Yvonna Rowett and three volunteers for the Beaux Arts Societe Holiday Sale, Sue Clements, Patti Tiddy and Lisa Kaiser, took a break from the busy preparations at the Boise Art Museum to talk to BW about the holiday sale, the art work and the reasons they became a part of the volunteer organization that supports the museum.
"I joined because I loved the holiday sale so much," said Rowett, the event director for the group.
Lisa Kaiser spoke up. "And I joined because Yvonna called me in a panic to come and help with the holiday sale and I've been stuck ever since."
"You get hooked," said Patti Tiddy. "I volunteered one year and now I'm a room chair."
They all agreed that helping the museum's exhibitions, educational programs and being a part of a community of art-lovers made volunteering fun.
"People from all over know what an art museum is and the great things it does for a community," said Rowett. "The Societe is a great way for people who have just moved here to get involved and meet people."
The Beaux Arts Societe holds its 41st annual holiday sale this weekend. It's one of two huge events the volunteer organization holds each year to benefit the museum.
It was set into motion in 1963 when the Boise Art Association asked then-president, Douglas McKibbon to find a way to help the art gallery out of continuing financial difficulties. According to a history of the Societe, written by its first president, Dottie McKinney, the formative meeting was held in spring 1964 at McKibbon's house followed by two years of "seemingly endless" organizational meetings.
In February 1966, the first membership tea was held and 151 signed the scroll to join. That winter, the members organized the first annual home tour, holiday sale and the first executive art ball.
"We were also asked to organize a volunteer group to staff the art gallery on weekends. We all worked in two- to four-hour shifts. Because of our members constantly changing plans, this project was the most frustrating of all," McKinney wrote. However, in spite of many hindrances, during the first year the Beaux Arts Societe raised $8,900 for BAM.
Fast forwarding to the millennium, the Societe has cumulatively raised over $1 million for the museum in the last decade and won the Governor's Awards in the Arts twice. It continues to serve the exact purpose for which it was formed 41 years ago, funding BAM, and, in turn, helping the climate for the arts in Boise to flourish.
Last year the group raised $10,000 to sponsor Marie Watt's exhibition, "Blanket Stories: Almanac" and $25,000 for "Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs." For the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit, the Societe sponsored the dining room chair for $1,000.
"I can't say enough about the Beaux Arts Societe. They have been terrific—great supporters of the museum for many years," said Sandy Harthorn, BAM's curator of art.
Wesley Jessup, BAM's new executive director, said that having a separate organization to raise money for the museum is rarely seen in other cities.
"In other cities, they're typically in the same organization," said Jessup. With its two annual events, the wine festival in April and the holiday sale in November, the members of the Beaux Arts Societe have their hands full. In fact, planners for the wine festival have already started working next year's event.
"These events are time-consuming. They take hundreds of volunteer hours and a huge commitment from our members," said Lisa Kaiser, one of the co-chairs of the holiday sale.
Yvonna Rowett, event coordinator for the holiday sale and the only paid employee of the Beaux Arts Societe, estimates that she spends about 300 hours a month coordinating the many different elements.
"And I'm only a part-time employee," she laughed.
Last year's holiday sale alone raised $40,000, and in past years, that number has doubled. But the holiday sale doesn't only benefit the museum. It's a venue for both beginning and established artists to sell their one-of-a-kind pieces and gain valuable exposure to the community.
"This event gives local and regional artists the opportunity to sell their work in a museum setting. It also gives non-museum-goers a chance to see the current exhibits and generate some interest in the museum throughout the year," said Rowett.
This year's holiday sale features the work of 180 artists selling handmade pieces. The artists are selected by a jury comprised of Societe board members and volunteers who are familiar with the sale. They choose the work based on the materials and craftsmanship, how well the items have sold in past years and whether the jury feels the prices are reasonable.
One artist who has become a fixture at the sale for the past five years is Boise resident Wes Phipps. "The sale wouldn't be the same without him," said Kaiser, pointing to a 3-foot-tall vibrant blue rooster, one of the metal lawn ornaments Phipps is selling this weekend. Phipps said he participates because he loves the experience and supporting the museum.
"I think that my stuff complements what they have down there. It's kind of for them. I just enjoy helping out."
Joseph Cowman will be among this year's 30 first-time artists. Having heard about the sale from his wife, Cowman felt the sale would be a great debut for his quirky watercolors.
"I just felt like the museum was a great place to show my work. It seemed like good exposure in a really respected area. Hopefully there will be a lot of traffic and a lot of people will see it."
Rowett said the artists often comment about how practical the event is for them. The Societe only charges a $25 fee to submit items to the jury and keeps a relatively low percentage of the selling price. "It's really good because the sale is only taking a 30 percent commission. Galleries are usually taking 40 to 50 percent, so that right there is a huge benefit," Cowman said.
Buyers who want to help, but spend less on gifts can find small ornaments and toys for $10 or less. Buyers who want to spend more, can attend the Premiere Night Party, which is open to the public for the first time this year, on November 7 for a $20 per person entry fee.
This is also the first year the sale has had competition. There are more Christmas bazaars and rummage sales happening this year than any year before. Plus, there is a Boise State football game and a parade that coincide with sale times.
"I think this could benefit us," said Kaiser. "It would be easy for people to stop by the sale on their way to the parade or the game."
Either way, Societe volunteers have high hopes. "Every year is different," said Rowett, "What we sell, what we make, who comes." Hopefully this year will be the best sale so far.
Beaux Arts Societe Holiday Sale, Nov. 9-11, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Boise Art Museum, 670 Julia Davis Dr., 208-345-8330.