It’s like a scene out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Unassuming white wood doors swing open to reveal boxes stacked upon racks that seem to stretch forever. Thirty-foot-tall walls of industrial shelves hold dozens of identical wooden circular tables, across from refrigerator-sized crates filled chest-high with shoes. A hundred feet away, a man in a back-support belt quietly pushes a cart stacked with mattresses down the center aisle, turns a corner and disappears.
Somewhere inside this dusty archive of wood, cloth and steel just south of Maitland, Holly Mass found another masterpiece, piece-by-piece. The Las Vegas-born, Orlando-based artist has been coming here since 2010, finding trinkets and oddball parts to turn into eccentric furniture for charity.
“There have been a lot of chairs over the years,” she said. “Some even crazier than mine, I’m sure.”
Inside the warehouse in the back of The Mustard Seed of Central Florida is where Southern-style dowel-backed dining room chairs turn into skeletal homages to Dia De Los Muertos, where another unassuming seat becomes a wooden business suit and red power tie reposing in the corner of a conference room.
It’s where the ingredients to a successful fundraiser come together to help families get back on their feet again.
One day, Mass stumbled across a post on Craigslist asking for artists who could turn furniture into something beautiful, or maybe a little weird. The Mustard Seed was looking for creative volunteers for the first time. Chairs 4 Charity was being born.
“I thought that sounded awesome,” she said.
The idea is simple: Artists donate their talent and use it to transform furniture, then The Mustard Seed holds a big auction-night party to sell it all off. Other not-so-artsy items are donated for a silent auction too. The money that comes in goes to helping furnish homes and donating clothes for needy families rebuilding their lives.
The first year started with a bang, with plenty of artists.
There were a lot of chairs that first year,” said Mustard Seed Development and Marketing Coordinator Teaonca Haddock.
And the auction has continued to grow ever since. Last year, that amounted to more than $25,000, Haddock said. That can help fill a lot of homes, she said.
For five of those last seven years, Mass has been in the business of adding flair to chairs. This year, she did something a bit different, creating a piece for an entryway.
It’s called a hall tree, a waist-height cabinet with a 6-foot-tall back on it, with hooks and shelves to hold purses, keys, etc. The coffee-stained backing on this one looks a bit off until Mass points it out; it’s made out of wooden outdoor window shutters.
“The shutters are straight out of the 1980s,” she said. She found them in a friend’s dad’s house. “They told me ‘just get it out of my house.’”
Metallic flowers gild the sides, while iron hooks hang underneath. She started it in February, alerting friends on Facebook with a photo of her collection of parts.
“Can you see my vision?” she wrote. “This is gonna be a good one!”
This year’s Chairs 4 Charity theme is “Art Goes Green!” and features eight Central Florida artists, including Mass, Marla E, Amber Clore, Jessilyn Park, Sara Berlin, Dixie Taylor, Maricruz Ortiz and Pegi Brock.
The day they reveal them is almost here. And just like last year, the artists will be there to see their work go up on the auction block. Friday night at the Sheraton Orlando North, the gala opens its doors to guests who will indulge in food, wine and live entertainment from the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Mass will be there too, to shake the hand of whoever gives her hall tree a new home.
Chairs 4 Charity auction night gala
WHEN: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, April 7
WHERE: Sheraton Orlando North, 600 N. Lake Destiny Drive, Maitland.
INFORMATION: mustardseedfla.org or (407) 875-2040
Contact Isaac Babcock at