Who Painted That?

For now, there are 450 mysteries
Springs School students have been working on contributions for an art sale that will run from Wednesday through April 27 at Ashawagh Hall. Morgan McGivern

Since the Springs School announced the first-ever Mystery Art Sale earlier this spring, nearly 450 submissions have poured in from all over, with several artists submitting more than one piece and more works still trickling in.

Starting on Wednesday and continuing through April 27, the sale will convene at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. Every piece of 5-by-7 artwork, no matter the artist, will be priced at $20. All pieces will be displayed anonymously.

While the artist’s identities won’t be known until the unveiling party on the 26th, it can be revealed that a number of big-name artists have agreed to participate. According to organizers, they include Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, John Alexander, Dan Aykroyd, William King, Connie Fox, Eugenio Cuttica, William Quigley, Jim Gingerich, Peter Dayton, Scott Hewett, Almond Zigmund, April Gornik, Elizabeth Strong Cuevas, and Jimmy Buffett, among others.

Springs School students have spent the past few weeks putting the finishing touches on their own canvases. The show will include upward of 600 pieces of student-created work, more than1,000 pieces altogether. Proceeds will benefit the school’s Visiting Artists Program, which brings professional artists into the classrooms. Additional money will go to buy supplies and equipment.

“I’m looking forward to seeing if there’s a visual difference between the professional and the children’s art,” said Claire Hopkins, a 12-year-old seventh grader, who contributed a pop art piece.

“I’ve worn my T-shirt for two days straight,” said Collette Mendelman, an eight-year-old second grader, referring to the orange shirts with white question marks advertising the show (being sold for $20).

“I finished mine in 45 minutes,” said Nick Lombardo, an 11-year-old fifth grader. “I like that no one really knows what piece they’re looking at. Every artist has a different technique and you can express your feelings on paper.”

Emilio Yanez, an 11-year-old fifth grader, who sat working with watercolor, wants to be a painter someday. “I’m looking forward to someone buying my work,” said Emilio, who hopes the proceeds might also be used for a bigger art room, ideally one with natural rather than fluorescent light.

Colleen McGowan, who has taught at Springs for 22 years and has been its elementary art teacher for the past eight, first conceived of the Visiting Artists Program five years ago. Each week, she sees the school’s 600 or so  students for one 50-minute period. Besides the lack of natural light, she said the limited space is a factor, particularly in classes where rosters number upward of 25 students.

Ms. McGowan has been thrilled, she said, by the “overwhelming response” to the sale from local artists and community members. For her students, she views it as a unique opportunity where they can view their submissions in a gallery hanging alongside the work of professional artists.

Kryn Olson, a Sag Harbor resident who works with acrylic and mixed media on canvas, was immediately drawn to the show’s simple premise. “I loved the anonymity and that the playing field seems so leveled,” she said. “I’m a huge advocate for education, and the whole concept of bringing adult artists into a school helps make children understand that art can be a profession.”

For organizers, this is crunch time, with no detail being spared.

“It’s almost become a full-time job,” said Sara Faulkner, an artist and mother of two Springs students who is one of the primary organizers. In past years, she has also served as a visiting artist at the school.

Ms. Faulkner, a native of the United Kingdom, first thought of the idea after attending an event at the Royal College of Art in London, where big-name artists created postcard-size pieces of artwork that were sold anonymously alongside student-made works, all for relative pocket change. Before the show opened, she said, eager buyers would camp out for days in advance to secure early entry. Though she thinks it’s unlikely that locals will resort to similar tactics, she anticipates a mad dash come 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the doors at Ashawagh Hall will open.

A closing party is planned for the afternoon and evening of April 26, the last day to make purchases. Buyers may claim their prizes the next day, a Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Purchases can be made Wednesday, Thursday, and on Friday, April 25, from 4 to 7 p.m., and on the 26th from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Buyers will be able to take away up to five pieces at one time, on a cash-only basis. They can then go to the end of the line, if desired, for the chance to acquire five more.

Some artists have donated slightly larger pieces, which will adorn a separate wall. Ms. Faulkner said bids on those works will be taken throughout the week, culminating in a live auction on Saturday afternoon.

Envisioning a certain degree of controlled chaos, she has urged that visitors be patient; unforeseen fixes may be necessary.

“It’s the first year and it’s difficult to know how many people will show up,” she said, “but I think we’re going to see some really big crowds.” The organizers themselves will not be allowed to make purchases.

“We’ve been sworn to secrecy and we can’t buy the art,” said Ms. Faulkner. Opening the wrapped submissions, she said, has been akin to “Christmas morning — so varied, so beautiful, so spectacular.”