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Auctioneers Kevin Cease, Eric Nelson and Douglas Williams practice their auctioneering skills for the 2011 Beaver Auction. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

Bemidji Sculpture Walk Reception -- Beaver auction draws interest; Some of new 2011-12 pieces are already in place

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Not the even rain could dampen the excitement in the air around Bemidji on Saturday as locals and visitors toured downtown and bought plants and goodies at the opening day of the Farmer's Market. The usual cadre of picture takers was down by the statues of Paul and Babe and rumors sang from one person to another. Someone came up and asked me if it was true that a famous TV personality was coming to town to bid on "Gaea," made notorious by a well-meaning grandfather out for a walk last spring. That I could not either confirm or deny but there was a couple who came in from Chicago to bid on a favorite beaver, forgoing the chance to bid by proxy over the telephone. Joyce and Jim Herison of Elgin, Illinois were smart to bid in person for the piece they wanted, "Crinkle." The bidding was brisk for the piece and they were able to win it with a $1,200 bid.

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The public was invited to the 13th Annual Bemidji Sculpture Walk Reception and Auction at the Hampton Inn and Suites, a far cry from the humble beginnings in 1999 and the first reception held at the Rotary Pavilion the following May, weather permitting. Yesterday's weather would have moved the reception into the basement of the Masonic Temple across the street and the food would have been made by original founding member of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk, Cate Belleveau, the rest of the board and Patty Lester.

"I am very happy with the young people who have stepped up to the plate," said Belleveau. "They are going to ensure the sustainability of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk into the future."

Some of the new 2011-12 pieces were already in place yesterday. Mitch Blessing and Al Belleveau started dismantling the former pieces replacing them with this year's entries earlier in the week. They also brought the Beavers in for some refurbishing and cleaning before last night's Bemidji Sculpture Walk reception and auction at the Hampton Inn.

New to the celebration this year was the color souvenir catalog which pictured all the works up for bidding, mugs and T-shirts with the "Gaea" image. The number paddles for bidding on the beavers listed the names of the pieces and their creators. Over 40 bidders signed up and there were seven people who were bidding by proxy over the telephone.

After some mingling and libations from the cash bar, the president of the Sculpture Walk Committee, Mitch Blessing, announced the winners of this year's awards. The People's Choice Award of $1,000 prize went to "Tuckered Out Guardian Angel" by Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby. The Critic's Choice Award of $500 went to "The Nature of Growth" by Bemidji State University Visual Arts May graduate, Jonathan Billing. Critic's Choice Runner-up award of $250 went to "ReCycle Man" by Tim Knapp. An honorarium of $300 was given to all 2010 participating artists to reimburse for personal expenses and for the "loan" of their sculpture for a year to the city of Bemidji.

The next part of the evening was the widely publicized and eagerly awaited Beaver Auction. Long time treasurer of the committee, Roxie Mann, reported that she had received emails and calls from interested buyers from across the country. That's when the notion of "proxy bidding" by phone was considered. Blessing spoke of how these pieces were essentially 64 square feet of canvas painted on 3D by 2D artists, most of who are nationally to internationally known.

Auctioneers Kevin Cease Douglas Williams from Blue Cactus Pie Auctions and "Reginald" (Eric Nelson) represented the great auction house, Sothebys. Playing to an overflow crowd, they coaxed bidding from the somewhat hesitant crowd until the excitement of the event took hold. Brian Bisonette from Paul Bunyan Communications won the bidding for three pieces one of which will probably go to the Grand Rapids office. The finale of the evening was the competitive bidding for "Gaea." The top bid was over $3,000 and won by Mark Thorson of Mark's Sand and Gravel based out of Fergus Falls.

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