Centrepieces Annual Auction 2016

In March 2016, I very excitedly booked our second annual auction at 'The Meeting Place' in The Orchards Shopping Centre, Dartford.  After our successful first auction here we were looking forward to creating a repeat performance, carefully timing it to finish just before the turning on of the Christmas lights.

However, as we moved closer to the event and began to send out word and advertising to our contacts about the coming auction, we thought we should just confirm with the shopping centre that everything was okay to go ahead.

It wasn't.

During the year, the management at Dartford Shopping Centre had had a restructuring, and during this time the record of our booking for the auction had been lost.  It was a big shock to everyone, as we had already done a large part of the work towards our yearly auction.

However, with the quick thinking of The Orchards Shopping Centre management and a lot of rescheduling for some very understanding groups who use 'The Meeting Place', with days to spare, the auction was back on!

Diana Donkor, our arts administrator and Geoff Norris our coordinator then worked frantically on a tight timescale to gather and catalogue all the artwork that was needed.
A huge display of paintings were hung, covering the walls.
Stalls were also there for cards, sculptures, paintings and hand made jewellery available to be bought on the spot.
Sculptures are a relatively new addition to the auction as we expand on sculpture workshops at Centrepieces throughout the year.
Members of the public admiring Karen Larkin's huge range of handmade jewellery.
Hand made pieces, jewellery, Christmas ornaments, keepsake boxes, and sculptures ~ a few of the extras on offer.
A visitor admiring 'The Gypsies Promise' by Christianna Cassisa.
A visitor admiring a painting 'Full Sail' by Trevor Whitting.
The large range of Karen Larkin's handmade jewellery on offer throughout the four day event.
Even the volunteer's children lent a helping hand with moving the furniture, taking pictures and keeping each other occupied with some quiet games and laughter.
Thanks to some lovely helpers, we had a fantastic buffet to offer our volunteers and guests to the auction!
There are always last minute preparations in organising the most efficient way to keep the best records, and to keep the auction running as smoothly as possible.
Our auctioneer Paul Adams assisted by our lovely ceramics workshop tutor Denise Tarrant.
Seconds before our auction was about to start.
Our happy young assistants helped from beginning to end, and entertained and uplifted us with their endless energy and smiles!

Written by Christianna Cassisa
Photography and editing by George Banfield

Hundreds of selected artworks were loaded into the cars and van of our hard working team, all artists and volunteers of Centrepieces; the work was then loaded into shopping trolleys so that we could maneuver them through the corridors of the shopping centre from the loading bay to the venue. Paintings were hung wherever we could find space, sculptures were displayed on the furniture we could find, and display tables were set up for cards, hand made jewellery and artwork to be sold there and then.

Once the artwork was all in place, the shoppers started to wander in to see what we had on offer.  Artists and Centrepieces members were there for 3 days during opening hours waiting to talk to interested visitors who primarily came to see the wonderful artwork on offer, but were also very interested to hear of the personal stories of the artists, and how art for them can be therapy, an outlet and eventually a career!

Other stalls that were on display held Centrepieces greetings cards, small sculptures, unframed paintings, and handmade jewelry that were on sale throughout the viewing period, before the auction.  

On the morning of the auction there was more work to be done, and as well as speaking to the members of the public who were still discovering this Aladdin's cave of wonderful art work, our team of helpers got to work arranging the chairs, remembering to allow for wheelchair access and viewing space.  Then there were our food organisers who bought, prepared and laid out a beautiful buffet, not forgetting the mince pies, fruit juices and wine!  While all of this was going on, our administration team worked out the best plan of action for the complicated processes of registering bidders, handing out the paintings and taking the payments.     

Paul Adams our auctioneer adds a little interest or personal touch to every piece by remembering the stories he hears in conversation with our artists, members and other volunteers. He creates a great atmosphere with an easy and laid back humour, while keeping everything together with his professionalism.

After our auctioneer had familiarised himself with many of the artworks and gained some interesting background information about some of the pieces, we counted down the minutes until we could introduce ourselves to the audience that had slowly been filling the room, and start the auction.

