CARLSBORG — Jeff Becker is always on the lookout for art that will make money.
Then she can give the proceeds away.
For more than two years now, Becker has developed herself as an artist.
She has learned to paint pet portraits and silk scarves, weld garden art, build multicolored aluminum “peeper keepers” SEmD eyeglass leashes — and shape glass into one-of-a-kind accessories.
Becker, 55, does all of this in the name of charity.
She has turned her garage on Maple Leaf Lane into a fundraising gallery where the art generates gifts for six nonprofits across the North Olympic Peninsula.
Follow the small “Charitable Art” sign on Taylor Cutoff Road, 1.75 miles south of U.S. Highway 101, to the red-roofed house on Maple Leaf Lane, and you’re in for an animal-rich experience.
First Becker’s horses, Vinnie and Beanie, gaze at you. Then out comes Quincy the black Labrador retriever, who is the artist’s inspiration.
Becker is an animal lover, and when she conceived the Charitable Art project, she wanted to raise money for the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society, the Northwest Raptor Center in Sequim and Second Chance Ranch, Quilcene’s rescue and adoption center for farm animals.
And Becker has sold a lot of art — her own and fellow artists’ — to benefit those agencies.
But early on in the project that began in July 2006, she realized that not everybody feels as strongly as she does about animal welfare.
So she expanded her stable of donation recipients to include Volunteer Hospice and Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County, Special Needs Advocacy Parents in Sequim and the Peninsula Home Fund.
She’s also looking for venues to which she could bring a traveling charitable art show.
Last summer she took part in Paws in the Garden, Vision Landscape Nursery’s fundraiser for local animal-rescue agencies, and next Saturday, Dec. 6, she and her latest selection of art will return to Vision for the “Girlfriends Don’t Let Girlfriends Shop Alone” party.
Becker’s display of jewelry, pottery and garden art will be laid out from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the Bavarian Christmas-style event, which also features a bonfire and polka music by the Happy Wanderers Accordion Band.
Back in her dining room, surrounded by whimsical images of birds, dogs and other creatures, Becker records, in spiral-bound notebooks, every dollar paid for every piece of art.
“I love statistics,” she said — and now that she’s retired from a long career at General Mills in Minnesota, she has time to manage this wholly new venture.
So far the top four recipients of Charity Art proceeds are Second Chance Ranch, with $1,059; Hospice with $1,205; the Humane Society with $1,244 and the Raptor Center with $1,026.
The selection in Becker’s garage ranges from greeting cards for $3 and fused-glass jewelry for $20 to garden art pieces for $160.
“I’ve got a tremendous inventory out there,” Becker said.
But she won’t drop her prices.
“I try not to undermine the market. I don’t want to be so rock-bottom that I harm artists,” she said.
Becker began her venture in July 2006, when her neighbors, Lost Mountain Lavender owners Barbara and Gary Hanna, invited her to display her work on their farm during the Lavender Festival.
She sold some of her handmade ceramic tile paintings and inspired a commission from the Hannas.
Gary asked her to paint a portrait of their late cat, Wisteria, on a tile.
“I told him, ‘Oh, no I don’t do that kind of thing,'” Becker remembered.
“He said, ‘I think you can.'”
She did create an image of the cat with the luxuriant black and white coat, and the Hannas were delighted.
Becker has been painting pet portraits ever since for people who bring her photos of their animals.
But as Becker has branched out from ceramics to glass, metal and silk, she said she has made not a cent from the sale of her art.
To the other artists whose work sells through her gallery, Becker gives 50 percent of the proceeds.
That’s just enough, she said, for them to buy more materials.
Becker’s friend, Pat Webber of Port Angeles, had always wanted to be an artist, so at age 60 she took a course in fusing glass at Peninsula College.
She has since fashioned dozens of shimmering pendants, earrings and bracelets for the Charitable Art gallery.
“It got way out of hand,” Webber said. “Then Jeff came up with this brilliant idea.”
Webber, now 69, sells enough jewelry to turn around and buy more glass.
And when someone buys a piece at Becker’s gallery, Webber still feels a thrill.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “And it’s nice to know someone’s going to benefit.”
Becker said that, so far this season, traffic into her gallery has been down.
She can only hope that holiday gift buyers will consider her unusual shopping opportunity.
“If people need to buy something, this is a way to get a gift and give to charity simultaneously; it’s a way to stretch your dollar,” she said.
The project multi-tasks in another way: It allows Becker and her friends to develop as artists while supporting local nonprofits.
“I’m not a business,” Becker said. “I’m just trying to pass it on.”
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]