The Black & White Ball. It was, as they say, a night to remember, going down in the annals of society and popular culture as an event that brought together luminaries from the worlds of fashion, art, politics, literature, music and Hollywood for an evening of glamour, frolic and decadence. Hosted by Truman Capote in honor of Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, it was held at the Plaza in the heyday of sophisticated grandeur. And, according to Vanity Fair, if you didn’t have an invite, you simply left town.
Inspired by this lavish affair is the Portland Museum of Art’s Contemporaries Black & White Winter Bash, arguably Portland’s biggest event of the season. Transformed into an urban, after-hours enclave replete with rose-hued lighting, tunes mixed by a DJ and cocktails curated by Portland’s Alpine & Hunt Club, more than 375 of southern Maine’s movers and shakers mixed and mingled the night away.
“It’s so impressive,” said Samantha Stern of Boston, who attended with Jeff Packard, CEO of Alodyne in Portland. “You don’t think of Portland as having events like this… but wow, Portland can really put on a show!”
They were joined by pals Jessica Kissell of Portland Trading Co. and CIEE and Kazeem Lawal, owner of Portland Trading Co.
Jennifer and Bryan Shumway of Scarborough caught a stolen moment with friends Brandon Baldwin and Shenna Bellows of Manchester. Shenna Bellows is a Democratic candidate for the U. S. Senate, running against incumbent Sen. Susan Collins.
“Tonight’s event really showcases the creative economy and the next generation,” said Bellows, enjoying the energy of the evening.
Her husband took it a step further.
“I think this event shows that Portland can compete with the best cities in the world,” Baldwin said above the din of laughter and conversation. “It’s not just the art scene, but the food scene, the drink scene and the quality of life. But more than anything, it’s the people.”
And what an assortment there was. Adam Gardner of the band Guster and his wife, Lauren Sullivan, director and co-founder of Reverb, chatted with friends Jason Hearst, owner and chief engineer of Hearstudios in Camden and his wife, Heather.
Erin Nelson, annual giving manager at Maine Medical Center and her husband, Owen Traylor, who is retired from the British Diplomatic Service, shared a drink with Allison and Daniel Poteet of Cape Elizabeth.
Stephanie Lahme, who works in women’s corporate merchandising at L. L. Bean was joined by fellow Bean co-workers and revelers Lindsey Hoehn, Mara Higgins, Julia Durgee and Courtney Roe.
“We’re so lucky that we have a symbiotic relationship,” explained Erin Damon, assistant registrar at the PMA, gesturing to the throngs of people socializing among great works of art. “The staff and the museum work really hard and that’s the only way we can pull off an event like this successfully.”
Her colleague Jessica May, who is curator for Contemporary Art at the PMA, agreed.
“It’s good for us to remember that people come to the museum for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “Sometimes to have fun, and sometimes to find solitude.”
The museum’s newest exhibit, “Fine Lines: American Drawings from the Brooklyn Museum,” actually figured prominently in the tone of the evening’s festivities.
“Every year we try to align the bash with whatever show is open at the time,” said Will Cary, director of leadership gifts and planned giving for the PMA, explaining the nude models posing for artists downstairs in the cafe. “The nudes are some of the most beautiful drawings in the exhibit, so we have two artists downstairs working and two open easels for guests to draw.”
“There has been this great buzz, and the exhibit ‘Fine Lines’ is so easy for people to relate to and congregate around,” said Mary Beth Lorenz, chair of the Black & White Bash and steering committee member, taking a moment to stop and consider the enormously successful party she has organized. “There is mutual admiration for a city like Portland, where we can rally around a beautiful exhibition like ‘Fine Lines’ and an amazing museum like the PMA.”
It was a sentiment shared by everyone.
“It’s great to see people going to a function dressed up and enjoying themselves, making connections and enjoying what the city has to offer,” said Shawn Durost, owner of Salon Paragon on Congress St. in Portland, who was joined by his friend Kristen Ockenfels, manager of Helene m. on Fore St.
“Portland is finding its own niche again,” he went on to say, clearly feeling the exuberance of the evening. “I feel happy, I feel excited, I feel accepted. I feel like Portland just took a step in the right direction. Thank you, Contemporaries!”
For more information on the Portland Museum of Art and the Contemporaries, please visit www.portlandmuseum.org.
Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at: