Artists, theater form creative union to help raise money for young athletes | Westerly

WESTERLY — A casual conversation about the hefty costs associated with youth sports has turned into a bidding opportunity for local art-lovers.

“The Cyclist,” a 40-by-52-inch enamel and acrylic abstract painting by Westerly artist William Hewes —  now on display at the United gallery on Canal Street — will go to the highest bidder at the end of the month, with proceeds to be divided among three local organizations; the Westerly Wave Runners girls softball team, the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly and the United arts center on Canal Street.

“It’s a good story about cooperation, creativity and care,” said Annie Pearce of Westerly one morning this week as she explained the origins of the fundraiser, which will “support and unite Westerly athletes and artists.”

It all started about a year ago, said Pearce, whose daughter, 14-year-old Ana, is a catcher for the 16U Westerly Waverunners travel softball team, when she was brainstorming ideas for team fundraisers with Hewes, whose granddaughter, Eden, plays third base for the team.

The cost of uniforms and travel can run into serious money, said Pearce.

“We wanted to raise money for those softball families who needed a helping hand to pay the increases in softball fees,” she said. 

That’s when Hewes offered to donate one of his larger paintings to auction off as a fundraiser for the team.

Hewes, a self-taught artist who uses an “action-drip style” of painting and is inspired by painters like Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko, said he donated “The Cyclist” — a colorful abstract mounted on a custom-made canvas stretcher — on behalf of his granddaughter’s team.

“I said, ‘do what you want with it,'” said Hewes with a laugh one afternoon last week as he spoke about his art. A former house painter who worked in the building trades for decades before deciding to devote his time to art, Hewes painted seascapes and landscapes for several years before settling on abstract artworks “because of the freedom within the genre. “

Pearce said she was simultaneously delighted and stumped by Hewes’ generosity.

“Here we had this beautiful painting by this wonderful artist,” she said. “And I was struggling with how to sell it.”

But she was committed to finding a way to come up with a plan to raise money for her daughter’s team.

“That’s when I knew I needed help,” said Pearce with a laugh one morning last week as she sat inside the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly next to its president, Richard Inserra.

“I’m a rookie,” she said with a laugh. A chemical engineer by training, Pearce said while she does do some painting, drawing and sculpting, she had no idea how to market art but she knew someone she could ask for guidance.

Pearce, a member of the Westerly Anti-Racism Coalition, reached out to fellow coalition member Geoffrey Serra for advice. Serra, a Westerly native and retired educator, had been involved with the installation and curation of “Conversations with African American Art,” a powerful exhibit that had been on view at the cooperative gallery during the month of February and which had garnered much praise and attention.

Serra recommended that Pearce talk to someone at the gallery about how best to showcase Hewes’ piece of art and get news out about the fundraising angle.

“Then all these lovely threads began to weave together,” said Pearce, who reached out to Inserra, an oil painter who is serving as president of the cooperative gallery.

Pearce said Inserra was supportive and enthusiastic and willing to work on a plan for showcasing and auctioning the painting. The two set to work developing a plan, and the idea of sharing the proceeds with the cooperative gallery took root. 

One of the first hurdles they faced was where to place the painting, said Inserra as he walked through the gallery, noting that space was limited on the gallery walls and reserved for members of the gallery. 

“That’s when I reached out to Carly,” said Pearce. “And she said, ‘yes, yes, yes.'”

Carly is Carly Callahan, executive director of the United.

Callahan, in an email on Thursday said the United is “absolutely delighted” to collaborate with Pearce, the Waverunners “and the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly to showcase the generous donation from artist William Hewes.”

“Our collective efforts, including the upcoming auction of Mr. Hewes’ painting, underscore a creative union between the arts, athletics, and advocacy,” she said, noting that the project will raise both funds and awareness of the three organizations.

“This initiative not only highlights the power of community collaboration,” she said, “but also the impactful role of art in catalyzing social progress.”

Waverunners Coach Gerry Auth called the auction of Hewes’ painting “a great opportunity to connect our program with our community partners.”

“The United Theatre continues to support youth programs in the community,” Auth said in an email Friday. ” … and this is another fine example of their creativity.”

Auth said the fundraiser will help support more than 100 local girls.

“We do our best to keep our travel costs down,” he said, noting that fundraisers are held throughout the year to help support the “rec program and travel softball programs.”

“We’re excited to highlight the great work of Mr. Hewes and we’re so very thankful he considered us for this project,” Auth added. 

“The Cyclist” will be on display at the gallery of United Theatre through the end of March. Bids, with a minimum of $1,500, can be made in person at the United, or by contacting Inserra at

More information is available at

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