Art From the Attic was a great fundraiser, and so much fun to organize! I helped Windermere Elementary School earn money for a new playground by selling donated art that folks had gathering dust in their closets. Here’s how we did it.
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Art From the Attic History
When I retired from my career as newspaper publisher back in 2010, I pitched my idea for a used art sale called Art From the Attic to our local Columbia Valley Arts Council. They joined forces with the excellent Invermere Hospital Auxiliary, whose volunteers raise money for our health care needs. The first sale in 2011 raised $15,000 and we hosted another sale the next year.
Then the volunteers ran out of steam, and the project went dormant. However, it sparked a flurry of similar projects in other cities such as Regina and Kamloops, where Art From the Attic has now become an annual event and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in those communities.
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Art From the Attic Preparation
This year, the project was resurrected under the leadership of Tara Whittick, a teacher at Windermere Elementary School. The goal is to transform a flat green playground into a fun place to learn and play. When completed, the playground will have a small forest of trees, a huge sandbox, climbing structures made of natural materials, an outdoor classroom consisting of a circle of stone seats, and interpretive signage. The students had a contest to name their new playground, and came up with this delightful name: “Winderland.”
I volunteered for the sale because I have four “kids” at Windermere School — my daughter Katie teaches kindergarten there, and now three of my five grandchildren are Windermere students.
Here is Tara Whittick, left, with my daughter Katie Niddrie.
We began collecting art donations months before the sale. The Invermere Public Library generously offered the use of their mezzanine for storage and pricing. Happily, it is in the same building as the new Columbia Valley Centre, a large hall where the sale was held.
The art began to pour in — posters, photographs, portraits, paintings, and frames. By sale day, we had more than 1,000 pieces of art!
Local artists like photographer Barry Gillies donated their own works. The seniors at the independent living facility, Columbia Garden Village, ransacked their closets and came up with some lovely vintage pieces. The second homeowners in our resort community brought things from their own homes.
I helped to price the art, along with my friend Deb Nichol and several other volunteers. Each time we met, there was a sense of excitement as we sorted through a huge variety of art. If we could establish a retail value, we knocked the price down to about 25 percent of that — resulting in some fantastic bargains.
We also had a real workout, because lifting and carrying heavy framed pictures is a challenge. We dreaded having to lug all the art from the storage area into the hall, but the local Junior B hockey team came to our rescue. The Columbia Valley Rockies showed up, all broad-shouldered teenagers, and whisked the art into the hall as if it were made of feathers!
The volunteers, mostly teachers from Windermere School, then hung the art on wire fencing donated by our local Home Hardware.
When the volunteers had finished their job, the hall looked pretty impressive!
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Art From the Attic Sale Day
When sale day arrived, everyone felt a little nervous about how covid might affect attendance — especially since proof of vaccination was required. Fortunately, there was no resistance and only one customer was turned away. People poured into the hall — since it is such a large area, it wasn’t difficult to maintain social distancing, and everyone wore masks. The sale was attended by about 600 people, and some of them bought art by the armload!
We sorted by price and displayed the higher-priced items in one section.
The busiest time of the day was at 4 p.m. when everything went on sale at half price for the last two hours. Customers literally ran toward the pictures they wanted! One lovely visitor from Calgary bought TEN pieces, including our top-priced painting, this striking watercolour by Japanese Canadian artist Yuriko Kitamura. We priced it at $1,000 and it sold for $500.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the day was making people happy. Even customers on a budget were able to find something that “sparked joy,” in the words of household organizer Marie Kondo. Several hundred items priced at $5 or $10 found new homes by the end of the day.
The sale raised more than $17,000. Naturally, not everything sold — and the remainders went into storage for another sale, possibly next spring!
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Art From the Attic Sneak Peek
I can only show you a tiny fraction of the art that was for sale, but here’s a glimpse. This gorgeous oil painting by Austrian artist Johann Arnberger sold for $300.
There were some lovely wildlife prints, like this one by local artist Jon Howlett.
This enormous abstract was created by another local artist, Liam O’Sullivan.
Here’s another oversized painting, this one unsigned. If we could decipher an artist’s signature, we checked them out online. Most of the time, our search was fruitless. (Note to artists: please sign your name legibly if you want to be remembered for posterity!)
Several charming folk art paintings were signed only PP. We thought they were reminiscent of Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis.
There were also smaller items, like this multimedia work by Penticton artist Carney Oudendag. She donated three of her creations and they were snapped up!
There were many lovely examples of needlepoint, like this rendition of Fragonard’s “A Young Girl Reading.” Sadly, handicrafts are no longer appreciated as they once were. This one sold for $10.
We had some stunning photos, like this one by local photographer John Niddrie.
This cowboy caricature was done by Calgary Stampede artist Will Magee.
A few pieces of three-dimensional art included this indigenous carving.
We sold hundreds of landscapes, like this vintage painting of a stooked field by Saskatchewan artist Nettie Harder.
Some very striking posters were available. This one promoted a 2001 art show of masterpieces from the Canadian War Museum.
I donated this framed poster of a Lancaster bomber cockpit. When I began to write my novel Bird’s Eye View, I hung this photograph over my desk and imagined myself at the controls of this mighty four-engine bomber! I no longer have room for it, so with a sigh of regret I decided to let it go.
If YOU would like to organize Art From the Attic in your own community, I will offer up my hard-earned knowledge! Here’s my contact info: Contact Elinor.
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COMING UP SOON . . .
My talk with Genevieve Graham
It was with the greatest pleasure that I agreed to interview Genevieve Graham, a fellow author of Canadian historical fiction, via Zoom. She is one of the featured guests at StarFest, a wonderful literary festival organized each year by the St. Albert Public Library in Alberta. I’ll be talking to Gen about her latest novel, Letters Across the Sea. I only wish we could meet in person! In the meantime, you may purchase your $5 ticket to hear us in conversation at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on Saturday, October 23 by visiting www.starfest.ca.
My long-awaited trip to England
Danesfield House Hotel, formerly RAF Medmenham, the headquarters for photo aerial interpretation in the Second World War and the setting for my wartime novel Bird’s Eye View, cancelled its 75th Anniversary of VE-Day celebrations in 2020 because of covid.
The hotel now plans to host a similar event next May 8, 2022 and once again, I have been invited to be a guest speaker! The details have not been released but I will keep you posted here, and on my Facebook page if you would like to follow me there: Elinor Florence on Facebook (where you can also see some photos of my daughter’s wedding, if you are interested).
In the meantime, consider joining me at this luxurious boutique hotel located one hour west of London. See photos here: Danesfield House Hotel.
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Friends, our daughter’s wedding plus Art From the Attic has made this a very busy month. What have you been doing since summer officially ended? You know how I love to hear from my readers!