The auction fell into a nice rhythm and many pieces were sold, some had advanced bids already for those bidders that couldn't attend the event and when the auction came to a close, Centrepieces had sold about a third of the artworks, and made over a thousand pounds, which was split with the artists 50/50.

When the auction was over, everyone enjoyed our buffet and there were lots of animated conversations about the auction, about the Centrepieces Mental Health Arts Project and generally about art, life and everything in between.  Happy buyers left with their paintings and sculptures they had bought, either a treat for themselves or perhaps Christmas presents. And who knows?  Perhaps one day, that little painting will bring them a huge investment when they see that their chosen artist has at last achieved fame and fortune!

Read more »

Exploits of the Flaneur or confessions of a Steward

Yet another year has come to pass for another Centrepieces annual showcase exhibition at Hall Place’s main Gallery. This time the work seems even more polished and striking in content than before. With a huge private view of over a hundred milling visitors to boot and a tremendous fanfare of speeches headlined by the local Mayoress no less, the stage seems well and truly set for an ever more popular event.
But what exactly is the nature of popularity and interest in the mind of the local public or viewer. On a warm and humid Wednesday afternoon I sat alongside the visitors table acting as exhibition steward ready to greet these perspective oncoming inquisitive people. I have never acted as a Steward before but had always secretly desired to have a go at the role, on reflection of previous engaging visits to established galleries. What discussions would crop up? What viewpoints would be raised? What intentions to buy would be made?

 When thinking of exhibition visitors I am always put in mind of the innovative observations of French Writer Charles Baudelaire. For it was he that signalled the birth of the modern viewer in regard to the notion of the ‘Flaneur’. The Flaneur it was claimed was the initiator of the first type of shopper and browser as portrayed as the original street stroller of the early nineteenth century French boulevards; specifically relating to the Paris Arcades. This person was considered the forerunner of our modern city citizen of leisure, with time to spend on both perusal and potential procurement. Behaviour which I think seems very apt in regard to notion of the common visitor today.
So as stated above, my involvement here is actually one of extreme interest in the interactions of the public with the exciting artworks on show. I decided to use my time wisely and make a point of actively listening to the comments being circulated around the gallery which indeed proved to be both insightful and amusing.


Loosely speaking I noticed three very distinctive sets of visitors; couples and small groups of friends, families with children and toddlers and lone onlookers. The duration spent looking varied between either very fast viewing whereby the gallery was used almost in a short-cut through-fare manner and long drawn-out scrutinising exercises. The scrutinisers who tended to be solitary seemed very drawn to more issue based work. This was clearly the case in Dawn Tomlin’s collective installation pieces where vocal comments were replaced by contemplative looking body gestures.
Some themed works it seems will always generate a lot of interest, animals in particular appear to be popular with many. Dawn Tomlin`s series of cat prints provoked many comments. Two elderly ladies confer ‘That looks just like my Sooty’, a further couple conflict ‘You don’t need any more cat pictures’ (the speaker then physically pulls away their companion from the artwork).

“…Looks just like my Sooty!”
People also always seem to enjoy taking on the detective role. Whilst looking at Trevor Whiting’s boat on a Kentish beach’ people were debating where the picture was located. A man was sure that it was portraying Whitstable, another was sure it was Hastings.
It is interesting that Titles and text can also provide talking points, in the photograph ‘Colin’ of an eaglet by Alex Spendley a couple stand debating the possible reasons for why the eagle was given such an everyday name. With regard to Christie Cassisa’s painting ‘God is angry and she is black’ a man remarks to his wife ‘I love that title but it is too expensive for me’.

“Does he look like a Colin to you?”

Of course expense is a very large concern for many. On watching a parent explain to their son the dynamics of an art label outlining the protocol of Artists name, title and price the child immediately jumped to the notion of ‘which one’s the most expensive here’. Indeed many youngsters were captivated by the use of real coins in Barbra Cotters ‘Money Head’ a boy suggested to his Father ‘Dad if we buy this its only £80 but we’ll get a pound back in loose change!’

