Topping it off with fun, fashion

Paula Gilbertson, left, and Pati Helmick admire one-of-a-kind tops created by local artists in a silent auction to benefit the Durango Arts Center on Saturday night in the Barbara Conrad Gallery. Enlarge photo


Paula Gilbertson, left, and Pati Helmick admire one-of-a-kind tops created by local artists in a silent auction to benefit the Durango Arts Center on Saturday night in the Barbara Conrad Gallery.

There’s been a whole lot of fashion going on this month in Durango, so we probably forfeited the title USA Today gave us more than 20 years ago, the “Least Fashion Conscious in America.” (No, it wasn’t worst dressed, as has been apocryphally repeated ad infinitum.)

Shows have featured everything from the latest merchandise in local stores (Struttin’ at the Strater, The Purse & Suit of Happiness and Pink Ribbon Affair), Western chic (Golden Spurs and Silver Bells), Victorian (“Reflections of the Past” Tea and Fashion Show) and, in a grand finale, TOP, original designs from some of Durango’s most talented people.

The Durango Arts Center was hopping Saturday night as guests enjoyed tapas such as tuna tartar with dates and tomatoes, goat cheese and olive tapenade wrapped in grape leaves, beef tenderloin with Cabrales pesto, skewered Moorish lamb with romesco sauce, Sevillan marinated carrots, artichokes with toasted Parmesan cheese and truffle oil wrapped in serrano ham, quail breast with honey-coffee dressing and Manchego cheese and pear with apricot chutney by Jimmy Nicholson and Durangourmet. Many were quaffing Diane Panelli’s TOP-tinis in pear and chocolate flavors.

At the same time, they were checking out original designs by both local artists and some from New Mexico, Florida and Oregon. Artists started with one (or more) of three white T-shirt “blanks,” a cap-sleeved and long-sleeved women’s shirt and large men’s shirt.

As the program stated, “TOP-NOTCH ARTISTS painted it, dyed it, cut it, embroidered it, wove it, beaded it, embellished it, deconstructed it, reconstructed it and imagined it.” Boy, did they!

Haute Couture Judges Ann Norris, Maureen May and Susan Wise selected the outfits to be included in the live auction, and Christina Erteszek is working with Production Jurors Kwi Lee and Kris Mesner and Fritz Geisler from Los Angeles who selected six graphic designs they believe might be marketable.

I’m not going to be able to describe every item because 80 artists submitted more than 125 pieces, from which the judges selected about 60 pieces for the exhibition and live/silent auctions, but here are some highlights of the live auction:

Debra Parmenter took her talent for photography and screened flowers with a watermelon-inspired flounce on a dress and shawl charmingly modeled by Rochelle Mann. Jewelry designer Carol Salomon, whose energy shone throughout the event, used black lava stones and freshwater pearls to create an elegant black cocktail piece shown with élan by Mary Chandler.

Young designers Nicole Jurcak, 11, and Devon Jurcak, 13, both created wearable designs that they modeled themselves. Kate Skrainka not only sewed several garments for other artists, she created an emerald green top with a hand-knit eyelet yoke that made model Anna Soltero look just lovely.

In fact, two models looked so great in the pieces they were wearing that they bought them. Annie Simonson wore DottieRobinson’s “Leather and Beads” with matching belt with aplomb, and Marley Herckner showed Lisa Self’s “Midnight Bloom,” decorated with hand-knit flowers, to its best advantage, so she’s happy it will be hanging in her closet from now on.

J.M. Jones and Sandra LeFevre were inspired by Mark Rothko in creating their aubergine top with hand-felted front panel; Mary Ervin created a T-shirt dress inspired by the “Dapper” skeleton, with endless hours of embroidery and called it “Drop Dead Gorgeous”; Deborah Gorton took her inspiration from the layers of media on a city wall; and Holly Laird dyed the top a rich yellow, tore it into very thin strips and then knitted it with local alpaca yarns dyed in the same yellow and a complementary shade of yellow-green to create her “Sunshine Shawl.”

Jessi Just made an extremely clever “Shirtbag,” and modeled it herself. A shirt that can be snapped into the shape of a shoulder bag, purse or backpack, it was both cool and cool looking. TOP organizers are working with her to see about marketing the Shirtbag in the DAC Gallery Shop.

Other artists included in the live auction were Maureen Kielty (I knew she could write, but who knew she was an artist with a knitting needle as well?), Maryellen Morrow, Ilze Aviks, Eric Mischker (a men’s shirt featuring multiple versions of a “Vintage VW Bus Truck” modeled by Brad Baylies), KatieRankin, Jane Gould (dress, belt and jacket using all three TOP pieces), Sandy Cushman, Krista Harris and Cinny Mills.

Jeff Wise served as a “musical” emcee wearing a shirt with a gyrating gizmo on it. (You had to be there.)

A number of other artists created items for the silent auction, including just about every major name in town. The lucky bidders will be wearing memorable one-of-a-kind pieces that everyone will be admiring.

The auctions alone brought in more than $7,000 for the DAC, and the rest of the sold-out evening’s proceeds are still being counted.

The evening was the first outing of New Face Productions, a committed and imaginative group of people who are committed to bringing “adult, cutting edge, exciting and profitable events” to the arts center. The TOP committee was led by Regina Hogan and included Nancy Conrad, Christina Erteszek, Jane Gould, Krista Harris, J.M. Jones, Heather Leavitt Martinez, Sandra LeFevre, Phyllis Max, Ann Norris, Carol Salomon, Kate Skrainka and Debbie Wright.

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Asking for warm jackets for their birthdays are Linda Geer, Marna Burnett, Evan Gonzalez, Betty Calkins, Brandon Gross, Larry Brown, Richard Gurry, Marilyn Holland, Kim McCarl, Meg Fontenot, Lucas Carlson, Nancy Phillips, Jo Weger, Stirling Mazenko and Molly Stuntz.

Belated birthday wishes go to Floyd Jaramillo, who celebrated his happy day Tuesday.

Special greetings go to Diego Max Bonilla, who is turning 1 on Friday. The toddler is the son of Antonio and Amy Bonilla.

And at the other end of the pendulum, all hail Robert Beers, who turns 96 on Thursday.

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While modern fashion was the centerpiece of the TOP event at the Durango Arts Center on Saturday, everyone was oohing and aahing over Krista Harris’ staging of signature pieces from the late Morley Ballantine’s closet. (Ballantine, the late editor-in-chief of The Durango Herald, died a year ago, and her daughters and daughters-in-law Elizabeth Ballantine, Helen Ballantine Healy, Becky Leyrer and Mary Lyn Ballantine sponsored the show in her memory.) Mrs. Ballantine’s swim caps, headbands and shoes were the subject of much conversation, and Nancy Vanderwal gave me the quote of the evening about those shoes, saying with a covetous gleam in her eye: “Great shoes never go out of style.”

Included in the program was a charming editorial Mrs. Ballantine wrote about perusing fashion magazines featuring spring and summer fashions while her family was outside playing in the snow and shoveling. (The full column is available at, click on Features, Columnists and Neighbors.)

Her daughter Elizabeth Ballantine wrote her own piece about her mother’s sense of style, noting that Morley Ballantine believed that what was inside a person was always more important.

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Playing in the fallen fall leaves for their anniversaries are Sean and Danette Jackson, Leo and Jean Smith and Don and Sally Haynes.

Special greetings go out to Mike and Christine Phillips, who are celebrating two decades together today.