The Dayton Racquet Club sits on top of the Kettering Tower, offering an amazing view of the city from any window you choose. Heading into this venerable Dayton establishment is special for any reason. This past Thursday night was no different; people mingling, smiling, and filling the 29th floor of the Kettering Tower with light conversation and laughter. If you did not know better, you would think that this was a family reunion. Everyone knew each other, and any stranger that came up was warmly greeted and introduced to the rest of the group. You would have been hard pressed to find two people in the room that were complete strangers. The only difference on this night is the main focus of the room. The views of all things grand in Dayton fades back as thirteen pieces step into the spotlight.
The thirteen pieces of art ranged from photography to ink drawings, from sculpture to charcoal drawings. This gallery represents just a fraction of the art that has been purchased over the past 20 years through various shows, Artist’s Palates, and auctions sponsored by the Dayton Visual Art Center (DVAC). DVAC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of this yearly tradition. The actual auction this year is on April 25th, but on this past Thursday evening they had a kickoff party leading up to the main event. Being on the top floor in the tallest building in Dayton can almost be seen as a metaphor of how far this institution has come.
DVAC started in 1991 in the Biltmore Hotel, where they were able to set up a small gallery for local artists to share their work with the community. Their goal was a simple one; expose Dayton to the original artistic talent they had in the city and provide a setting for art lovers to meet and discuss their passion. They had a few fundraisers in the early days through various shows, such as their Masquerades where they invited artists to create masks for auction. It was not long before the idea of organizing an auction where artists would donate work and the community at large could come in and bid on it was suggested. The first auction in 1994 was at the Dayton Art Institute. It was organized by artists and members Pam Hauk, Linda Lombard, and Ray Must, and it started a tradition that has helped build this community into a family over the last twenty years.
Everyone in the room had a story to tell. Each piece of art that silently drew all of the attention in the room belonged to a member. They sat as examples of some of the art that has been auctioned over the lifetime of the events. Eva Buttacavoli, the Executive Director of DVAC and host for the evening, did not just introduce each piece of art in the room, she was able to entice almost every owner to narrate the history of the piece and why they love it. Each piece was impressive, created by names like Andy Snow, Homer Hacker, and Palli Davis. What is equally impressive were the stories told by the collectors about the impact the piece had in their lives. Some did not just collect art from the artists, but were able to develop personal relationships with them. Relationships that led to deeper understanding of the art that was being produced. Some purchased from a variety of artists; some would buy every piece from one artist (if they had room in the house). As one of the collectors told her story, she spoke about how “DVAC becomes a part of your life” and how they “never buy work we don’t love to see every day.” Another woman spoke about how her children, growing up around all this amazing art, were able to not only meet these talented people, but pick out their work on the street. More than a few pieces were bought while the speakers spouse was away. There was a bond among all the people in the room, being either lovers of art, creators of art, or both.
Many of the people attending that night had memories of DVAC that went back to the beginning. Ray Must was there, one of the original three creators of the auction and an artist in his own right. He has been an active member in the Dayton art community for decades as an artist and an educator at Wright State University. His works range from large scale murals in acrylic paint to smaller, more detailed etching. In the opinion of one of the collectors, “what Ray has done for the community cannot be measured.” One of his works, “Edwin Moses and the Dayton Carousel”, will be available at the live auction on April 25th. Bobette ”BK” Olsen was also in attendance, carrying a file that showed some of the history of DVAC’s shows. Names like Connie Hanselman, Ernest Koerlin, Abner Cope and Bobette herself showed up over the years of shows. Sculptor Susan Zurcher, was also there as an early supporter. She chaired the second artist auction, helping to “expose all the hidden gems” within the city. She sees the organization as a microcosm of the city, “helping each other without blowing our own horns.” These three and many more have been involved with this organization over the years, building it slowly but surely. All of the people in the room that night helped build it from the ground floor of a donated space downtown to the top of the town.
The Friday, April 25th show is going to be the 20th Anniversary artist auction. Ten pieces will be on display at the live auction, with over one hundred more pieces being available online for a silent auction. The curators see this event less as a party and more of a family reunion. It is a chance for the art collectors in the community, some who may not have seen each other for years, to speak with old friends and meet new collectors in the community. This event has outgrown the auction’s home of the last few years, the Ponitz Center in Sinclair Community College, and has moved into a new home at The Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center. It is a perfect opportunity for veteran art collectors to see all the newest talent Dayton has to offer, or for new collectors to meet the artists and patron that make Dayton such an original. Ms. Buttacavoli stated it best at the kickoff; this is a celebration “of a generation of artists giving to the community and people supporting art.”