By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
Outlaw Partners is the producer of the Big Sky Art Auction. Outlaw Partners publishes Explore Big Sky.
BIG SKY – Berto Hernandez is a popular man on the last day of the Big Sky Art Auction. He warmly invites patrons over to try on his handmade Western hats in his corner of the Great Tent in Town Center Plaza, where more than 200 works of art have been on display for four days.
In its seventh year, the Big Sky Art Auction brought a diverse spread of more than $1 million in Western art to the heart of town for an event that included a live auction, a silent auction and a speaker series.
This year’s auction saw more than 250 bidders, but steady foot traffic populated the tent throughout the week as visitors came in to enjoy the pop-up gallery as well as speakers from the Collector’s Corner Panel.
The theme of this year’s auction was Collector’s Collecting, aimed at educating and encouraging art lovers to celebrate collectable art.
One of 150 artists represented at the auction, Hernandez, 32, is a third-generation hat maker from Mexico City who now resides in Belgrade. After learning the craft from his grandfather, he traveled to the U.S. to expand his practice into an art form, making hats for films including “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
A few minutes before the live auction starts, a teenage boy and his mom walk up to Hernandez and admire the three hats he’s brought to the auction under his brand Meshika Hats, named for his indigenous roots in Mexico.
“Someone told me that you designed a hat at the Met Gala for some actor, who was it?” the boy asks.
Hernandez tells the boy that he designed a Met Gala hat for NFL quarterback Cam Newton and has made hats for other big names like the rapper Future. The boy seems a little star struck by Hernandez himself.
Hernandez says that while those celebrities put his work on the map, his real passion is sharing his art with people like those mingling their way through the art auction tent.
“They have a lot of meaning in a way,” he said about his hats. “They feel like a super cape. You wear it, you feel different, you feel a lot of confidence in it.”
Hernandez sold two of his hats and the promise of another custom piece later that night at the live auction, where 20 items were up for grabs.
The first item to sell during the live auction was the Manzanita Dining Table brought to auction by World Designs. Adam West from Bozeman was the winning bidder at $1,700.
“It’s a very unique piece,” he said, gesturing toward the 68-by-48-inch table crafted from ethically farmed Indian Rosewood and metal. “You can go to various furniture stores and you don’t really see stuff like that, I thought that was just gorgeous.”
West is no newbie to live auctions and talked about the excitement of the risk involved with real-time bidding.
“There’s a little bit of adrenaline pumping,” he said.
While all the art around the tent exuded a strong sense of place, the works covered a diverse spectrum of art. Categories for this year’s lots included paintings, bronzes, home décor and jewelry.
Each artist also had the opportunity to donate a portion of each sale back to one of seven organizations including the Big Sky Community Organization, the Gallatin River Task Force, the Arts Council of Big Sky, Warriors and Quiet Waters, the Bozeman Art Museum, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Big Sky Bravery.
Ennion Williams, vice president of events for Outlaw Partners, which produces the auction, said community has been a core tenant of the auction. The Big Sky Art Auction is now part of Big Sky’s Biggest Week, a series of events culminating in the Big Sky PBR.
“It’s grown from a very small auction that happened the day of the [PBR] rodeo, to now a four-day event that brings it to the community,” he said. “Being able to host and hold these things right in the Town Center is just amazing for the community to enjoy over four days and farmers market.”
Items that didn’t sell during the auction will be available at their reserve prices in an after-auction sale until Monday. Interested buyers can visit the Grand Tent today until 5 p.m. or buy online until tomorrow, July 18, at 11 a.m.