BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce put on its "Midsummer Night's Catamount Prowl and Auction" on Saturday night to sell off the products of a two-year community art project.
Hosted by the Hubbell Homestead at Colgate Park on State Route 9, the event found homes for each 6-foot-tall, 100-pound fiberglass mountain lion.
Between the bidders and artists who worked on the sculptures, over 220 community members attended the event. People walked around to view the auction entries and register for bid numbers prior to dinner.
Thyme Tables catered dinner and a cash bar, which marketed a pink drink and the forwarding of bartenders' tips as proceeds for breast cancer research and the Cancer Center Community Crusaders.
Raffle tickets that had been sold for months leading up to the 'prowl' were drawn to award 'Pink,' the catamount sculpture that was in front of the cancer center. The proceeds from the raffle also went to the crusaders.
Each sculpture had one or more sponsor(s) for the startup. There were eight catamounts that were sold prior to the auction, most of which were bought back by their sponsors.
Before event, auctioneer Eric Nathan fluttered rising numbers off his tongue and acknowledged the time, work and money that went into each sculpture, which are still in mint condition.
Since the event's inception, "these statues have been outside businesses for almost two years now. It's amazing how well they have held up," Nathan said.
Of the 37 that were sculpted, 28 of the cats were sold to bidders after dinner. The accumulative bids brought in roughly $60,000 before expenses. The artists of each sculpture got back 25-percent of the sale.
"I was thinking positive, so it's a little lower than I had dreamed and hoped for," said chamber member and event organizer Lindy Lynch. "But, it's not out of character for our economic times in Bennington."
The average sale among all auctioned cats was $2,100. The highest bid went to the "Spirit of Vermont." The patriotic and state-proud catamount painted by Will Moses and sponsored by the Bennington Museum sold for $3,600.
As the salesman he is, Nathan boasted the advantages of the sculptures to encourage higher bids. He told business owners to consider the amount they spend on advertising. "For $2,000, you can have something that people will talk about ... A great way to advertise your business. You spend more than that on a spot in a newspaper," he said.
Regional salesman Mark Rogers attended the first community art project auction at 2005 Moosefest, during which he bought a fiberglass moose. He returned Saturday to raise his red paddle inscribed with the number 143 for a dozen items and was awarded six catamounts from final bids.
"I was trying to make sure that if nobody was taking any interest, that they would find a home," Rogers said.
Except for one for himself, Rogers is giving the catamounts back to the chamber to place around town as its members see fit to incorporate. "I don't think they get enough support. If they need help, I'll help," he said.
Some of Rogers' purchases that will see a rebound into the prominent places in town include 'Kara Shi-Shi,' sponsored by Evans' News and the Bennington Pizza House; 'Casual Summer,' sponsored by Sheriff Chad Schmidt and the Bennington County Sheriff's Department; and 'The Reverend Borris-D'arc,' sponsored by the Apple Barn and Country Bake Shop.
"I am pleased the project is over, the cats have a lot of good homes and I hope we are going to see many of them around Bennington," Lynch said.