A bus transports 42 visionary, boa-wearing museum benefactors to New York for one divine day.

November 25, 2003|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - A trail of fuchsia feathers tells the tale of Sunday's New Moon Goddess Express, from its dawn departure from Baltimore to an exultant conclusion in a Greenwich Village theater, where a shaman anointed the audience with fragrant oils.

Wrapped in boas, the goddesses, 42 supporters of the American Visionary Art Museum who paid $300 each for the bus trip, shed their feathers and malingering inhibitions on an 18-hour odyssey of discovery and acquisition through Manhattan.

In a fashion typical of AVAM's munificent founder, Rebecca Hoffberger, it was a day of disparate yet connected delights and revelations, of ancient myth and post-modern shopping, art appreciation and overeating, goddess oblige and goddess indulgences. As Hoffberger promised museum supporters, the day would be a "combination of crass commercialization at its best and this incredible spirituality."

And as any goddess worth her crystals knows, there were superlative goodie bags that begged the question whether Hoffberger was giving away more than she was getting. Contents donated from sponsors and friends included a goddess Christmas ornament, earrings from the store La Terra in Hampden, a disposable camera, waxed lips, a packaged S'more, and a list of Hoffberger's seven educational goals. (No. 1: Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.)

Participants also received pieces by a self-taught artist named Matt Lamb and a copy of The Gift, the latest book by Hoffberger's best friend, Maryland artist Sandra Magsamen, a founding museum board member. When the two women met years ago while working with residents of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital, "We instantly knew we were soul mates and had a similar purpose on this planet," Magsamen said in the midst of the hectic journey she helped to plan.

By 7 a.m. the goddesses, decked out in neon hair extensions, sequined glasses and, of course, their divine but molting boas, were on the road. "New York will never be the same," said Janet Rosen, who raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The bus buzzed with the conversations of at-home moms, professionals, artists and board members. On the way up, the women watched videos about visionary artists featured in the museum's current exhibition, Golden Blessings/Out of the Mouths of Babes, and sipped bottled water and sodas, distributed by volunteer goddesses/stewardesses.

"Rebecca always plans the best parties," said architect Diane Cho, of Cho Benn and Holback & Associates, who is designing an AVAM expansion. "If guys were doing this, it would be some event at a boring hotel."

"It's so nice for someone else to make arrangements and not be responsible for one whole day," said Cho's friend, JoAnn Holback, who works for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

By the time the goddesses alighted at Saks Fifth Avenue on Fifth Avenue a little after 10 a.m., the famed street teemed with holiday shoppers. The women stood among the crowds and admired the animated department store's windows designed by Magsamen. And, then, they were led through an employee entrance to the store, before it opened to the public, which thrilled them. "We're in Saks, all by ourselves!" said Nancy Bloom, a founding AVAM board member. "It's just like Eloise at the Plaza."

The women had brunch - scones, eggs benedict, apple cobbler and bloody Marys - in the Saks cafe. "I love eggs benedict. I'm happy," said Jill Goodman, who met Magsamen through their daughters.

Nearby, AVAM board member Lisa Revson, who lives in Manhattan, sang the praises of Hoffberger and her creation. "It's the only museum that makes me want to make art," she said. Her medium? "I do things with pompoms," Revson said.

After lunch, the women, aided and abetted by complimentary $25 gift certificates, had an hour to shop. It wasn't enough time to do much damage, but Janet Rosen found a lovely Ferragamo scarf, something all goddesses need, she said.

Next stop: the American Folk Art Museum, where the women were greeted by museum director Gerard C. Wertkin, who spoke of folk art as an art form that celebrates both diversity and a sense of unity in American life. A tour of the museum's baseball show followed, as well as a brief shopping frenzy in the museum gift shop.

At the temporary headquarters of the Lower East Side Girls Club, a major force for change for low-income girls, Lyn Pentecost, a friend of Hoffberger's, described her effort to found the club when denied permission to use the gym at the Boys Club of New York. Visitors toured a photography show that was a collaboration between the girls club and a group in Mexico. They munched cookies made by the club bakery, Sweet Things, and saw a short film by club members that was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival.

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