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Artist

Beth Atkinson takes a shot for a future project. Photo from Beth Atkinson
Beth Atkinson takes a shot for a future project. Photo from Beth Atkinson
Beth Atkinson takes a shot for a future project. Photo from Beth Atkinson

By Victoria Espinoza

Northport resident Beth Atkinson reignited her love for creating art thanks to some help from a Northport gallery and since then has constantly found inspiration in the village she calls home.

Currently a permanent member of The Firefly Artists, a gallery in the heart of Northport, Atkinson said she has found ideas and support within her community.

Atkinson grew up on the North Shore and moved to the area after she married her husband Brian, a Northport native himself. An art teacher at Hicksville High School for the past 30 years, Atkinson said she went through a period when she lost herself as an artist because she was so focused on supporting her students’ artwork.

“Sometimes [art teachers] let our students’ needs take over our needs,” she said in a phone interview.

Once she got a home for her work at Firefly, she said it was just the push she needed to refocus.

“It’s kept me on it,” she said. “I’m always trying to change my wall. I now set aside time almost every night to carve blocks or work on a collage. Firefly is my year-long motivation.”

Atkinson creates in a variety of genres and media, including jewelry, paintings and sculptures. The Harvard Club of Long Island recently named Atkinson a Distinguished Teacher of 2016, and she was given honorable mention at the Art League of Long Island Member Exhibition in 2015.

A piece of Atkinson’s work inspired by the sunset at Eaton’s Neck. Photo from Beth Atkinson
A piece of Atkinson’s work inspired by the sunset at Eaton’s Neck. Photo from Beth Atkinson

The Northport resident said all the other artists at Firefly mesh well and present a wide range of talents.

Atkinson has taken her newfound energy and paid it forward with an adult summer program she co-chairs at Great Camp Sagamore in the Adirondacks, through the New York State Arts Teacher Association. That camp has a Long Island connection, as it was a former home of the prominent Vanderbilt family.

“It started out to help art educators renew themselves and come up with new ideas for the classroom,” she said. “It also helps art teachers find the artists they were before they were a teacher. You’d be surprised how many art teachers stop making their own art once they start teaching.”

As for the inspiration Atkinson finds in Northport, she said it’s endless.

“When you take the time to stop and look around you … the other day I had to drive to Eaton’s Neck and all of the sudden I see the most incredible sunset over the harbor,” she said. “We live in a great area for inspiration.”

And it is supportive of artists: “I think we’ve got a great opportunity in Northport — Main Street alone has several galleries. There are more art exhibitions on Long Island than you can possibly go to.”

Art runs in the family for much of the Atkinson clan, aside from a daughter Katie who is dancing to her own tune. Her daughter Lauren teaches art in Maryland, and her son Alex is currently taking photography classes at Northport High School. She said she and her son have traveled together to different spots in the area to take photos and find inspiration.

Latest William Sidney Mount exhibit features 19th-century children at work and play

‘Walking Out,’ 1854, by William Sidney Mount

By Ellen Barcel

Today, youngsters all seem to be tied to websites, texting, apps and more. They’ve got their headphones on and download the latest music. Until recently, children had to make do without electricity. They played games (nonelectronic), enjoyed music (which people had to make themselves) and danced. School didn’t feature “smart” classrooms.

‘Returning from the Orchard,’ 1862 by William Sidney Mount
‘Returning from the Orchard,’ 1862 by William Sidney Mount

While children today have chores, in the agrarian past children’s jobs were very different: They gathered eggs from their chickens, went fishing and trapping and helped hang the laundry out on the clothesline. Gender conventions were stronger then. Girls played with dolls and boys with trains.

To provide a glimpse into early 19th-century children’s lives on Long Island, the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook has opened a new exhibit, “Young Island,” showing a collection of William Sidney Mount’s paintings that depict children’s lives in the years before, during and just after the Civil War.

Mount was a 19th-century Setauket artist who is known for his paintings of everyday life. In an age before the camera, he also did portraits, many of children. “Catherine Adele Smith,” “Maria Winthrop Seabury,” “Young Girl” and “Tutie [Ruth Hawkins Mount]” are all examples of those many portraits, all part of the current exhibit.

Children teased and played around — yes, they were naughty then too, shown in “Mischievous Drop” and “Boys Wrangling,” and they had work to do. “Returning from the Orchard” shows a young girl who has gathered fruit, “Catching Rabbits” shows boys emptying a trap, and “Boy Hoeing Corn” shows a child working in the field.

The idea for the exhibit was Joshua Ruff’s, director of collections and interpretation. “The idea came from the fact that we often have a Mount exhibit, especially during the school year … We’ve never done an exhibit with children before so it seemed like a good fit,” said Julie Diamond, director of communications at the museum.

“It’s an easy theme to recognize for Mount … when you look through the several thousand drawings we own as well as the more than one hundred oil paintings, children play a significant role in both his genre and portraiture. