Treasures in heaven
December 11, 2009 · 2:31 PM
About a dozen years ago, Cynthia Sears was moved by a suggestion made by photographer Tom Schworer. Wouldn’t it be nice to acknowledge people for a body of work or an ongoing contribution, offering a cash award that wasn’t attached to a specific work-in-progress?
“We were talking about what it means to be a treasure, that the wealth of a community is its members – and in the work they do,” she said of choosing a name for the award.
About that same time, poet and Bainbridge resident Linda Bierds had just received a MacArthur Fellowship, and Sears was impressed with the integrity with which the winners were selected. In fact, she emulated MacArthur’s double-blind process when she founded the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council’s Island Treasure Award in 1999.
In the highly confidential process, 10 islanders are asked to anonymously nominate up to two people each whom they believe meet the criteria:
• Someone who has displayed an ongoing commitment to a chosen field;
• Who demonstrates a unique vision in terms of the future of that field or of the ways in which the arts and humanities can shape a community;
• Whose work serves as an inspiration;
• Those who encourage others in the community to become actively involved in the arts and the humanities.
Five jurors are invited to attend a meeting to select from the 20 nominees, unaware of who has been nomnated, as well as who the other jurors might be. They are supplied with packets which describe the work or contribution of each nominee, but are never told by whom they were nominated.
This, all in an effort to reduce lobbying and politicking in regard to the selections, common among other prestigious awards.
At stake, of course, is the public recognition, and a $3,000 cash award.
Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the award, Kathleen Thorne and Alan Simcoe were acknowledged. This year, when Sears opened the sealed envelopes with the names of the nominees, she did a double-take. There it was, in black and white – the name of her husband, Frank Buxton.
“I was both astonished and delighted. It never occurred to me that he would be nominated since he’s been so much a part of the awards since it’s third year,” she said. Each year since 2001, Buxton has created video tributes to the award recipients which are then shown at the awards gala at IslandWood.
“I was very careful this year,” Sears said. “The whole process is as pure as we can make it.”
But to be completely objective, she had to admit that he met all the criteria. Plus, the final selection was out of her hands anyway. The five jurors had already received their invitations for the selection meeting. They would decide the final outcome. As it turns out, they took less than an hour to unanimously agree on this year’s two winners.
One of which is Frank Buxton.
When asked by a friend how she might deal with the potential awkwardness, and inevitable questions, Sears said, “It would have been really far-sighted on my part - to create an award so that 11 years later I could finally give it to my husband.”
Sears genuinely delights in surprising honorees with the announcement, often arranging a meeting with them under the guise of other matters.
In this case, at home over a Scrabble board, she spelled out the word TREASURE, showing it to Buxton.
“I said, ‘Yes, that’s spelled correctly,’” Buxton said.
She looked at him, nodding until the idea finally registered.
Though he’s been nominated for Emmy’s and Peabody’s (see his profile below), this one came as a complete surprise.
This time, Buxton will have to step in front of the camera when Sears interviews the 2010 Island Treasures.
Treasure in heaven
In her book, “Treasures in Heaven,” Kathleen Alcalá shares the desires of her protagonist Estela: “Of course her heart ached for all of the happy conjunctions we all wish for – to live out our lives in the place of our choice, with the person of our choice, perhaps to raise happy, healthy children, to hear the birds sing and be greeted with respect by one’s neighbors.”
As a 2010 Island Treasure recipient, Alcalá will certainly have the chance to be greeted with respect by her neighbors.
Graciously, she returns the compliment:
“This island and the people are the real treasures. When I tell people about Bainbridge, they think I am making things up! We love our island home,” she said.
It’s no wonder, really. Alcalá’s writing, described as “magical realism,” often casts a flattering glow on the settings of her stories which deftly weave fact and fiction.
She has won numerous awards – Western States Book Award, the Governor’s Writers Award, a Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Award, a Washington State Book Award, a Foreword Magazine Award, and an International Latino Book Award – but the Bainbridge honor touches her in a different way.
“What’s wonderful about this is it truly is from my peers, from people I see and work with everyday. It is really meaningful,” she said.
Working from her Bainbridge home, she has authored a short story collection, three novels, a non-fiction work, and is currently working on a novel, “Cities of Gold.” A co-founder of The Raven Chronicles, she serves on the board of Richard Hugo House and is on the advisory boards of Con Tinta, Field’s End and the Centrum Writer’s Conference in Port Townsend.
Writer Ursula K. LeGuin once wrote of Alcalá’s work that it “takes readers to a world where one would like to stay forever.” Sounds like heaven.
Sounds like Bainbridge.
Hot dog extraordinaire
Frank Buxton, who turns 80 in February, has been in show business for 60 years. If you include just the 20 year’s worth of Bainbridge credits – cofounder (with John Ellis) of The EDGE Improv group, turns at BPA including “MacBeth” and “As You Like It,” work with Island Theatre, re-enactments of old radio shows, including Orsen Welles’ “War of the Worlds” and recent online antics “Cookusinteruptus” – it’s easy to see why he was nominated. Not bad for a guy who shared the stage with Buster Keaton.
Buxton is, if anything, adaptable. He’s done radio, voice, commercials, theater, stand-up comedy, writing, acting, directing, producing, editing in movies, television, radio, and, now cyberspace. He created, wrote, produced and directed the Peabody Award-winning series “Hot Dog” for NBC-TV, which was Woody Allen’s only television series.
An episode he wrote for “The Odd Couple” was named by TV Guide in 1997 one of the top five best TV segment of all time.
Plus, he made Johnny Carson laugh.
So it could be said that he’s made “an ongoing commitment to his chosen field.” Well, so far, anyway.
If that’s where it ended, he’d be a shoe-in, but then there’s the whole “serves as an inspiration and encourages others to become actively involved in the arts and the humanities” thing.
His mini-documentary profiles of past Island Treasure recipients have been a labor of love and a treasured aspect of the yearly event. He, along with Sears, established the Buxton-Sears Distinguished Patron Award at BPA to bestow recognition to arts supporters. They are contributors to the philanthropic clearinghouse Bainbridge Community Foundation along with a suspiciously Buxtonian “Hotdog” Fund.
Sears, who clearly knows him better than anyone, said he is “one of the most exuberant people I’ve ever known. He just loves sharing his experiences and enthusiasms with others.”