CHATHAM — If you were in Chatham in the summertime in the ‘90s, you might remember the antics of Otis Russell and Tim Wood in the annual Art of Charity pro-am charity art auction. Backed by a team of volunteers, they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s charities, producing an evening filled with surprises, fine art, community spirit and frequently off-color humor.
“We used to be funny,” Russell said. “Now we’re sort of a compendium of dad jokes.” And with the Art of Charity Foundation set to dissolve at the end of the year, Wood and Russell are hosting one last auction – a sort of thank-you party – to raise a final bit of money for local kids. The event will happen on June 29 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Chatham VFW on George Ryder Road, which, as it happens, was where the first auction was held in 1994.
“This is like full circle,” Russell said. Admission is free, and the VFW is providing a cash bar. There will also be two food trucks providing a variety of great eats from Mom Pops Burgers and Capeside Kitchen. Bidders in the silent auction can use credit cards to pay for items they’ve won.
The original auction took place for 11 years, but the foundation remained active, soliciting donations through a direct mail letter each year “which raised almost as much as the auction did,” Wood said. The effort, together with their first “last ever” auction during Chatham’s tercentenary in 2012, raised a grand total of well over $250,000 to support affordable child care programs, school trips and cultural programs, and grants for teachers for classroom equipment.
“I’ve been president of this group for a long time,” Russell said. Sounding every bit the commander-in-chief, he then declared that the Art of Charity Foundation has raised more money than any other charity ever on Cape Cod. “I can say that, because I’m the president,” he added, with a wry smile. Political sensitivity has never been a hallmark of the event, and that’s not about to change.
“The main purpose of the event is to say thank you to the community,” Wood said. But the silent auction will feature some excellent works of art, including pieces from Ginny Nickerson and Shareen Davis, two artists who contributed to the first auction years ago.
“One of the things we were always known for was the quirkiness of some of our items,” Russell said. Silent auction participants will bid on two excellent cases of wine donated from some of the community’s finest wine cellars, and Russell will even host a wine tasting for the high bidder in a unique venue: the historic Chatham Marconi Maritime Center.
Also on the auction block will be a one-of-a-kind piece of art for fans of the long-gone Mitchell River timber drawbridge. It’s a historic photograph of the bridge, in a custom-made frame made from timbers from the bridge itself.
“This is an example of thinking ahead, which we hardly ever do,” Wood said. With help from town officials, the Art of Charity procured a small piece of the bridge before it was demolished and replaced with the current structure. Board member Matt Barnes laser-cut the historic image onto wood, and Andy Young built the frame. A certificate of authenticity accompanying the piece is signed by former Selectman Douglas Anne Bohman (the bridge is also known as “Dougie's Bridge”) historian Norm Pacun and Young. It’s literally a piece of Chatham’s history.
Bidders can also vie for the chance to take home a shark sculpture painted by artist Tilda Bystrom, the last-ever shark blank produced by Stello Construction for the old Sharks in the Park event, which was held for the last time in 2018. The shark is painted with a view of the Chatham Lighthouse as seen from Morris Island; the flip side will be revealed at the event.
There’s even a Chathamopoly game, still sealed in the box, produced by the Chatham PTO as a fundraiser in 2006. Students from Monomoy Regional High School used a 3-D printer to craft six tiny, one-of-a-kind tokens for the game.
The event is guaranteed to include plenty of laughs, “but it’s sad,” Russell said. Before they collaborated on the Art of Charity, he and Wood barely knew each other. “That’s when we first became friends,” he said, referring to the roasts of the Chatham selectmen that were the precursor to the art auctions. Continuing the foundation didn’t make sense, since the auction was so strongly associated with the people who put it on, some of whom are gone today. The loss, especially, of Jean Young a year ago, who they said was really an anchor of the organization, had a major impact. Better to make way for a new fundraiser, just as the old Miss Eelgrass competition yielded to the Art of Charity years ago, Wood said.
And, of course, the organizers are getting older; both Wood and Russell are now family men with children of their own now.
“And the Art of Charity is all about children,” Russell said.
Learn more about the event at www.ArtOfCharityFoundation.com.