SIDNEY – Gateway Arts Council’s annual Bad Art Ball has often included surprises: a particular artwork might bring a higher-than-anticipated price when it is auctioned or any given “bad” artist and his guest might wow others on the dance floor.
This year’s event, Thursday, Oct. 7, offered a surprise like no other to one of the participating artists and proved a touching moment for all who looked on.
Jerry Gibbs, of Sidney, had been cajoled by GAC staff and by his son, GAC Board of Trustees President Chris Gibbs, of Maplewood, to be a bad artist. Proceeds would benefit not only the arts council, but also the Senior Center of Sidney and Shelby County.
To raise funds, a select number of area residents annually create artworks to be auctioned during the yearly Bad Art Ball. Jerry was talked into being one of them.
“But he didn’t want to have to make a painting,” said Ellen Keyes, GAC director. “We said that was OK and that we’d find an artwork for him to auction. He wanted a picture of Niagara Falls.”
Keyes went along with the ruse, even though the other 14 artists were required to create pieces, themselves. That’s because she and Chris already knew they had a different artwork to reveal to Jerry during the ball, a charcoal drawing of Jerry and his wife, Shirley, at another ball.
“When I was growing up, every Saturday night, they would go to a dance,” Chris said. So it was only natural that the couple would go to Shelby County’s Bicentennial Ball in the courthouse in February 2020.
What wasn’t natural was that not long after that gala, Shirley was enrolled in the memory care unit at Ohio Living Dorothy Love. And then the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Not only could the couple, who have been married for 65 years, not dance together again, they couldn’t even see each other. And no one was sure that by the time they could visit with each other, Shirley would remember who Jerry is.
But thanks to the GAC Bad Art election ruse, Jerry will have a memento of their last dance.
The arts council commissioned Wapakoneta artist Michelle Walker to create the drawing that was presented Thursday night. It shows the couple enjoying what would be their final fling together.
“Dad came back from the service and borrowed his brother-in-law’s car to go to Niagara Falls (for their honeymoon),” Chris said before the GAC event. “When he starts to tell that story (in explanation of what he has to auction), I’m going to interrupt and say we have a bookend piece. Then we’ll reveal the drawing.”
“That’s what happened,” Jerry confirmed Friday morning. “I talked a little bit about my Niagara Falls picture. Then Chris came up and took the Niagara Falls picture out of the frame, turned it around, and there was my wife and me, dancing. We were hip-hugging on the dance floor. That was us, doing our thing. It was a pleasant surprise.”
Chris had provided Walker with photos from the Bicentennial Ball.
“I put together a couple of those photos,” the artist said. “They were dancing. They were alive.”
She chose to use vine charcoal because it allowed her to adjust the lines as she worked.
“I love working with that medium because while I’m drawing, I feel like I’m sculpting. It’s easy for me to get the emotion I see onto the paper,” she said.
Walker took particular care to build important symbolism into the picture: viewers can see that each dancer is wearing a watch, indicating time that is passing, time that is short.
“You can’t see her face, because (due to her illness), she’s disappearing. You can see his features, because he’s holding their relationship. She’s letting it go. It’s something that evolved in the drawing,” Walker said.
It’s an artwork that will now become a family heirloom, Chris said. Jerry outbid others to win the painting for a $5,000 donation.
That made Jerry the winner of the election, as number of votes were based on amount of money raised. After the arts council clears $10,000 on the event, the Senior Center will receive half of all monies raised over that amount. Results won’t be finalized for several days, Keyes said, until all donations and expenses have been calculated.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.