“its only £80 but we’ll get a pound back in loose change!”
I noticed a lot of people taking pictures with their camera phones, one gentleman asked ‘Is it O.K. to take some photos? I used to work at the national portrait gallery and the security there were rough’. ‘That’s fine’ I replied.
The communications between families were very interesting. In one instance a Mother and her Daughter were viewing  the lurid abstract ‘Scintillating’ by Barbara Cotter, the young girl turned to her mother and said ‘Can I have that one for my bedroom?’ her Mother on studying the label and possibly seeing the £170 price tag gave no reply. Then in the usual manner of a fickle youngster the girl quickly turns to Barbra’s other painting ‘Portal to Psychosis’ and retorts ‘I’ve changed my mind I want that one!’.


“Can I have that one for my bedroom? … I’ve changed my mind I want that one!”

As well as content people were also quite observant to processes too, Libby Harris’s mixed media portraits highlighting Klimt-like characteristics gained the attention of another girl who declared to her parents ‘you see real artists can use glitter too!’. Also I have noted before the continual fascination with the use of breezeblock carving, a man was pondering the towers of John Excell ‘I didn’t know you could do that with breezeblock’ he exclaimed.

“you see real artists can use glitter too!”

There was some interesting interactions between very young toddlers and their parents also, in some cases it seemed that parents were using the artwork as a kind of early learning activity.  In the artwork ‘Squirrel in the realm of the Green Goddess’ by Georgina Bowen a father points out in a storytelling fashion ‘look the fat squirrel has eaten all of the nuts’. In Christie Cassia’s ‘Twilight’ a mother exclaims ‘look she does wonderful things with the light ‘to which  the young child replies ‘Yes Mummy if you buy me some new pens I will draw it for you’. There were some wonderful moments too as two toddlers stood starring at Joan Scher’s magical landscape ‘Fantasia in Kent’. They stood and starred for at least 3 whole minutes and then uttered the words ‘Beaut-i –ful!’ and then walked away smiling.

“Beaut-i –ful”


“… if you buy me some new pens I will draw it for you”

The Sculpture seemed to provoke a lot of people wanting to touch it, I lost count the amount of times I overheard Parents telling their kids ‘not to touch’. The mixture of ceramic and salt dough pieces were plainly very tactile and alluring. One child remarked ‘Can we do some potty at home’ his mother corrects ‘it’s called pottery’. I was pleased to hear when another excited young boy announced ‘If I was rich I would have all of these in my garden!’.

“Can we do some potty at home”

Strangely there was some confusion about there being two Dawn’s in the same exhibition, a couple enquired ‘Are Dawn Tomlin and Dawn Tonkin’s the same person? No I replied there are both different people. ‘So how can you tell them apart?’ they asked. I was a bit bemused by the question but explained Dawn Tomkins has pink hair. ‘Oh yes (replied the man) I can see that reflected in her work’ whilst moving closely towards the drawing ‘Sword with Dragon’. I then went on to explain that both artists along with Christie Cassisa had individually won the new ‘Jackie Inspired Award’  for their artistic commitment within the group.


“Are Dawn Tomlin and Dawn Tonkin’s the same person?”

Barbara French seems to be an artist well known and loved by the public, her realistic style of large landscape country scenes are clearly very appealing. A man comes scurrying in to the gallery with his wife and states ‘We’re too late for Barbra French, they always sell early’. Another man sadly confirms with me ‘are you sure that it’s sold?’

It was really nice to observe all of these comments; I entered into further short discussions regarding Centrepieces via the brochures on display (which quickly ran out). People genuinely seemed to engage in the idea of Mental Health being the driving factor of the group, one enthusiastic man said he would be keen to join and left his details.

Of course the normal exhibitions review process typically involves the utilisation of an exhibition comments book. But such books often seem to prompt overly praiseworthy limited reviews especially when a steward is so closely present. It is always good therefore to hear the first hand direct vocal responses of common recipients in all exhibitions, especially when it seems we are in the process of moving forward as an arts group and so keen to work positively and dynamically within the local community.

It would seem a variety of artworks command a variety of visitors. Long may Centrepieces exhibitions and artworks continue to stimulate and enthuse the public at large.

  Written by Kim Campbell, edited by Guy Tarrant
Read more »

Popular Posts

Like us on Facebook


Click below for Centrepieces Gallery: