French chic at Walters gala


October 22, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

The Walters Art Museum was simply ooh-la-la at its annual gala. That's because it had a French theme, in honor of the museum's newest exhibition, Courbet and the Modern Landscape.

To help guests get in the mood, they were greeted at the door not just by Walters director Gary Vikan, board president Andie Laporte, party chair Adena Testa, and honoree Jay Wilson. They were also "painted" by a very, very tall "artist" -- an actress on stilts with a very, very long brush with which she pretended to coat people in various "paints" from her "palette." Not that everyone needed help with getting into the French frame of mind. In fact, several guests even obeyed the orders that had come on their invitations, "black tie and bonnet."

Attorney Sheila Sachs sported a cloche from the 1930s, further accessorized by her husband, attorney Steve Sachs. Walters docent Barbara Guarnieri went all out with a charming chapeau of black velvet, lace, feathers and rhinestones. "I'm at a pique-nique (translation: picnic). I must wear a hat to a French pique-nique," she exclaimed.

"She's living the role," said her husband, cardiologist Dr. Tom Guarnieri.

Museum board chair Bill Paternotte joined his wife Nan in touting toppers. His was a silver top hat. Hers was a broad-brimmed white and black number.

Of course, if you're talking Paris, you're talking fashion -- hat or not. Mosaic Group president Marla Oros looked tres chic in a little black dress and diamond choker, while husband David Oros, NexCen Brands chair, epitomized classic elegance in his tuxedo. And WYPR chair Barbara Bozzuto flourished a wondrous wrap of woven mink.

After nibbling on brie and champignons and sipping on champagne in the museum's front hall, it was time for folks to attend that aforementioned pique-nique in a tent next to Mt. Vernon's Washington Monument. Magnifique!


She takes life's joys seriously


Baltimore native Rebecca Hoffberger first came up with the idea of creating a museum of visionary art in 1984. She spent most of the next decade raising the money to build it. Using almost entirely donated funds, she started construction in 1993. And the American Visionary Art Museum opened its doors on Key Highway in November of 1995, with Hoffberger as its director. Hoffberger, 54, is "sadly separated," and lives in Green Spring Valley. She has two adult daughters: Belina, 35, lives in London, and Athena, 27, lives in the Baltimore area.

Your museum is world renowned. You've been interviewed a lot. You must be a master at it by now.

I'm a sound-bite queen ... There's a Yiddish saying: "On the lung, on the tongue." I don't think I've gotten better with all the interviews over the years. Basically I have no frontal lobes. That's the part of the brain that governs what you're going to say. As you age, you're supposed to lose brain cells there. Like when someone older says, "That dress looks horrible." I've always been that way.

So, are you saying you suffer from "foot in mouth" syndrome?

No. Because if you're really attached to what you want to communicate, your intent should be not to attack, not to shock, but to inspire and delight.

Well, it's obviously served you well.

I hope so. I hope it's served the museum well. (She points to a young woman with long dark hair.) Look at that. Her hair is so pretty. She's so young. She still cares.

Is age an issue for you?

As one jaunts toward the grave, I think you realize what's important. For me, it's -- say -- where you eat. [What matters isn't] just what you eat, it's who the people there are. Like here, the [owner Qayan and Pat] Karzais are truly wonderful people.

What's important now for you, in contrast to what was important to you in your 20s?

Absolutely nothing. I wish I could say I matured. Even then I was always trying to use my life to make a meaningful difference. I just looked better at it then.

Do you believe you have made a difference?

Oh, yes. It's very strange you ask that question today. I just got a call from Oregon, from the brother of a man who was treated at [Johns] Hopkins, and who passed last February. And he said, when his brother was here for treatments, AVAM had brought him so much joy that he wanted to leave a gift to our museum. Amongst all the critical praise we've gotten, what touches me the most is when people call the museum and tell us it's the most healing place they've ever been.

Do you need goals to work toward?

No. Almost everything I do is based on intuition. I have visions [of what I want to achieve] more than goals. And I try to work backwards from that [idea of] utopia.

How do you think other people describe you?

I really don't know. I don't know if I'd want to know.

How do you describe you?

Otherworldly, and down to earth.

On a scale between utterly frivolous and extremely serious, where are you?

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