- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Think Jean Harlow. Think Humphrey Bogart and Adolphe Menjou. For those who have never experienced the atmosphere of a 1940s-style Cabaret Evening, the National Museum of Women in the Arts' benefit was the place to be last Thursday night. The low-key, black-tie fund-raiser featured a jazz trio, cigarette girls doling out packs of candy ciggies guests "smoked" them, for an air of nightclub rakishness and an impressive performance by acclaimed cabaret singer Rosa Lamoreaux accompanied by pianist Betty Bullock.
The elegantly saucy soprano was the highlight of the evening, entrancing the after-dinner crowd with tunes by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Stephen Sondheim ("I'd Never Do Anything Twice") and ending with Billie Holiday's "Blues in the Night."
It may not be surprising that the 200-strong "audience" (who paid $275 apiece to fund the museum's Women in Music concert series) was about two-thirds female. Some brought boyfriends or husbands, but there were also "lots of eligible bachelors," said Ruth Noble Groom, known by one and all as "Baba," who co-chaired the event with Carol Anderson.
The gregarious and irrepressible Mrs. Groom certainly got into the spirit of the evening, wearing a glittery bra nearly concealed by a front-slit blouse. ("I will not go gently into that good night," she joked.)
Partygoers included Tandy and Wyatt Dickerson, Linda Slatkin, Lolo Sarnoff, Mandell and Mary Ourisman and the museum's new director, Judy L. Larson. They joined guests test-drinking Cafe Milano's new and quite strong Milano Martini while strolling through Art Walk, where a selection of 50 works by female artists were on sale. (The artists and the museum agreed to split the proceeds.)
Appropriately, the art displayed was by women but not necessarily about women. The museum generally steers clear of overtly political topics (its current exhibit by feminist Judy Chicago notwithstanding) and focuses upon bringing accomplished but overlooked female artists to light.
"We cast our net wide," said artist and master of ceremonies Bill Dunlap, who noted that the display represented a broad range of styles, mediums and levels of expertise. His own donation, a painting titled "New World Order: Europe in the '90s," by Sue Coe, portrays grim figures in black and white holding Nazi flags. "It's very eclectic," he noted of the $3,000 work. "You can't really hang it in your bathroom."
Meanwhile, Ms. Larson was taking the opportunity to meet supporters. She arrived in September after leaving the top job at the Art Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke and is still getting used to her new post. The director, who also spent about 13 years as curator of American art at Atlanta's High Museum, said she is hoping to reach a point of stability for the museum, which has had a string of reportedly disgruntled directors quit in recent years.
(Some observers said museum Chairwoman Wilhelmina Cole Holladay's reluctance to let go of the reins of the museum she and her husband, Wallace Holladay, founded 15 years ago was at least partly to blame. Others mentioned differences of opinion regarding fund-raising and programming goals.)
"I asked a lot of questions before I came," Ms. Larson said, sounding a note that was both diplomatic and optimistic. "We do have a lot of challenges ahead."

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