Society / Featured Parties

The Menil’s New Showcase Fundraiser Unfurls in a Stunningly Rare Afternoon Tea Setting

Everything You Need to Know About the Paper Ball — Houston's New Hot Social Must-Attend

BY // 02.20.19

A few weeks ago, PaperCity had a rare experience: afternoon tea at Richmond Hall — a solitary table set within a luminous installation by Dan Flavin.

Canopy was tapped to cater the beguiling repast, and provided endless courses of tea delicacies including a chocolate offering that nodded to the business at hand.

The occasion for the gathering was both special and purposeful: to chat with The Menil Collection director Rebecca Rabinow, director of advancement Karen Sumner, and the four chairmen who, with their spouses, have the challenging assignment of forging a new fundraiser, Paper Ball, for the Menil, a museum founded by enlightened patrons Dominique and John de Menil considered to be the Holy Grail of the art world.

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The chair couples, Stephanie and Ernie Cockrell, Caroline and Jeremy Finkelstein, Blakely and Trey Griggs, and Bridget and Patrick Wade envision a beautiful seated dinner party that’s subtly edged with surrealism. Wit and inventiveness are encouraged in the choice of cocktail attire, with a wink of fun at the evening’s theme, and possibly mischief in the offing.

Paper Ball is a nod to the freshly opened Menil Drawing Institute; inscribe Thursday, March 21, 7 pm, in your Smythson. The ball — with PaperCity as its media sponsor, how could we resist — will be staged at Richmond Hall, a venue that until now has been the province of a gentlemen’s benefit, Men of Menil.

The gents-only night has been retired, Rabinow noted during tea, in favor of a more equitable pairing of the sexes. The fresh idea for a benefit was born months before /

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A Little History

The director briefed us on the concept of Paper Ball — oh so very Menil-ian — which had its roots in a storied party 83 years ago. Artists Alexander Calder and Fernand Léger were enlisted to create costumes for a Surrealist parade that was at the centerpiece of the original fancy-dress Paper Ball staged at the venerable Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1936.

Some 30 years later, the Atheneum’s fabulous fête returned with the revival of Paper Ball given a mod spin in 1966. Life magazine did a spread concurrent with the bash about dressing in paper, and the evening was also the subject of a special episode of classic TV game show, I’ve Got a Secret.

 (Photo by Allyson Huntsman)
Paper Ball chairs Caroline Finkelstein, Blakely Griggs, Bridget Wade, Menil director Rebecca Rabinow, chair Stephanie Cockrell at Richmond Hall, Menil campus (Photo by Allyson Huntsman)

Table Talk

Flash forward to 2019. While you can’t totally eavesdrop upon our tête-à-tête with Menil director Rebecca Rabinow, and the Paper Ball chair ladies, we can relay its conversational topics began with the singularity of the Menil — its exquisite collections assiduously culled from world history to today, with an emphasis on humanity and human rights; the well-used-by-the community, beautiful green spaces; and collection of buildings, which now number five.

The expanding campus — which was extolled by all at the table for being outside the norm of so many metropolitan museums — features the main Menil building, Renzo Piano’s first in America, joined by the Cy Twombly Gallery, Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum, Richmond Hall, and the enthusiastically embraced new Menil Drawing Institute, now on its second exhibition. Nearby of course is the Rothko Chapel, a separate entity from the museum, and the de Menils’ first collaboration with an artist. The Chapel turns 50 in 2021.

The Menil Drawing Institute, which opened November 3, 2018, has been warmly embraced by the Houston art community and critically acclaimed nationally and internationally for its sensitive, humanistic architecture by Los Angeles firm, Johnston Marklee. (Photo by Laura Matesco)

We spoke of the museum campus as a retreat and sanctuary, as well as an impetus to investigate and collect art, which all the chair couples do. The chairs each revealed a personal affection for the bungalow-lined Montrose neighborhood — its domestic structures, which house museum offices or nonprofits, painted a tranquil Menil gray — and its uniqueness.

The importance of philanthropy and giving back — and why these four very in-demand chair ladies said, “Yes,” was also revealed.

It was the cause you see — so when museum trustee Marcy Taub Wessel rang up each one, she received answers both immediate and affirmative.

All four chairs, joined by Rabinow and Sumner, concurred on leaving many details under wraps — to be unfolded to the surprise, delight, and amusement of guests come March 21, including musical headliner and the Paper Ball’s decor.

One topic, however, was most widely discussed. How to incorporate paper into cocktail attire. Ideas were bandied about: commission an artist, but who? Go to Texas Art Supply or Home Depot (as Rabinow had initially done) to concoct an accent piece from paper that could be made to resemble something else — but that idea was vetoed. Should one seek vintage paper attire online? Or head to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft for ideas and inspiration.

The consensus reached was this one — all costume options are possible.

(This scribe is thinking Pop, placing this frock on the wish list. Perfect, if one considers that the artist’s major patrons were the de Menils.)

The Essentials

Studio Menil Presents: Paper Ball

When: Thursday, March 21, 7 pm to 11 pm

Where: Richmond Hall

Chairs: Stephanie and Ernie Cockrell, Caroline and Jeremy Finkelstein, Blakely and Trey Griggs, and Bridget and Patrick Wade

Notes: Benefitting The Menil Collection; cocktails, seated dinner; entertainment experience; cocktail attire with a surreal touch of paper

Tariff: Tickets $1,250 (limited quantity), tables from $10,000

Contact: Brandon Bourque, 713.535.3160, [email protected]

Principal photography Allyson Huntsman; vintage images courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, and Life magazine. Menil Drawing Institute images courtesy The Menil Collection, photos by Richard Barnes and Laura Matesco. 

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