She soon realized this was a perfect fund-raising project to fight breast cancer. Members of James' family had struggled with the disease, and she had just helped a close friend cope with the Easter Sunday death of her mother. James soon contacted the Sara Fisher Project (the breast cancer education and assistance powerhouse based in Bend) and the Joyful Bosom Affair was born.
The original goal of the Affair was simple: get women to paint their breasts, press them onto a canvas and incorporate the imprints into a painting. The paintings would then be displayed and sold at the First Friday Art Walk on October 3 as well as the Bend Fall Festival with the proceeds going to the Sara Fisher project.
Four months later, the stats hint that something remarkable has come to fruition. One hundred and five paintings were created for the Affair at 10 separate painting parties. Ninety seven women and men, ranging in age from 18-73, put chest to canvas in Central Oregon and beyond. More than two dozen sponsors signed on, and a Google search lists over 1400 hits. What was billed as a simple - albeit quirky - philanthropic endeavor has exploded into a community phenomenon attracting national media attention
"I called Lenora after seeing a Joyful Bosom Affair poster at Contours Express and asked how I could participate," recalled Kristin Provost. "She told me that to participate, I had to organize a party, invite my friends, she would drop off the supplies and return the next day to pick up the paintings."
At first the request seemed odd to Provost, but soon women were filling her living room ready to create. "I had four rooms in my house where people could paint privately, but in five minutes everyone was running around topless painting each other's breasts," Provost laughed. Skilled artists assisted the creatively challenged, while others lent a hand - or breast - to other pictures, taking the genre of community-based art to a whole new level.
Beyond the giggles, the process for many proved to be extremely cathartic, especially to those who had or knew someone with breast cancer. Provost created a striking tribute to her mother who recently had a breast removed - with her painting of a female silhouette accentuated with a single, yellow breast.
Most would agree that the prevalent emotion experienced was joy. Everyone was excited about raising money and awareness for an important cause. Some celebrated the re-awakening of sleeping creativity, while others enjoyed looking at their bodies in a new, more positive light. "When I saw my painting published in The Oregonian," participant Sarah Green recalled, "I yelled 'Hey, those are my breasts!'"
The subjects of the paintings are surprisingly diverse. There are the expected female forms from minimalist silhouettes to a playful mermaid. Other works transform orb-like imprints into snow-capped peaks, bicycle wheels, alien eyes, and olives resting in a martini glass. Yet some paintings show no obvious signs of breast-impact, including a beautiful painting of a pair of nestling horses defined in broad, sweeping strokes.
The entire collection of framed originals will be displayed Friday night at the Mirror Pond Gallery Plaza, even though the Affair has already pre-sold 6 pieces. "I didn't want to split up the collection - I felt it was important that the community experience all the paintings together," James explained. The asking price for each original artwork is a reasonable $250. T-shirts, note cards, prints, and bumper stickers will also be available for purchase.
Two paintings, however, are not for sale. Provost's simple yet powerful female form accentuated with one bright breast will remain as the poster child - if you will - for the Joyful Bosom Affair. And then there's the original painting. "It was a birthday gift, after all," James admits. "I should probably return it!"
First Friday Artwalk, Oct. 3 Mirror Pond Plaza. Free.