Santa Barbara Museum of Art Women’s Board president Carolyn Williams, center, with event co-chairs Kathy Weber and Gwen Baker at the 11th “Mystery in Masterpieces: A Mystery Hunt at the Museums” fundraiser. presented by the Women’s Board. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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An exciting evening filled with priceless art and the lure of mystery drew more than 200 art enthusiasts to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for the 11th “Mystery in Masterpieces: A Mystery Hunt at the Museum,” an eagerly anticipated fundraiser presented by the Women’s Board of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The Women’s Board helps raise funds for future acquisitions, educational programs and exhibitions for the museum, including the “Botticelli, Titian, and Beyond: Masterpieces of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums,” running through May 3.

“This is a very special year because this is the year that we’re celebrating with a specific exhibition, ‘Botticelli to Titian, and Beyond,’ and the hunt, the treasure hunt will be amidst treasures from the renaissance, so that will be a great and delightful and magical enterprise for everybody,” board president Carolyn Williams said.

Guests are required to think on their feet and carefully review and look at the art, which is one of the most important features at the museum — providing art for the community.

Cocktails were served in the McCormick and Campbell-Gould Galleries, where the sounds of Santa Barbara Strings filled the Campbell-Gould Galleries.

Santa Barbara Strings is a nonprofit classical music education program with 75 young students under the leadership of artistic director Mary Beth Woodruff. Students learn works by Handel, Bach, Corelli, Holst, Piazzolla and Williams.

Dressed in black tie attire, guests mingled throughout the galleries enjoying fine wine and delicious hors d’oeurvres as the joyful atmosphere grew to a fever pitch in anticipation for the evening’s mystery hunt.

Inside the McCormick Gallery, the treasure hunters gathered for welcome remarks from Larry Feinberg, SBMA’s Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director, and Williams.

“The event is one of those times where you get to come to a museum, and although there is some intellectual challenges in it, it’s mainly an evening of fun,” Feinberg told Noozhawk. “We have this wonderful fellow, Jamie Fleming, who comes in, he’s the clue master who’s come up with these very witty clues and puns and the nice thing about it is it gets people to look really closely at all the works of art and of course this will be one of the last they get because this has been a wonderful show, the show of Italian paintings from Glasgow and so I think everybody likes the idea of having a chance to look very closely one last time.”

Since 1989, Fleming, John Jensen and Gary Krueger have created enthralling lists of clues designed to challenge players to decode the mysteries in the plan of the paintings, and the latest hunt was no exception.

Clue sheets, pencils and gallery maps were provided to assist the quest and solve mysteries within the works of art.

Teams of one or two sleuths competed for the first prize of an original painting by Ralph Waterhouse, a second prize of an original oil painting by Wyllis Heaton and third prize oil painting by Steve Curry.

A lunch for four at the Santa Barbara Club plus four tickets to any 2015-16 season production by the Ensemble Theatre Company were also on tap for sleuths in groups of three or four joined to compete.  

Fleming playfully warned participants that a few clues were sure to be easily spotted, but also advised that the duration of the hunt would indeed be a challenge. Guests were also reminded that knowledge of art was not required, but employing a keen eye while looking at the artwork was essential for solving the mysteries in the one-hour time limit.

The excited individuals and teams quickly scattered across the main gallery, gripping their clue cards and pencils as the tension of competition filled the air combined with laughing and debating as artwork and clues were debated and answers written on clue cards.

At the conclusion of the mystery hunt, players turned in their clue sheets, and after coffee and dessert the crowd reassembled in the lower level of the Mary Craig Auditorium where the mysteries were revealed by Feinberg and event co-chairs Gwen Baker and Kathy Weber during a spirited awards ceremony.

Both laughter and groans filled the auditorium during the slideshow presentation as the answers to each of the clues was revealed.

“Some of the clues are so difficult and so challenging, and even a little too tricky, that often at the reveal at the very end of the evening there are boos, there’s hissing and a lot of wincing,” Feinberg said. “But everybody always has a good time and the food is good and as we say typically we get a big crowd and this time we sold out two weeks in advance.”

Before the Mystery Hunt winners were announced, Santa Barbara International Film Festival Executive Director Roger Durling held a drawing for SBIFF Platinum Passes, also benefiting SBMA.

The audience shared an overall feeling of teamwork and goodwill and guests in the room shared applause when the mystery strode up to the stage to claim their prizes.

The first-place winner for the individual/couple was Carolyn and Don Vogt, and the first-place team winner was Robin and Dan Cerf and Diane and Steve Zipperstein.

Established in 1951, the Women’s Board has donated or raised funds for the purchase of works of art for the museum and also promotes a variety of education outreach programs aimed to enhance art appreciation for families and at risk youths, such as Art in Motion and Homework/Artwork After School.

Click here for more information about the museum. Click here for more information about the Women’s Board.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.