If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to
Why don’t you go where fashion sits
Puttin’ on the Ritz…
“Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin
Nearly 30 years ago, when Homer was smaller and the Pratt Museum only had three employees, a small group of volunteers came up with an idea. They would hold a fundraiser for the museum, but make it something special.
Cathie Ulmer was part of that original group of volunteers.
“I chaired the board of directors back at that time, and I wanted us to have a fundraiser that would be fun,” she said.
And it was.
Ulmer said that 30 years ago, there wasn’t really anything for people to get dressed up for. The song, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” by Irving Berlin, became the inspiration for the formal dinner and auction event that is now in its 29th year.
For the first two years, Ulmer handwrote invitations to the Ritz in her dining room while her young kids played nearby.
Things have changed a bit since then. For the past three years the Ritz has been held in the dining room at Wasabi’s instead of the Pratt. Museum employees have increased from three to nine. Many of the older people Ulmer worked with during her 17 years on the board have passed on.
Michele Miller, development director of the Pratt, is in her sixth year coordinating the Ritz. Miller says that, although it is no longer the only event in town, true to its name, it is still the most formal. Or rather – Ritzy.
Held annually on the first Saturday in November, this year’s date falls on the Mexican holiday, “Dia de Los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead,” a commemoration of deceased loved ones. So, “La Fiesta Ritzicana en el Dia de Los Muertos” was a natural choice, with a dinner designed to match.
“The food is fantastic,” said Miller. “Wasabi’s has created a fabulous Spanish menu to go with the theme.”
Tomatillo salsa, pickled jalapenos and Mexican blue shrimp are just the beginning. The full-course meal also includes a Mexican Caesar salad, pork tenderloins, tamales and roasted mini pumpkins. Then there are two choices for dessert: mini chocolate tamales or mango sorbet. One wine ticket is included with the meal, courtesy of the Grog Shop and Lawer Family Wines.
Once dinner is over, the live, or as Miller likes to call it, outcry auction, begins. The nearly 30 donated items for the outcry auction, most of which are jewelry and art, have been on display at the Pratt for the month of October. A silent auction also takes place during the evening, with around 70 items to bid on. Miller said that between the two auctions, the museum makes around $35,000 or roughly seven percent of their $500,000 annual income.
One of the outcry auction items is a commissioned piece of jewelry. Rika Mouw, a local artist, will create a made-to-order piece of jewelry for the winning bid. It will be based on the amount bid, which is something Mouw did several years ago for the Ritz.
Mouw has been practicing her art for nearly 30 years, and said that she doesn’t make jewelry for retail anymore.
“The work I do is more like sculpture, in which I use jewelry as a metaphor,” she said.
Besides donating to the Ritz, Mouw has been a Pratt volunteer for many years. Although she’s missed a few of the Ritz events, Mouw said she looks forward to seeing other Pratt supporters at the function.
“I think the Pratt is a really wonderful organization,” she said.
Every year, local metal sculptor, Don Henry, donates a piece of his work to the Ritz auction. This year’s piece is “Silver Harvest,” a roughly 12-inch-by-10-inch pumpkin made from flatware and copper screen. Henry’s daughter loves to grow pumpkins, which he said inspired him to create the piece.
Henry collects the metal for his art at garage sales, second hand stores and sometimes, he said, Mike Kennedy lets him raid his junkyard
Donating his work is a way to help out with the community, and it also gives him great exposure, said Henry.
This year’s Master of Ceremonies will be former Pratt director, Heather Beggs. Music will be provided by the newly formed “Devil’s Club,” featuring Johnny B. on piano, Jeff Szarzi on drums, Jennifer King on bass and Tyler Munns. The group will entertain with jazz, blues and program music.
Attendees are encouraged to wear their formal clothes or costumes, and, although tickets usually sell out, call the Pratt to check for availability, 235-8635.
For anyone who missed observing the auction items at the Pratt, the pieces will be available to view Friday, 5-7 p.m. at Wasabi’s.
La Fiesta Ritzicana en el Dia de Los Muertos
Fundraiser for the Pratt Musem
When: Saturday, Nov. 1, 6:30-10 p.m.
Where: Wasabi’s, 59217 East End Road
$100 each, call the Pratt for availability, 235-8635.