Archive for Sunday, November 24, 2002

Red Ribbon Art Auction celebrates 10th anniversary

November 24, 2002

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It's been 10 years since Lawrence painter Dennis Helm succumbed to AIDS âÂÂ:quot; 10 years since his friends and fellow artists dreamt up the Red Ribbon Art Auction to honor his life.

A decade later, the auction has become the largest fund-raiser for Douglas County AIDS Project, the organization that helped Helm through his final years.

âÂÂHe was the inspiration, really, for the art auction,â said Sidney Hardgrave, DCAPâÂÂs executive director. âÂÂItâÂÂs always been somewhat in his memory, but this year we actually hope to have some of his pieces on display at the auction.âÂÂ

Even Lawrencians who didnâÂÂt know Helm probably are familiar with at least one of his works. He painted the vivid, celestial murals on the walls and ceiling of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. That was more characteristic of his later work, however. He was really known for his landscapes and still lifes, which often included eggs, fruits and vegetables.

âÂÂHe was a most gifted artist,â said Judi Geer Kellas, a fellow artist and 17-year friend of Helms, who died on June 4, 1992, at age 45.

âÂÂHe struggled very hard. I think he amazed all of us that knew him. He really lived longer than anybody ever thought he would. DCAP had a lot to do with that.âÂÂ

Helm was one of DCAPâÂÂs first clients when it opened in 1989. The agency continues to serve about 60 people with HIV/AIDS each year. The art auction, which brought in $11,800 last year, supports both client services and outreach at DCAP. This yearâÂÂs goal is $13,500 âÂÂ:quot; a little more than 5 percent of the agencyâÂÂs budget.

More than 40 local artists have donated work for the auction. Photographs, prints, paintings, drawings, textiles, furniture, jewelry, sculpture, pottery and other items all will be up for bid in the silent and live auctions on Dec. 1 at SpringHill Suites by Marriott. The pieces are on display from noon to 4 p.m. today at the Carnegie Building, Ninth and Vermont streets.

A serious artist

Works by Helm will be displayed but not sold at the auction. Most of them have been borrowed from peopleâÂÂs private collections.

Kellas has three of HelmâÂÂs artworks hanging in her home north of Lawrence. Looking at them makes her smile. So do other fond memories of her friend.

The two used to go to lunch about once a week and often talked about opening the Peace Creek Cafà ©, where they would serve meat loaf, mashed potatoes and other home-cooked food that Helm had grown up with as a boy in rural Reno County, near the community of Peace Creek. At one such lunch, after several months in the hospital, Helm rebuffed Kellasâ declaration that their meal together was nothing short of a miracle.

âÂÂHe said, âÂÂ'What are you talking about?â I said, âÂÂ'I didnâÂÂt think weâÂÂd ever have lunch together again,â Kellas said.

Helm just glared at her.

âÂÂHe didnâÂÂt like sentimentality,â she said, laughing at the recollection.

âÂÂHe was really quite a serious artist. He took his work very seriously.âÂÂ

Helm studied art at Hutchinson Community College and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Kansas University in 1972. He was an enthusiastic supporter of his contemporaries and advocated, in his last years, for a museum of Kansas artists, testifying before Kansas Legislative committees on the proposal. He also regularly donated his work for benefit auctions.

Continued support

DCAPâÂÂs benefit auction will help it keep up with serving the one to two new clients it averages each month. Three clients have died in the past year, Hardgrave said.

The funds also will assist with outreach, which DCAP is increasing toward women and younger people because âÂÂnationally, one half of the new infections are occurring in ages 25 and under,â Hardgrave said. The money raised also will help pay for HIV tests, which the agency has been providing free-of-charge for about a year and a half.

âÂÂThe nice thing about this is the funds are unrestricted,â said Janet Horner, auction chairwoman. âÂÂSo many of the grants we receive are for specific things. This allows us to kind of fill in the blanks.âÂÂ

The continued support âÂÂ:quot; from artists, the community and DCAP âÂÂ:quot; of people with HIV/AIDS in Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties is, in a way, part of HelmâÂÂs legacy. It was his talent and spirit that inspired the auctionâÂÂs creation.

âÂÂI will always love him very, very much,â Kellas said. âÂÂHe meant a great deal to me. And I miss him.âÂÂ

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