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Art and Other Benefits

October 19-21, 2017
Written October 20+
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

This must be Fall benefit season, because we manged to go to three in three days.  I hadn't realized these things come in bunches, but I guess they do.

Los Banos Library Annual Benefit
Our Thursday benefit required a trip, all the way over to Los Banos (about 90 minutes).  Not exactly an art Mecca, but one of Marianne's best events last year, so one certainly worth a repeat.

d171019_22_goin.jpgFirst things first: lunch.  We didn't really have a favorite restaurant, but a Yelp search turned up The Wool Growers Restaurant, a Basque establishment started in the 1890s.  The San Joaquin Valley is dotted with such places, although reportedly far fewer than there were 100 years ago, when they were staples of the original Basque sheep farmers of the area.  We have only been to a couple, but we may need to expand our search.

d171019_24_tables.jpgBasque restaurants apparently all have similar decor and menus.  Patrons of the Wool Growers were all seated in a large room, many sharing tables decorated with red-check tablecloths.  The ambiance wasn't fancy, and that is an understatement, but the folks seemed to be enjoying themselves, and that's what matters.

Meals are "pre fix", $20 in our case, with a choice of the meat course, and no choice for the seven or eight other courses.  As soon as we were seated, the waitress brought out water, a loaf of bread, butter, and a small carafe of unidentified red wine.  Marianne ordered lamb chops and I ordered lamb shank and then the food started arriving.
Real food started with soup and home-made beans, followed quickly by a lettuce-only salad.  The soup was really quite tasty and the beans and salad were both simple, but flavorful.  I think garlic was the main seasoning.
After this light introduction, came the lamb stew course, a thick mixture of meat, potatoes, carrots, and more garlic. By now we were getting full, but had not even reached the meat course yet.
For that round, I had ordered lamb shank, which came with a mountain of garlic-flavored mashed potatoes and Marianne got three lamb chops, with a supply of french fries.  My shank was wonderful, tender and (garlic) flavorful.   Two of Marianne's chops were a bit tough, but the third was fine and all were (garlic) flavorful.

By now we'd had a zillion calories, but could not pass on the small ice cream cup for dessert.  This had better be our only meal for the whole trip, but it was that great combination of tasty food and an interesting back story.  We certainly recommend The Wool Grower if you are ever (very) hungry in Los Banos.

d171019_06_hanglady.jpgd171019_08_ready.jpgd171019_02_intolibrary.jpgFully fed, we moved on to the Los Banos Library to set up for the evening Friends of the Library art show and benefit.  We set up a half-dozen of Marianne's mixed-media wood panels and a pair of paintings.

For the record, here's what was on sale.

Prepared, we headed over the LB Best Western to rest before the big event.
At 5:00, we returned.  I don't have much of a picture record of all the activities, but it was a very friendly environment with food, wine, and lots of local chit chat.  Marianne's neighbor-artist Melissa was a children's books illustrator, with several publications to her credit.  I have to admit that most other art on display - Marianne's and Melissa's excepted - was probably not big-city quality.  Last year seemed better.

There was, of course, lots of interest in Marianne's work and three of her wood panels sold.  The client on the left said she had looked forward to the Library Benefit, hoping to add to the panels she bought last year.  A repeat patron!  The lady on the right was part of a retired foreign service couple, with stories of life far beyond Los Banos.  A patron with great stories - nice.
At the end of the evening, we packed up the one remaining picture and three panels, satisfied with the exposure and sales for Marianne's work and thinking positively about a return trip next year.  We will probably return to the Wool Growers as well, but with advance dieting to allow full participation in the Valley tradition of a Basque meal.

Fresno City College, Toasting the Arts

On Friday evening, in uncharacteristic-for-Fresno cool weather, we joined in the Fresno City College Friends of the Arts "Toasting the Arts".  This is an annual benefit for the two-year college's art programs and, since we are neighbors AND interested in arts, we HAD to go.

d171020_fcc_02_westquad.jpgd171020_fcc_04_chatjackie.jpgThe West Courtyard of the Old Administration Building was fitted with 18 dining tables, wine and appetizer tables, and long spans with silent auction offerings.  And portable heaters.  We initially chose a table near a heater and soon Marianne had struck up a conversation with Jackie Ryle, a standout fixture of the local art scene and the evening's Mistress of Ceremonies.

d171020_fcc_06_guitardance.jpgd171020_fcc_16_jazz.jpgThe courtyard was flanked by student musicians; a Jazz Combo at one end and a Guitar Ensemble at the other.  Black-clad student dancers mixed in, moving to music in their own styles.  Definitely an artsy touch to the wine and appetizers.
The musical entertainment continued with students from The City Singers.  I only managed a picture AFTER their performance, but they warrent mention here in any event.  Besides, they were a most attentive audience for the colorful New Wrinkles Chorus.

d171020_fcc_20_silentauction.jpgThe second part of fund-raising, after the $85-per-couple entrance fee, was a silent auction.  We looked for something to bid on, since that's part of participating in the whole event, but we were out-bid on our selection of cookies and passed on this German castle painting.  We already have castle pictures aplenty.
The last place to spend money was a live auction. The donated offerings  were imaginative, to say the least.  The guitar came with a lesson  by one of the college professors.  Most imaginative, I have to say, was a scheme dreamed up by neighbor Rosemarie: a dinner for ten served by our neighbors on the front lawn that serves as the neighborhood "commons".  An art patron actually bid $600, based on no more description than "Cambridge Commons Dinner for 10". 

It's OK, we have six months to figure out what we will do.

Saint Agnes Women's Club, Fashion & Entertainment Event

d171021_02_mandlissa.jpgThis was by far the largest of the week's three benefit shindigs. Marianne had been invited by Lissa, a friend from her gym, Curves.   By all indications, this was going to be a big deal, with hundreds in attendance. The money raised benefits the Saint Agnes Holy Cross Center for Women, a shelter helping women and children for over 30 years.
The Event was held in the Fresno Civic Center from mid-morning through late afternoon, and featured a full program, from the opening invocation through the fashion parade.  The five-dozen tables, assigned in five price levels, were all elaborately decorated.  Marianne's mid-priced donation ticket was "upgraded" to "Platinum Level", right at the end of the fashion runway.  All very fancy indeed.

d171021_06_silentauct.jpgd171021_08_msbid.jpgThe activities and menu were remarkably similar to the Friday evening benefit at Fresno City College: entertainment; silent auction of donated items; live auction of more valuable donations; and chicken with mysterious white sauce for lunch.  Marianne bid more freely on Saturday and "won" a two-day resort stay in Palm Desert. 

The entertainment included stilt walkers, singers, muscle-men, and a model wearing a fanciful dress by local artist Leslie Batty.  (We had seen and appreciated her work at earlier art events.  Link.) Again, not unlike the FCC entertainment, just more of it.

The food was reportedly unremarkable.  The phrase "rubber-chicken-circuit" comes to mind.  Oh well, it was a benefit, not a night out.

Over 100 local models provided the Grand Finale for the Event.  The youngest folks seemed to be a crowd favorite.

And with that, our benefit week was over, with good vibes from each event.  The Los Banos Library event will probably become a regular as should Toasting the Arts at our neighborhood community college.  The fancy St Agnes benefit?  Who knows?

What else is coming up?  I most likely will not report on Marianne's current stint of jury duty, but next week's Halloween should get some photos and stories.  We'll see.

John and Marianne


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