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Ear of the Beholder

Angela Davis

Photo Fetish: Angela Davis and her "mentor artist," Doug McClellan, look through a collection of the celebrity prof's photos before the two put together an assemblage for the KUSP auction.

Santa Cruz's answer to Sotheby's prepares to spread its tents for the Central Coast's favorite public radio station

By Christina Waters

No one says "no" to Billie Harris. She's just got a way of getting what she wants. She got Gary Patton to succumb. Paul Lee said "yes" to her. So did Angela Davis and Fred Keeley. The only person who turned her down lately was Paul Newman. Actually, he didn't turn her down. He just forgot to call back.

That's a fairly impressive track record, especially when you consider that what the inestimable Harris wanted from these men and women was nothing less than an original, one-of-a-kind contribution to the upcoming KUSP Celebrity Art Auction. And she landed 10 very collectible items for the auction block that takes over Cooper and Front streets beginning this Saturday.

What this means is that the 20th annual KUSP Auction now contains a special Celebrity Art component, and the bidding-crazed public may satiate its lusts at the June 8 climax, so to speak. On that evening between 6 and 9pm, a wild week of bidding to support KUSP culminates at the Octagon Museum, where auction items will be interspersed with one-of-a-kind creations by such area notables as Mayor Mike Rotkin, Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt and Shakespeare Santa Cruz artistic director Paul Whitworth.

Didn't know that Whitworth was a painter? Well, actually--and here's where Harris got creative--the celebrities were paired with some of our area's most imaginative practicing artists, and together these creative teammates worked to fashion objets d'art that reveal hitherto unseen aspects of the famed ones in question. In other words, it didn't matter that Councilmember Cynthia Mathews couldn't color inside the lines, as it were. She merely had to engrave her own bold artistic statement on a designer teapot made by Mike Lambert.

"When I first came to the KUSP art auction desk," Harris says, "I found mention of this public radio station in Alaska that had raised over $59,000 in four hours with a Celebrity Art Auction." Well, Harris called Alaska and had a very nice chat about the inner workings of that fundraiser in the frozen north. "I found out that one of their celebrities ended up paying $11,000 just to get his own artwork back," she reveals conspiratorially. "I tell that story to all my celebrity artists here in Santa Cruz."

This all sounds very cozily small-town and cutesy, you may be thinking. However--as I found out by running down to Palace Arts on Pacific Avenue, where the artworks in question are on display--the results are really quite delightful. The moody black-and-white photograph of a Scott Creek estuary eloquently represents Fred Keeley's environmental concerns, as interpreted through the lens of photographer Paul Schraub. The Mike Rotkin "flashing light thing with plants" (as Harris describes it) is a sprightly little garden sculpture with African violets spilling over a transistor board. It was facilitated by Diana Troxell.

In one witty piece, India Joe Schultz's signature wok, ladles and kitchen mallet have been gathered into a bit of Dada-esque sculpture by the expert hand of Morris Brose. The inner Mardi Wormhoudt is allowed expression--with a bit of help from painter Laurie Zeszut. Shakespearean Paul Whitworth recalls a favorite vacation spot in a lovely Betsy Miller­enhanced pastel piece called Zihuatanejo.

The self-effacing side of radical-turned-professor Angela Davis is charmingly showcased in a collage of personal items assembled by Davis and artist Doug McClellan. Her mint tea bags and Che Guevara button look down on Angela's FBI mug shots. Very autobiographical. Very collectibly one-of-a-kind.

KUSP 20th Annual Auction

Runs June 1-8, daily 1-9pm. The Fine Wine Auction takes place Sunday, June 2, 1-5pm. The Celebrity Art Auction winds up Saturday, June 8, 6-9pm. Call the Bid Lines at 800/426-5151 and 800/655-KUSP.

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From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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