By Heidi Sutton
At 80 years young, it is an exciting time for the Long Island Museum. With a collection of mostly 19th- and early to mid-20th-century art and artifacts, the museum has recently turned its attention to building on its small but growing selection of contemporary art.
Enter internationally acclaimed silver artist Michael Izrael Galmer whose career includes collaborations with Tiffany & Co., Gorham and Lenox, as well as creating his own designs that have been exhibited at museums including the Cooper Hewitt, Renwick Gallery and Newark Museum of Art.
Galmer, who emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1981, specializes in sculpture, jewelry and decorative pieces carved in silver using repoussé, a technique in which metals are shaped and adorned by hammering and pressing the reverse side of the piece. He then decorates the front of the piece using a technique called chasing or engraving.
In addition to enjoying a challenge, the artist, who works out of his studio in Queens, chose to work with silver “because it is identified with both a sense of fineness and the idea of tradition. Of quality, there is no more beautiful material to see, touch or feel.”
Examples of Galmer’s work were first viewed at the museum last fall as part of the Shaping Silver: Contemporary Metalsmithing exhibit. The artist then decided to donate two of the handcrafted pieces, a silver pitcher titled “Hops Blossom Pitcher” and a 41-inch tall silver sculpture titled “Lust for Life,” to the museum’s permanent collection.
A special unveiling and reception was held at the museum’s Visitors Center on April 11. The event was attended by Galmer’s family, friends and the museum’s staff and board.
“Wow, it looks better than in my studio!” exclaimed Galmer as he viewed the display. “I want to thank all the members of this wonderful institution who gave me a chance to share my artwork with all the future visitors to this museum. I am so honored.”
Both inspired by nature, the handcrafted pieces are stunning. The pitcher, designed in the classical style, is adorned with delicate flowers. “My goal was to create something that, when displayed on a table, makes you feel like a garden is all around you,” Galmer explained.
“Lust for Life,” which the artist calls “a speaking sculpture,” depicts a large stone with a small seed that has sprouted underneath and, finding the tiniest cracks in the rock, breaks free, grows strong branches and, as a grand finale, blooms. It is based on the philosophy that good things can come from even the direst circumstances.
“It’s talking, it wants to say something,” said an emotional Galmer in describing this piece. “Life is full of ups and downs. I want to encourage people to never give up … I want them to be strong. I survived, I came here with nothing, and I made something of myself for my family, my community, for America. To be successful you have to be strong, you have to fight. Never give up, ever. Try, try and you will always find an exit from a bad situation. It is important to remain optimistic.”
Both pieces will be prominently displayed in the Visitors Center through 2019.
“The museum is so pleased with this significant gift,” said Neil Watson, executive director of the LIM, after the unveiling. “For the most part, a museum is built over time. This is our 80th anniversary and it started with the generosity of Ward and Dorothy Melville … and how these collections grow is through that generosity and it all comes back to the makers. What Michael has given to us here is so beautiful … our collection is better for this and now we can go in a new direction.”
Joshua Ruff, chief curator at the museum, agreed. “Michael Izrael Galmer has gone through journeys in his life. The Long Island Museum is going through a journey right now. We have, in our 80 years, changed our name on numerous occasions. We were once the Suffolk Museum. We were once a small collection of natural history items and carriages and William Sidney Mount paintings and we have grown to be able to include contemporary art and the future is boundless for us.”
“We’re looking to, in the next 5, 10, 15 years down the road, really growing on what we are but [also] growing in new directions and making this place successful going into the next 80 years and beyond,” he added.
The Long Island Museum, located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors and $5 for students ages 6 to 17. Children under 6 and museum members are free. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.