On an evening so picture perfect it could have been used by Santa Ynez Valley tourism executives to promote the region, the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art held its annual Solstice Sundowner benefit on a ranch in the Ballard Canyon area.
One hundred, sixty-five supporters of the museum, whose mission is to collect, preserve and exhibit the history and Danish culture of Solvang and to promote the arts, attended the event on June 18. According to Executive Director Esther Jacobsen Bates, it set a fundraising record, still being tallied.
"We are very, very good stewards with other people's money," said Dr. A. Art Kaslow, president of the museum's board of directors. "People know that when they donate to the Elverhoj, their money is being used judiciously."
Kaslow isn't Danish but was born and raised in Solvang, and recalled as a child taking art lessons at the Brandt-Erichsen home. It was that building that eventually became the Elverhoj.
“I'm here because the Elverhoj represent my Danish heritage,” explained Hans Gregersen, grandson of one of Solvang’s founders. “It is also one of the best places in the area to see good art.” Gregersen's brother, Erik, was on the Sundowner event committee.
The evening began with ample time for guests to gather, chat, and bid on dozens of silent auction items, while enjoying wine donated by Andrew Murray and Rancho Sisquoc, beer by Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., and passed hors d'oeuvres.
Dr. Ken Hardwood, also on the Sundowner committee, was an active bidder. "You can't win if you don't bid," he joked.
Danish surnames were in abundance at the benefit, but they weren't an attendance requirement. Typical were Paul and Shelly Wallace, who lived in the Valley for many years and now reside in Templeton. The couple makes the drive south every year for the Solstice Sundowner. "The Elverhoj is a wonderful museum and this is a great party. We wouldn't miss it," said Paul. Neither would Ron and Julie Palladino, longtime Solvang business owners who support the Elverhoj simply as members of the community.
Jacobsen Bates was a pro-active host, visiting every table after guests sat down for the dinner portion of the evening. From the stage, she thanked everyone who attended, as well as the Elverhoj board, the Sundowner committee, and volunteers for their efforts in making the benefit a success.
That led into a rousing live auction. With auctioneer Kenny Hollister at the helm, all of the 24 items - predominantly travel, food, and wine-themed packages - sold after competition from multiple bidders. A fund-a-need paddle raise brought in donations from $100 to $2,500 to pay for improvements to the museum's air conditioning and heating systems. An anonymous donor had agreed to match the fund-a-need amount raised.
"With the match, we took in $20,000 for the fund-a-need," said Jacobson Bates. "And overall, we're still adding everything up, but I can tell you we set a new fundraising record."
In deference to the area's drought conditions, the traditional Sundowner bonfire was considerably reduced in size, Jacobsen Bates explained. Her replacement, the Ignite Fire Dancers, more than made up for that in artistry and excitement.
"The Elverhoj is important to the Danes in the community, of course," said Jacobson Bates, "and also to the art community and to a cross-section of people throughout the Valley who support our mission. It was wonderful to see so many of them here."