It wasn't for lack of salesmanship on the part of Benjamin Loeb, the executive director of the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra.

"He said, 'I've got a great idea for the 100th anniversary," recalled Mary Decker, a member of Volunteers for Symphony.

But the idea — to have 100 cellos painted by local artists and then auctioned in conjunction with the May 14 concert featuring world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma — didn't set well initially with Decker, who had coordinated a similar, but much smaller, project involving violins four years ago in connection with an appearance by famed violinist Midori.

"I said, 'Do you know how much work that would be?' I thought 14 violins was a lot of work," Decker recalled with a chuckle.

"He said, 'No, we can do this. It's got great potential for fundraising and awareness in the community.' "

The idea, presented to Volunteers members in June, percolated until August, when they OK'd it, followed by approval from the QCSO's executive board and board of trustees.

"There were many hurdles to jump through," said Laurie Skjerseth, another volunteer and retired QCSO education coordinator.

But they were cleared successfully, and the "100 Years, 100 Cellos" project will come to its conclusion Friday with the completion of the online auction and an accompanying celebration at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

Ten of the instruments were auctioned before and after Ma's sold-out concert at the Adler Theatre in Davenport. About 130 people attended a pre-concert party and more than 500 were at a post-concert bash attended by Ma.

The 10 cellos auctioned that night brought in $15,700. Bettendorf woodturner Steve Sinner and Maquoketa, Iowa, oil artist Rose Frantzen's cellos each brought the highest amount.

Two celebrity cellos, one by QCSO conductor-music director Mark Russell Smith and another by pop singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, the sister of Ben Loeb, are featured works in the bidding.

The cellos are available in an online auction at, through the website The online auction will be complete at 9 p.m. Friday.

Money raised goes toward the QCSO education and youth programs.

After the idea was approved by all involved, then came the questions.

"And there was feasibility — could we get 100 cellos?" asked Mary Kae Waytenick, another longtime volunteer. "It was going to be a hard thing to do to get 100 of them."

Loeb had a connection in Cedar Rapids music dealer John Schultz, who helped secure the instruments from a factory in China.

By November, volunteers began making lists of local artists, not only professionals and highly respected amateurs, but also educators of college to elementary school students.

"We sent out about 150 letters to all levels of local artists and asked them to participate and donate all of their time and talent," Decker said.

Sponsors also were sought, asking $1,000 for each of the cellos. Once that was completed, the sponsors had the option of allowing them to be auctioned or to keep them for their own use.

About one-third of the sponsors are keeping their cellos, the volunteers said.

Volunteers Linda Holmberg, who kept track of the sponsorships, and Marie Lindmark, who found places for them to be displayed, were instrumental in the project's success, Skjerseth said.

The cellos arrived in February at the parking lot of Asbury United Methodist Church in Bettendorf, where Schultz met with the artists.

"When they were unloading them off the semi truck, he was giving everyone lessons on how to set strings and how to take them apart," Waytenick said, with Skjerseth adding that Schultz even made a YouTube video as a reminder.

Once the finished works began making their way back to the symphony office in Davenport, the volunteers were delighted with the results.

"Each one would come in and we'd say, 'This is great' or 'This one is greater,' " Skjerseth said.

"They're all special," Decker added.

The cellos will be on display at the Figge from Tuesday  morning until the auction ends Friday.

Despite the initial concerns, the women interviewed — part of the 120-member Volunteers group — view the project as a success from many angles.

"I think it's wonderful the way the whole community has pulled together. The artists, I had no idea we had so many artists," Waytenick said.

"And I didn't know so many people played the cello when they were younger, and some were interested in restarting to play. People have said they'd like to take a beginner's class again," she added.

Despite their artistic nature, the cellos are all playable.

"They're not a high-quality cello, but they would be for a beginner," Decker said. "They'll have to buy a bow, but they will be playable if someone wants an instrument to play more than just a work of art."

Loeb's original goals, they said, were to increase awareness of the QCSO in the community and have a collaboration between the visual art and music worlds.

"I think we really met our mission, met our goals in that respect," Decker said.