For the second consecutive year, Gulfport artist Jane Bunker is auctioning her original oil paintings to benefit a Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum scholarship fund.
In 2019, Bunker’s work generated $43,000 for the Woodson Warriors program. “We were just totally blessed and surprised,” she explains. “My goal was about $20,000.”
Seventeen high school seniors were the beneficiaries, receiving amounts between $5,000 and $250.
“I painted for two years, 21 paintings. Some of the $43,000 was donations, but most of it was the sale of 17 paintings.”
There are 20 new paintings this year; 16 of them are currently hanging in the Mahaffey Theater lobby, and will be there until the end of the month. One is up at American Stage. Then they go to the Woodson museum, where live and silent auctions will be held April 11.
Bunker and museum director Terri Lipsey Scott’s goal is to fetch $100,000 this time around. “Obviously, it’s reaching for the stars,” Bunker says, “but what the heck? Why not?”
Scott says she’s overwhelmed by Bunker’s efforts. “She just took off with this in an extremely special way – painting feverishly, and donating all of her art, and time, and resources into the project.”
Scott’s mother died in 2017, and Bunker offered to start a scholarship program then. It was Scott’s preference to turn it into a scholarship fund for deserving African American students.
“It means more to me than most people will ever, ever understand,” the director says. “I am just grateful for her generosity. And it sends an extraordinary message in our community to youth, that there are those who genuinely care.
“And these kids, they are the brightest and the best that our community has to offer. These kids have excelled beyond measure.”
Bunker, who moved to Gulfport from Cape Cod with her photographer husband three years ago, is a retired clinical psychologist and peer counselor, originally from Concord, Mass.
“We came to visit friends and we fell in love with Gulfport, and St. Petersburg,” she says. “We were so blown away by the art here – and the music and the theater – and how warm and friendly everybody was. It just felt magical here.”
At first, Bunker adds, the Woodson Warriors plan “seemed like a crazy idea, because I’m not known here as an artist, and I didn’t have any idea the work would sell.
“But I thought that if I could do work that was accessible, and not too far out, and if people knew they were helping young people go to college, it might be something that could work.”
All of her Woodson paintings – brightly colored with a strange, deep inner glow – are of lilies.
“I knew I needed to paint something I could fall in love with, but I wanted to paint them for somebody who maybe didn’t normally buy art,” she says. “I wanted something that would be accessible to everybody – and most people are happy to have a flower around.
“They kind of remind me of a woman’s body, I just think they’re so sensuous and so beautiful. And they also feel very spiritual to me. And all together, it was like a bouquet of love to the African American community.”