One of the biggest moments of the night at the Yellowstone Art Museum’s annual auction Saturday wasn’t a big sale, but an announcement.

The YAM’s executive director Robyn Peterson, her voice cracking a bit with emotion, announced that the museum has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, an honor that only 2 percent of art museums in the U.S. achieve.

The announcement drew a standing ovation from the crowd of several hundred people attending Auction 48 at the downtown museum.

“Once you choose to grace your walls with an original piece of art, there is no going back,” Peterson told the capacity crowd.

Up for sale Saturday night were 177 works of art by 161 regional artists. 

At 9 p.m., Carol Hagan's oil and cold wax on glass, "Equus," was the highest selling work in the auction, going for $7,250. 

Before the live auction opened at 7:30 p.m., Ray Hunter’s watercolor of a bison titled “King on His Throne” took the highest bid of $1,050 in the silent auction.

Billings artist Connie Dillon posed for a picture with the buyer of her acrylic on canvas, “Looking Back, Shining, Forward.” The buyer, Rob Walla, said he and his wife, Dawn, were viewing the works in the silent auction separately, and they both chose the painting of seven marbles.

“There is one spot in the living room where we always take our family pictures. That’s where we’ll hang it,” Rob said.

Billings artist Ben Steele wasn’t at the auction, but his small watercolor landscape “Almost Hidden” sold for $900, which was above the $750 appraised value. It was sold long before bids closed on Saturday. Steele, who is in his late 90s, painted the work in 2015.

Billings artist Kira Fercho’s impressionistic oil, “Out Within,” took the highest bid for the fifth year in a row in the Quick Draw portion of the the auction. The large painting sold for $3,250, followed closely by Ben Pease’s painting of a bison, which sold for $3,100 in the Quick Draw auction. Pease's painting, "Bird-in-the-Ground's Dream," sold for $6,250 in the live auction.

The two were in a friendly competition earlier in the day, and Pease said when he showed up with a large canvas, Fercho switched out hers for an even bigger one.

"It's always exciting for me to see how it turns out," Pease said.

The auction is the YAM’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Artists donate 50 to 100 percent of the proceeds of their work to the museum. The eight Quick Draw artists all donated 100 percent of the sale of their artwork. Other Quick Draw artists include Brooke Atherton, Jennifer Eli French, Rede Ballard, Louis Habeck, Mike Caskey, and Robert Tompkins.

Billings artist William Anderson’s “Rocking Chair #5,” designed in maple sold for $3,600, which was over the appraised value of $3,400. Anderson donated 100 percent of the proceeds to the museum.

It's a benchmark for artists to be curated into the auction. Bridger artist Dana Zier said that even more than being honored, though, having her work in the auction is her chance to support her favorite museum.

"The Yellowstone Art Museum is such a big part of Billings and Montana. It's the greatest museum in the state," Zier said.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.