Categorized | Arts

Thinking Outside the Box

Posted on 30 August 2013

Charles Waller's box for East End Hospice's box art auction.

Charles Waller’s box for East End Hospice’s box art auction.

By Annette Hinkle

Nearly two decades ago, artist David Porter, a board member at East End Hospice, and his wife, Marion, a designer, came up with a unique idea for a local fundraiser.

It involved giving local well-known artists the most basic of forms — the ubiquitous box — and setting them loose by letting their imaginations run wild. The artistically altered results were then auctioned off in an effort to raise money for the hospice.

Both David and Marion Porter have since passed away, but their idea to challenge artists to think “outside the box” lives on, and all these years later, the East End Hospice Box Art Auction is going strong and raising some serious cash for a good cause. Last year’s event brought in $67,000 for the hospice.

The 2013 Box Art Auction will be held next Saturday, September 7 at the Ross School in East Hampton and it features 91 boxes created by artists such as William King, April Gornik and David Slater. The boxes will be sold both in silent and live auction format and those who want to get a sneak peak preview of the offerings can do so today, Thursday, August 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hoie Hall behind St. Luke’s Church on James Lane in East Hampton.

For the last 13 years, art dealer Arlene Bujese has chaired the box art event, and she notes that over the years, she has come to understand what works.

“The idea is to have variety,” explains Bujese, who curates art exhibits for the Southampton Cultural Center and until 2006 had her own gallery in East Hampton. “We give the artists the box and from there, it’s up to them. The only limit is on size and fragility. All this is based on experience — it can’t be too big or too fragile. Each year we get better at honing it.”

Bujese has found that artists with well-known styles, like April Gornik, tend to create boxes that reference their definitive idiom. Others, she adds, look to do something different than what they might usually tackle in their work.

New to the box art auction this year is East Hampton’s Charles Waller, who began his career as an illustrator for the New York Times and other publications. These days, Waller creates sculptural wall mounted pieces using found or purchased antique objects from both this country and Europe.

“I go to Brimfield in Massachusetts a couple times a year,” says Waller. “It’s the largest flea market in the world – it goes on three times a year and is set up so antique dealers can stock up for the year. Each day there are 5,000 dealers coming in from all over the world.”

While scouring such a huge flea market for objects to use in his artwork sounds like a daunting proposition, Waller notes his search is not at all random and that he is fairly specific about what he’s looking to incorporate in his work.

As an example, Waller points to his show featuring Victorian wedding dresses from around the world which he mounted in frames seven to eight feet tall.

“What I’ve learned from doing illustrations is you have to present an editor with three or four solutions to illustrate a story – so basically that carried to my fine art,” he explains. “I’ll find something that spurs my interest and do sketches in the middle of the field – that’s how I’ll get a show together.”

Recently, Waller, who shows his work at Richard J. Demato Fine Arts in Sag Harbor, has been incorporating antique paper labels into his artwork. He is also an avid collector of antique toys and pipes, and recently came into a collection of wooden gear forms used for making locomotives in the 19th century.

Waller’s offering for the box art auction contains many of these antique objects. The work itself has the feel of a memorial or mausoleum, and in fact, it contains a piece of an angel’s face which was chipped from a tombstone in Waller’s collection. The face is mounted inside a box with wings positioned vertically within a cigar box and is being grasped by a mannequin hand. Waller added a resin tear to complete the composition.

“Arlene gave me two boxes to choose from – one I made into the wings, the other inside is covered with labels —some of them were for food and some for poison,” he says. “The whole thing is sitting on one of the wooden gear forms.”

Though it is an art piece, Waller notes his approach was to design the work as if he were coming up with an editorial solution.

“I almost looked at it as if it were an illustration,” says Waller. “It shows grief and loss. It was like an assignment and I liked doing it.”

Sag Harbor’s Frank Wimberley, an abstract painter and sculptor, has been taking part in the box art auction for the past six years. While he admits creating a new box every year represents a challenge, it’s one he always looks forward to.

“The thing I appreciate so much is the auction gets quite a bit of notoriety,” says Wimberley. “People seem to like my work and I do look forward to doing it.”

Last year, Wimberley notes there was a bit of a bidding war for his box — a solid flat black sculptural form that sold for more than $3,000 — all of which went to benefit the hospice.

This year’s offering from Wimberley is an abstract sculptural piece comprised of wooden blocks attached to the box form and painted a vibrant red — a nod to sculptor Alexander Calder who used the color in many of his works.

“It’s a very attractive color and difficult to get away from,” says Wimberley. “I wanted something that stands out. I think the color lends itself well to the piece.

“I wanted it to look like a structure of a small hut,” adds Wimberley who,

when asked how he approaches the project each year, notes it all begins with the form itself.

“It has a lot to do with the size of the box. They come in all different sizes,” he says. “The first time I did it, I used a box given to me and worked around that size. Then I realized I was able to get a different size.”

“I like the smaller boxes,” he adds. “I also like different colors. If I’ve been influenced in any way by other artists, it would have been by people like sculptor Louise Nevelson. I have always liked her work.”

When asked how far in advance he begins working on his box are pieces, Wimberley concedes it’s never early enough.

“You think you can pull it together in a couple days, then they remind you when it’s due, so I think, ‘I better get cracking on it,’” he says. “I keep saying I’m going to start on a new one right after the auction. But I almost always wait until the last minute.”

The 2013 annual Box Art Auction is Saturday, September 7 at the Ross School Center for Well Being on Goodfriend Road in East Hampton. The silent auction begins at 4:30 p.m. and the live auction at 6 p.m. Auctioneer for the event is Bonnie Grice of WPPB 88.3FM Peconic Public Broadcasting. Admission to the benefit is $75 which includes wine and hors d’oeuvres. A preview of the boxes will be offered Thursday, August 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hoie Hall at St. Luke’s Church, 18 James Lane, East Hampton. They can also be viewed at

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