2005 Dans Paper

There’s no doubt that our area is known for its swank parties. Among them are benefits and fundraisers in many forms, from costume galas to polo matches, doggy fashion shows to jazz festivals. I have never, however, heard of the sort of fundraiser that the Southampton Hospital will host this upcoming weekend. The first Birdhouse Auction will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Parrish Hall benefiting the South Fork Breast Cancer Health Coalition.

This fundraiser, which features birdhouses hand-crafted by local artists, politicians, public figures and breast cancer survivors, was the brainchild of Karyn Mannix, an artist who has attached her creative endeavors to feminist causes, confronting questions of gender, body image and social injustice and often dealing directly with the crisis of breast cancer. She combines word and image in her work to explore “what lies directly between thought and expression.” Besides her ideological persuits, her inspiration comes from life experience. She is not only a concerned artist but a survivor.

This year, Mannix’s creative spirit took flight with her birdhouses idea. She recruited a slew of talented and celebrated figures to design birdhouses.

Among the designers are Patti LaBelle, Julie Ratner, Lisa deKooning, Cokie Roberts, Tim Bishop, Debbie Lockwood, Susie Roden, and even Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

I visited the Jade Nectar Gallery in Southampton last weekend to check out the display of bird-abodes. What I found was far from your usual Home-Ec birdhouse. Rather than ply-wood and woodshop nails, these houses were built out of everything from shells to license plates. There was one lined in animal fur, another made entirely from knitted yarn. Delicate models of birds were placed among them and a background of birdsongs added to the effervescent atmosphere. The collection promotes the spirit of creation in opposition to an incredibly destructive force. The display is ethereal, even life-affirming.

By the window sat Mariangella’s “Starfish House,” a quaint cottage shingled with opalescent shells in unforgettable shades of burnt orange. Next to that was the strange creation of Hector de Cordova entitled “Temporary Parking.” The piece, which hovered over the others, was a man on stilts whose unforgettable cartoonish visage held a pipe in his mouth for birds to rest. Georgia Griffin’s “Harsh Winter” was less comedic, depicting a wrecked birdhouse, one worn down and split by cold. Inside, a nest, egg and feather are frozen in place. Right next to this melancholy piece is Cindy Jackson’s vibrant and festive “House of Blues.” Nearby a flamingo-pink “Hamptons Bird Beachouse,” by Don and Karen Saco, stood on its own, a lanky structure complete with welcome mats in different languages, a long staircase and “room for rent” sign, all suspended over a beach speckled with driftwood. Among the local artists and acclaimed celebrities were many survivors, most unknown by the public. Emily Schiavoni, a junior at Keene State College, took time from a crazy schedule to build “House of Courage” which she has dedicated to her mother.

What is striking about this show is the variety it displays, the spectrum of sentiments, a landslide of styles. Here are about eighty people assigned the same project, in honor of the same cause, and each product seems infinitely original. Above the familiar chirping soundtrack, we hear so many voices.

What one takes in while scanning the creations, from Paton Miller’s long-limbed jungle creature in bright, pure pigments to the anemic greens of “Harsh Winter,” is that there are so many ways to approach or respond to crisis. Karen Manyx’s piece entitled “It’s Not Just Black and White” exemplifies this to me. Over the small black and white structure, which, with crude circles, mimics breasts, a bird hovers, suspended from wire.

This Sunday, these lovely birdhouses will be auctioned off to benefit The South Fork Breast Health Coalition a nonprofit, grassroots organization that works to identify the causes of breast cancer through studies and surveys, to educate women about the importance of early detection, and help provide support to those who have survived the disease. The group provides transportation to doctor appointments, pays for doctor’s bills and other expenses through its Lend A Helping Hand Program.

This Coalition, along with other breast cancer groups across Long Island, is committed to finding the answer to the high incidence of breast cancer in our area. Their goal is to have 100% of the East End female population over 16 performing self breast examinations and 100% of our female population, age forty and older, receiving annual mammograms

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