Art among kings and queens

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Laura Loe’s “Yellow chair in the sun” shined through, gathering a crowd as the silent auction closed. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

by Sayaka Matsuoka

The murmurs of men and women in fine suits and cocktail dresses filled up the room for the Barnabas Network’s Chair Affair art auction on April 16. Somewhere amongst this affluent crowd lurked a quietly mysterious woman — Linda Mortenson.

The event was hosted by the nonprofit organization that helps families in need by providing items like home furnishings. On display were upcycled pieces of furniture created by a diverse group of artists for silent and live auctions.

The warehouse-like room was dimly lit and the heavy smells of wine and upholstery overwhelmed. A live band covered pop darling Sam Smith while people gathered around a table overflowing with bread and cheese. There were several hundred people in attendance, making it hard to navigate the room and the only streams of light seemed to come from windows along the walls that displayed the works of art.

While no one seemed to know exactly where in the room Linda Mortenson was, her presence lingered decisively on several silent auction sheets in the form of her signature.

She had been making her way along the art-lined walls, placing calculated bids on repainted tables, upholstered dining chairs and children’s furniture. If there was a piece that the last person had bid $65 on, she bid $200, crossing out the last six slots behind her. For one piece, she had taken the last bid of $34 and raised it to $234.

The charismatic auctioneer sputtered what sounded like gibberish, egging participants on to bid more and more. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
The charismatic auctioneer sputtered what sounded like gibberish, egging participants on to bid more and more. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

A small group of women chattered just a few steps from the last work that Mortenson had bid on.

“That’s her style! She’s the queen!” one woman said.

The grapevine revealed that Mortenson’s husband was an orthopedic surgeon and that she was likely in the medical profession as well. She increasingly sounded like a real-life Claire Underwood from “House of Cards” — beautiful and relentless, stopping at nothing to get what she wants.

One brilliant painting that Mortenson surprisingly didn’t bid on realistically captured an angle of Franklin Street and contained small, hidden messages that read “Duke sucks.” Quite a crowd had gathered around that one.

Another painting across the room had garnered an audience as well.

The work by Laura Loe was small compared to the large chairs it sat between and although the subject matter was plain, there was something quite striking about the piece. Titled “Yellow chair in the sun,” it depicted a scene so serene and peaceful that it made viewers want to jump into the canvas and laze in the sun-soaked living room. Reminiscent of works by French painters who captured timeless scenes of the countryside, it had a nostalgic and lasting quality about it. As attendees gathered around the painting, curiously glancing at the bid sheet, the live auction began.

The first item was a beautiful painting of a wooden chair surrounded by vibrant butterflies fittingly titled “Metamorphosis” that sold for a couple hundred dollars. The objects came and went as the auctioneer sputtered prices so quickly it sounded like gibberish. Charismatically, he sold pieces left and right, encouraging audience members to bid higher and higher until he arrived at one particular lot. Titled “Ten Chairs for Ten Guests,” it turned out to be a gourmet dinner for 10 lucky individuals at, not a five-star restaurant, but a home in Greensboro’s own Fisher Park. The prize — and the action to win it — was unbelievable.

The whole thing seemed like a game. As the bids flew higher, the crowd whooped and clapped louder. The atmosphere resembled a lively sports event but those in attendance wore ties and heels instead of jerseys and baseball caps.

The prices soared from an already whopping $500 to the final bid of $1,500.

If Linda Mortenson was watching, no doubt she would have approved.