes the auction will shine more of a light on the subject. “It’s just a great cause.”