2006 Southampton Press

 High-Flying Birdhouse Auction Proves Breast Cancer Is For the Birds 

By Aimee Fitzpatrick Martin 

Last year at this time, Susie Barry Roden, co-founder of the South Fork Breast Health Coalition, was scurrying around Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Hall, anxiously taking care of last-minute details for the Coalition’s first “Artist and Celebrity Birdhouse Auction.” The last person she expected to see when she looked up from her work on the day of the event was Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger.“She came in to buy a ticket and started talking to me,” remembered Ms. Roden, a two-time breast cancer survivor who in 1994 founded the Coalition, a nonprofit grassroots organization whose mission is to help educate women about the importance of self breast exams and annual mammograms. “Renee was just a delight to talk to, but I finally had to say, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m so busy right now and really need to get back to work.’”While some A-list actresses might have been offended by the rebuff, Ms. Zellweger just rolled up her sleeves and said, “Let me help you.”That night, Zellweger–who has a home in East Hampton–returned with her paid ticket, and bid on at least ten one-of-a-kind birdhouses created by the participating artists, celebrities, breast cancer survivors, local business people, doctors and politicians for the event’s live and silent auction. “The next day she came to my house to pick up her birdhouses, armed with coffee, muffins and a huge mum plant. She was so down-to-earth and couldn’t have been sweeter to my 85-year-old mother who lives with me. After a while, my mother said, ‘Honey, would you like to stay for some leftover stew?’ She politely declined and when she left, I turned to my mother and said, ‘Do you know that you just invited a $10 million-per-picture actress for LEFTOVERS!” laughed Ms. Roden.Since then, Ms. Zellweger has “been there” whenever the Coalition needs her help, Ms. Roden said. So when it came time to plan the second annual “Artist and Celebrity Birdhouse Auction,” the event’s organizers didn’t hesitate to approach the actress about being the honorary chair. Thanks to Ms. Zellweger’s celebrity, this year’s auction—which will be held on Saturday, October 21, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Parrish Memorial Hall at Southampton Hospital—has drawn an even higher caliber of artists, designers and celebrities, including creations by Edie Falco, Montel Williams, Cliff Robertson, Betsey Johnson, Carmen Marc Valvo, Maurice DuBois, Isaac Mizrahi, Paton Miller, Don Saco, Michael Lownie, Eric Ernst, Hector de Cordova and dozens more who want to help raise money for breast cancer. At least 73 birdhouses will be featured in Saturday night’s silent and live auction, which Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman will preside over.Ms. Zellweger, who won a 2004 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in “Cold Mountain,” witnessed first-hand how destructive and damaging breast cancer can be when her publicist and close friend, Nanci Ryder, was diagnosed with the disease in 2000. A birdhouse by Ms. Ryder, who has since recovered, will be featured in the silent auction. Ava Phillips (the young daughter of actress Reese Witherspoon) helped Ms. Ryder with the design. Ms. Witherspoon is also sending the Coalition her own personal creation for the auction.  “Sadly, my grandmother and two aunts have also had breast cancer. It’s rare these days to meet a woman who has not been affected by the disease,” said Ms. Zellweger by phone from Vancouver, where she is on location filming “Case 39,” a psychological thriller co-starring Ian McShane and directed by Christian Alvert. “It’s my pleasure to support the Coalition. The birdhouses this year are quite spectacular.”Ms. Zellweger’s own entry, entitled “This House Is the Tits,” is sure to garner attention at Saturday night’s live auction. Using the plywood birdhouse donated by Michael’s Crafts, Ms. Zellweger adorned the small birdhouse with painted clay breasts in every shape, size and color. The pink roof displays the breast cancer “pink ribbon” symbol and the chimney sparkles with white glitter. Ms. Roden said she’s already received a $500 bid on the work, which Ms. Zellweger said took several weekends to complete. The birdhouse auction was the brain child of East Hampton artist Karyn Mannix, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2004 at the age of 42. “It’s just devastating when you’re first diagnosed and feel you don’t have anywhere to turn. Susie Roden and the Coalition were there for me every step of the way during a very difficult time,” said Ms. Mannix, who has fully recovered. Ms. Mannix said the Coalition even paid for gas costs for her daily drive to Riverhead for radiation, and gave her $500 to help with daily living expenses.“I thought I wouldn’t need the money, but I did because I couldn’t work,” said Ms. Mannix, who teaches art part-time at the Child Development Center of the Hamptons and owns the Golden Eagle Art Studio in East Hampton. “I wanted to do something to show my appreciation. I decided that as an artist, my way to give back and raise money for the Coalition would be to bring the artistic community together for a creative and fun event.”Knowing that artists and celebrities had already been tapped to adorn plates and cigar boxes for other local charities, Ms. Mannix struck on the idea of birdhouses because she thought they’d be a nice collectible and a “fun medium to work on.”“I also remembered seeing this really funky old bird wallpaper at Parrish Hall and thought a birdhouse auction would be apropos there,” said Ms. Mannix, whose personal entry for this year’s auction is a large gourd, painted royal blue and covered in white text with such “bird” sayings as hot chick, proud as a peacock, crazy as a loon, and raven beauty.Joining Ms. Mannix as co-chair of the event is another breast cancer survivor, Karen Saco, who asked her uncle, Water Mill sculptor Don Saco, to make a welded steel creation for the live auction. Last year, Ms. Saco was temporarily living with her uncle and contemplating a move to Vermont when she was surprised with a breast cancer diagnosis. Like Ms. Mannix, she wanted to give back to the Coalition for all their help.As her uncle writes in the auction journal, “My niece lived with me while undergoing the wearisome months of prescribed treatment. A full year has gone by; the patient, now a survivor, has grown back all her feathers and flown away (though not far) to settle, like the pink bird in my treehouse, in a nest of her own. This year’s birdhouse is a celebration!”Last Saturday night, many of the birdhouses were on display at a preview at the Sara Nightingale Gallery in Water Mill. A large crowd turned out to put in their opening bids, which start at $35 for the silent auction. This year, sports fans will flock to bid on birdhouses autographed by Whitey Ford, the New York Knicks and the New York Mets, and a “House of Birdies” by pro golfer Morgan Pressel.Another standout this year is “Fly Away Home: FEMA Approved 2006,” a birdhouse by Shanna D’Antonio, a 25-year-old painter living and working in New Orleans who lost her home to Hurricane Katrina. Her birdhouse mixes the colors of a New Orleans home—complete with faux stained glass windows, wrought iron gates and burglar bars on the front windows–with the absurdly high “stilts” encouraged by FEMA after the hurricane. The roof is made entirely of local business cards from artists and galleries.  Jan Maran of Water Mill, who is battling multiple myeloma and who lost a mother to breast cancer, created a smile-inducing birdhouse, titled “Bad Hair Day,” with the help of her friend, artist/illustrator Andrea Shine. “I was hoping to inject some humor into the situation and help bring us all back to that healing place,” she said of her birdhouse, which looks like a woman with a driftwood neck and birdhouse face adorned with 1950s cat glasses. Her “hair” is a ratty blond wig, topped with a real bird’s nest Ms. Maran found while walking with her dog. The live auction will feature San Francisco abstract artist Michael Lownie’s brightly colored, mixed media work, “Hurdy Gurdy Birdy Hut,” which was inspired by the curves of Frank Gehry’s architecture. The upper level peephole contains a “hall of mirrors” in which a spotted egg is reflected into infinity. (Ms. Zellweger was the highest bidder on Mr. Lownie’s 2005 submission, “Titmouse Guggenhouse.”)Also in the live auction is Springs photographer Gerry Giliberti’s surreal Pop Art “Peacock” work, which takes birdhouses to the next level. The artist has suspended an infrared slide of a peacock on stanchions made of iron, wrapped with silver and gold wire, and encased in a bell jar.“I guess it shows even birds can live in glass houses,” he commented. An untitled birdhouse by artist/photographer Richard Prince—with help from his daughter, Ella—is another highlight of the live auction. Bidders should keep in mind that Mr. Prince’s untitled cowboy “re-photograph” was auctioned at Christie’s in 2005 for $1.2 million, setting a record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction.Not all of the birdhouses were designed by art world superstars. John Rist, owner of Herbert & Rist Liquors on Jobs Lane, created a “Barracuda House” for the live auction. More of a fish sculpture than a birdhouse, the wall-mounted work is indeed a barracuda, made of snow fencing and brightly painted with “Caribbean Rasta” colors, devouring a bird house (presumably breast cancer). And Jon Miller, manager of the BMW dealership in Southampton, spent “hundreds of hours” making his pristine “Beach House,” which is lighted from the inside and has rocks and driftwood gathered from local beaches. Artist Eric Ernst also lit his entry, “Silence Under December’s Sky.”Last year’s auction raised $10,000, and Ms. Roden hopes to at least double that amount this year. Proceeds will be used support the many endeavors of the Coalition, which strives to relieve the day-to-day pressures faced by breast cancer patients through a number of health and wellness integrated support programs, such as physical therapy, yoga, massage and guided visualization. “Our goal is to one day open a community center where these services can be offered, under one roof, to breast cancer patients, survivors, and families,” said Ms. Roden, pointing out that a woman’s chance for developing invasive breast cancer in her lifetime is now a staggering 1 in 8. Although breast cancer statistics specific to the East End are not available, Ms. Roden said that she’s seeing more incidences of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. “Unfortunately, younger and younger women are being affected. This is what keeps me going,” said Ms. Roden. “I’m obsessed and passionate to help all women with breast cancer.”  The second annual “Artist and Celebrity Bird House Auction” to benefit the South Fork Breast Health Coalition will be held on Saturday, October 21, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Parrish Memorial Hall in Southampton Hospital. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased in advance by calling 726-8606 or at the door. To order tickets online, visit http://www.southforkbreast.com.  

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