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Bucking Tradition at Artomatic

One of several anonymous letters sent to artists exhibiting at Artomatic, signed only "The Benefactor." (Courtesy of Michael Auger)

Days after she unveiled her booth of "cutting-edge pastels" at the annual community arts show that is Artomatic, Jennifer Beinhacker was surprised by an anonymous letter in her home mailbox.

"Your art is brilliant and makes me feel alive..." read the note, wrapped around a single dollar bill: "Please treat it as if it was a million dollars." Signed: "The Benefactor."

"It was a very lovely gesture on somebody's part," said Beinhacker -- who swears she was still charmed even after she learned that a lot of artists got the exact same letter.

Finally! An Artomatic mystery that has nothing to do with this column. In 2007, we were drawn into the saga of "The Collector," who abducted a glasswork by artist Tim Tate and led us on a crazed midnight ransom drop. Last year, two rival "Collectors" left treasure boxes and manifestos addressed to us at the show.

Lenny Campello, of the D.C. Art News blog, says a dozen artists at the eclectic show -- in an unfinished Navy Yard office building -- have received the letters, all postmarked from Dulles. Some gripe that their mash notes turned out to be form letters. Others are fretting over how The Benefactor got their address. Some skeptically parse his message. (I'm worth "every penny"...of a dollar?)

Artomatic board chairman George Koch thinks it's all in the good spirit of the show, where "there's no barrier between the artist and visitor." Another visitor has a tradition of leaving handwritten poems for many of the artists, he said. Graphic artist Michael Auger -- who last year suffered the theft of a $300 piece from Artomatic -- was creeped out at first to get The Benefactor's note. But it's cool, he said: "As long as they're giving and not taking."

By The Reliable Source  |  June 19, 2009; 1:02 AM ET
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