Artist Patricia Neil Lawton

Artist Patricia Neil Lawton

A Midsummer’s Eve of memories

Artist recalls the very first Vernon Public Art Gallery fundraiser, Midsummer's Eve of the Arts, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Patricia Neil Lawton can still hear the clink of glasses as patrons perused the grounds of the now historical house owned by an aristocratic Italian family and their artistically inclined daughter.

Paintings in tow, it was she and three other artists who set up their easels for the very first Midsummer’s Eve of the Arts.

The year was 1986, and Lawton was the executive director of the public art gallery, then called the Topham Brown Art Gallery, located in a tiny space above the Vernon museum.

She and fellow artist Sveva Caetani had talked about hosting an art show/auction at Caetani’s property, which consisted of beautiful gardens on Pleasant Valley Road.

“We thought it would be a great way to raise money for the art gallery, (however) we still had to pay to show our work,” laughed Lawton, remembering how local restaurateur Klaus Tribes provided the food, while Trudy and George Heiss supplied and poured the wine from their then four-year-old winery, Gray Monk.

“One hundred tickets were sold out,” said Lawton. “Sveva was there overseeing it all with Joan Heriot.”

Besides Lawton and Heriot, who celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year, all of the artists who participated at that first Midsummer’s Eve have since passed away, but their legacy remains as the Vernon Public Art Gallery gets ready to host the 25th anniversary of the venerable event.

A lot has changed over the past two decades.

Midsummer’s Eve has become one of the most anticipated Vernon events of the year, morphing from 100 people to more than 500 who annually attend, enjoying the delectable food and refreshments while perusing the art.

And this year, there is a special twist, mostly to do with the event’s location, moving it from the grounds of the Caetani house to Cenotaph Park, right in the heart of downtown Vernon.

(Sveva, in a way, will be peering over at the event from the new mural of the Caetani family that was painted across the road from the park earlier this year.)

“The history may not lie here, but the intent of this year’s 25th anniversary is to move forward,” said the gallery’s current executive director Dauna Grant, who is about to experience her third Midsummer’s Eve on Wednesday.

“We want to aspire to have a downtown core of culture which we hope will lead to a new gallery and museum in the city,” she said. “We also wanted to do something different to celebrate the 25th anniversary.”

And for those women who like to get dressed up in their finery for the event, you can now wear high heels due the park’s paved paths.

Those who have been part of the event for many years will remember that this, in fact, isn’t the first time Midsummer’s has moved locations.

Professional artist, as well as past president of the VPAG board, Rick Bond remembers the one year a thunder storm blew in over the Caetani property just as Midsummer’s was about to start.

“I heard the crack of thunder at a tree. We loaded up everything and quickly went to the gallery and had one of the best auctions we’ve ever had,” he said.

Bond, like Lawton, has made it a long standing tradition to donate art to Midsummer’s and support the gallery in its fundraising efforts through the live and silent auctions, and this year is no different.

Bond, who first contributed a piece while he was pharmacy manager at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, says he has donated at least 20 paintings since then.

“I know how important the essence and cultural vibrancy of public art is and I like the fact that all ages, kids and adults, get to participate,” said Bond. “Emerging artists to veteran artists can submit and get feedback, which is really important.”

Lawton, who has donated two original works to the event every year since it started, says it can be a nerve racking experience to watch when her work goes on the auction block.

“I usually leave before mine comes up,” she laughed.

“As participant artists, we know the piece won’t go for fair market value, but the value isn’t in the money, it’s about supporting the gallery,” added Bond.

With main sponsor Predator Ridge on board this year, Cenotaph Park is about to be transformed into a giant block party, with NorVal Rentals providing a huge hexagonal-shaped tent, which will  house the live auction, and two smaller tents for the silent auctions.

For security measures, the area will be cordoned off the night before by a fence, with guards protecting the area.

The fence will be decorated with the cultural film strip, displaying images of local art and artifacts, which the art gallery, museum and city displayed in Polson Park as part of the Olympic Torch Relay celebrations last year.

“We’ve been dying to bring it back,” said Grant.

Also new this year is the way food and refreshments will be served.

Instead of patrons having to line up at individual booths, two catering companies, Gum Tree and Party in the Kitchen, are preparing mouth watering appetizers to be served by servers carrying trays.

Cobs Bread and Infinity Cakes will have a selection of sweet treats to enjoy, while Village Cheese will have some of their finest cheese. Okanagan Spring beer and a selection of wines will also be available at the one bar.

“We have great sponsors this year that have kept the costs reasonable,” said Grant. “The caterers are donating the food –– this is art and appies, not a full meal, but everyone should be satisfied.”

Entertainment will be provided by Holly Smith playing her harp, as well as Lake Country artist Nikki Balfour who will paint on a canvas live while her husband, James Balfour, performs on guitar.

“I envision it to be spectacular,” said Grant.

Tickets to the 25th anniversary of Midsummer’s Eve of the Arts are $45 for gallery members and $50 for non-members, available at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, 3228-31st Ave., 250-545-3173, Raffle tickets to win a painting by Mae Roberts are also available for $10 each. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20 at Cenotaph Park .