Art Auction 48 got off to a big start Thursday night at the Yellowstone Art Museum with a few hundred people taking in one of the most diverse offerings yet for the annual auction.

YAM senior curator Bob Durden predicted that the wide range of pricing and subject matter should attract new patrons to buy art.

“What I am really excited about is the silent auction,” Durden said. “We’re always keen to introduce the idea of buying art for younger patrons who will appreciate the pricing.”

Billings abstract artist Neil Jussila snickered as he told a patron the title of his 2015 oil glaze on canvas piece.

“The title is ‘Coal Train Haulin’ Ass,’” Jussila said. “I think it matches the painting pretty well, but the fun of it is going to be when the auctioneer announces the title with all those other pieces with subtler titles about the landscape and horses.”

The live auction is set for March 5. YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said she expects to raise enough money at the auction to provide 20 to 25 percent of the museum’s annual budget. Some artists donate 100 percent of the proceeds from their work and others donate 50 percent. More than 100 artists, primarily from the region, have works in the live and silent auctions.

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“We have some new artists from out of area this year,” Peterson said “It’s nice to know the event has developed a reputation outside the area.”

Some established artists, including Billings artist Carol Hagan, are expanding into new materials in works offered at the auction. Hagan’s expressive oil on canvas, “Head Honcho,” took the highest bid in the 2015 auction with its sale for $12,000. This year’s piece, “Equus,” is oil and cold wax on glass. It is appraised at $8,000.

Bozeman artist Ben Pease, who is a member of the Crow Tribe, is making his debut in the live auction this year after his piece, “Ultimate Warriors,” earned the top bid of $1,920 in the silent auction in 2015.

His piece this year, “Bird-in-The-Ground’s Dream,” depicts a Crow chief in an acrylic painting with 24k gold leaf and India ink on canvas. As he looked at the work during the opening Thursday, he expressed regret at letting it go.

“I hope it doesn’t sell because my wife wants to take it home and hang it above the couch,” Pease said.

At press time, two works had already sold in the silent auction, which meant patrons bid 20 percent over the appraised value of the works. Those works were Susan Thomas’s “Pale Umber Gridded Vessel” graphite and gesso on wood panel, which went for $600 and Paul Whiting’s photograph, “Mission House,” which sold for $210.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.