ATTLEBORO - In the midst of the wind and rain outside, the Attleboro Arts Museum was a warm, lively hub of priceless art on Saturday night during the museum's largest annual fundraiser, the 23rd Benefit Art Auction, during which 178 painting, sculptures and other intricate works found new homes on more than 200 art lovers' walls.

Saturday night's event was a culmination of three weeks of online and paper bidding that began Oct. 11.

Early estimates are that the event will again be successful, as museum Executive Director Mim Fawcett expects the auction to raise $25,000.

Well before the auction began at 7 p.m., patrons were shoulder to shoulder in the museum, admiring the various works of art and feasting on light fare from Morin's Diner.

Some of the vivid colors and subjects had several people at once crowded around the masterpieces. Attleboro resident Jamie Derr, for example, could not resist the artwork's impressive vibes.

"The auction inspires me to paint, just seeing all the different works here," said Derr, who enjoys working with acrylic and oil paints, and takes art classes at the museum.

One particular painting that moved Derr was "O Christmas Tree" by Barbara Corrigan, which featured an old-fashioned family decorating their Christmas tree.

The painting was done with gouache, which is a type of paint that the artist can make opaque or in a watercolor texture.

"It reminds me of how important it is to have a great piece of artwork in your family, and how important it is to pass it down," Derr said. "It's something that's valuable."

In addition to the live auction, there were 120 works of art in the silent auction, such as Michael Alfano's hand-cast resin sculpture of a face on lined notebook paper titled "Imagination," based on a quote by Albert Einstein; and an unsigned, striking oil painting by an unknown artist tentatively titled "Mother and Child."

For Fawcett, the auction is a way of life for months, as planning begins as early as June, which gives her a chance to bond with each and every piece of artwork being auctioned.

"We come to know these pieces so well, and I really love the level of work that was done this year," Fawcett said. "I'm really rooting for all of them ... the artists and donors have given works that they're proud of, and I want to make sure they all sell tonight."

Excitement was barely tempered in the room as the bidding began, with auctioneer Chris Barber of Skinner, Inc. rapid-firing the bids that flew around the room. Within six minutes, five pieces of art had sold, thanks to Barber's speedy selling.

Among them was "Morning Colors," an oil painting by Missy Riley.

"Do I have $60 anywhere? $50, say $60. $60, thank you; $70. $80...$90...$90's bid at $100 now, $90s bid at $100 seated, $90 looking for $100...thank you," Barber began, and only 10 seconds later, the painting had sold for $90.

Headline sponsors of the event were City Spirits, Fine Catering by Russell Morin, Mansfield Bank, Rockland Trust, Sensata Technologies and The Sun Chronicle.

Partner sponsors included Bristol County Savings Bank; Collins, Smith & O'Connor, LLP, and friend sponsors were Bliss Bros. Dairy; Castro, Thresher & Oliveira, PC; McGladry and Willow Tree Farm.

JUDEE COSENTINO can be reached at jcos0719@gmail.com.

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