By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Benches at Bumbershoot

Thursday evening, August 31, 2006, Starbucks sponsored an auction at the Seattle Center to raise money for community parks. Benches at Bumbershoot was quite an event.

I belong to a group, Friends of Hicks Lake, that works to improve the water quality of a small pond at Lakewood Park near my home. One of our members, Dick Thurnau, made and donated "Cedar Bench" for the auction. It’s the one in the right-hand corner of the flyer. Actually, you could say he’s the only member as he’s the one who does almost all of the work. He discovered he’s allergic to cedar while building his bench, so he gave a certain measure of pain, along with the construction materials and his excellent woodworking skills, to the fundraising project.

I came to Friends through the Washington Native Plant Society. I’m a Native Plant Steward and have pulled ivy, grubbed blackberry and tried to eradicate other noxious weeds at various parks in the Seattle area. Several years ago, Stephen Reilly wrote a grant that included a native plant restoration for Lakewood Park. The WNPS Steward Coordinator gave him my name as a Plant Steward who lived in the neighborhood and might be interested in helping him. I was, and we went to several local schools, elementary through high school, to give presentations about native plants to teachers and students. The students, EarthCorps and Friends of Hicks Lake (There may have been other organizations I’ve forgotten that helped. Sorry if I overlooked you.) planted trees and shrubs from King County’s nursery, and I joined Friends as another avenue to support native plants.

But I digress. Back to the auction. As artists are wont, the bench creators had gone off in myriad directions on a common theme and produced some truly wondrous works to sit on or in—several more nearly sculpture than bench. I tried on for size all 14 of them except the canvas slings suspended from a tall frame—I was afraid they’d dump me out on the floor, and I didn’t want to spill my Mudslide Martini—with a few rude pokes to my backside as a result especially from the "Peanut," middle-left on the flyer, composed of ceramic tiles grouted over high-density foam, and "Wired Basket Bench," lower-left.

Our bench viewing pleasure was enhanced by food, beverage and entertainment—a trio including singer, bass and accordion. I love events where handsome waiters pass around little trays of delicious doodads. After the free-flowing wine had had enough time to loosen the bidders’ purse strings, Larry Taylor Auctioneer, Inc. began the action. I hadn’t heard an auctioneer since I was a teenager living in Missouri. Those auctions were of cattle or of household goods after someone had died, though, not works of art. Quite a difference, but Mr. Taylor did admirably reproduce the exciting singsong I recall. I carefully hid the large number I’d been given when I arrived, didn’t want to accidentally bid, and it was a good thing, too, as one bench brought $5,500—"Edith Piaf," lower-right on the flyer. I tried to follow the flash of the numbers as the bidding went on to see just what someone looked like who could afford to pay thousands of dollars for a bench. Even the $50 price of admission was more than most of my friends would be willing to spring for. Mr. Thurnau had given me one of his artist’s comp. tickets, or I probably wouldn’t have been there, either. Two other benches brought $3,000 each, "Cedar Log Bench," upper-left, and "Cocoon," not pictured, the one I though I might fall out of.

Altogether, Benches at Bumbershoot raised $23,700 for parks. Not a bad evening's work. Of course, the artists and organizers spent hours and hours preparing. I’m extremely thankful for Seattle’s generosity in supporting our park treasures. Friends of Hicks Lake hopes to use our share of the money to go toward a floating fountain/aeration system to add oxygen to the lake. Since its inception in 2000, the Starbucks Neighborhood Parks Program has donated $2.4 million towards improving 104 local parks in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The coffee giant provides grants to volunteer organizations to restore and revitalize parks, so if you’re a member of such a group, you should check it out at Along with a healthy dose of advertising, of course.


At 1:12 PM, Blogger EilisFlynn said...

I never would have thought there would be that much variation in benches, of all things! But then, until I saw them for myself, I never would have thought there could be that much variation in statues of cows and pigs, either. The difference, of course, is that benches are useful things (I mean, have you ever tried to sit on a statue of a cow or a pig? NOT recommended!), as opposed to the others. Not only that, to build a bench, would it help to be a craftsman or an artist? I suppose there should be a little of both!


Post a Comment

<< Home