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Fundraiser For Art Brothers Project Starts At RTPI

Pictured are Denise Williams Stebbins, founder of the “Art Brothers Project,” and Arthur Pearson, Roger Tory Peterson Institute CEO, in front of the new mural in RTPI’s Art Lab. PJ-photos by Katrina Fuller

WESTFIELD — A new type of fundraiser for the art trail and art lab at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute is kicking off this Friday, thanks to Denise Williams Stebbins.

Stebbins is heading up an art auction, titled the “Art Brothers Project” that will be held at her gallery, Living Glass Gallery in Westfield. She began the fundraising efforts for RTPI and what is now called the “Art Brothers Project” after two of her grandchildren, Brennen Bereda and Finley Bereda, were in a car accident in 2017.

“The proceeds will benefit the art trail here and the art lab here,” Stebbins said. “It was sort of our vision four years ago to have a memorial for my two grandchildren, Brennan Bereda and Finley Bereda, that lost their lives and we wanted something positive. My daughter and her husband always took the kids hiking, and they really enjoyed nature, and I was an art teacher in Silver Creek … and one of my favorite things to do was teach my students about Roger Tory Peterson, mainly because he was an illustrator, photographer, conservationist — he really did it all. He started at a young age and the kids could really relate to that, so I couldn’t think of a better place to have the memorial set up here.”

Stebbins said her grandson, Brennan, was “very much like Roger Tory Peterson” and was “very curious about nature.”

In previous years, Stebbins would put together a 5K run/walk to benefit the art trail at RTPI; however, the pandemic put a damper on that. This year, her grandson, Jordan, inspired her to host the auction after he held his own art sale with his friend at their lemonade stand. Jordan and his fellow “Art Brother” live in Missouri. The pair created a large banner, declaring themselves the “Art Brothers” at their pop-up art sale.

“They sold their artwork– their little pictures — at a lemonade stand they had out in front,” she said. “So, I decided to call this the ‘Art Brothers Project,’ just because I thought it was a really good idea. So I have artists from around the county and local artists mainly that have donated their work and we’re going to have a silent auction. I had my grandson, Jordan, and his little buddy, Will, send in their artwork too.”

Some local teens are also donating their work for the event. The auction will run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. The bids will close at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Currently, the fundraising effort will be focused on commissioning a sculpture of two children running into the art trail, which will be created by local artist, Vince Liuzzo.

Arthur Pearson, Roger Tory Peterson Institute CEO, said it has been an honor and a privilege working on the project with Stebbins.

“I came into this about a year and a half ago,” Pearson said. “The resiliency of the human spirit sometimes can just be jaw-dropping because out of unimaginable tragedy, this is a family that, as Denise said, wanted to leave a positive legacy and have something positive out of this. That in and of itself is just a heroic act and it blows me away. We work very hard on trying to honor and marry the ideas that Denise brought to RTPI with what we’re trying to envision here.”

He said their goals crossover quite a bit, including the involvement of children in the arts and nature. Pearson said Roger Tory Peterson’s life mirrored those goals, which is why RTPI has taken that direction.

“That exactly what we want to do — we really want to do something significant at that nexus of art and nature,” he said.

Pearson said RTPI brought in Liuzzo to create six sculptures to place around the art trail that children can “discover” on their hike, which includes a flicker, a luna moth and other natural themed sculptures. The art trail then connects back into the Art Lab where children can then draw something they discovered on their hike on the dry erase wall. The institute also hired local artist Erin Ruffino to paint a large mural in the art lab, which was recently unveiled.

Stebbins said it is satisfying to see the efforts come to fruition, but the grief from the loss of her grandchildren has not subsided.

“I wish I could say, ‘Oh, this makes me feel so much better,'” she said. “I just feel that something has to be done – you can’t just not do something. Being their grandmother, I can’t give them birthday gifts anymore, and I can’t go to their life celebrations — but this is something I can do.”

For those who cannot make it to the art auction, Stebbins said donations can be made to the Bereda Children’s Memorial through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. She said the donation can be made through their website at www.crcfonline.org.

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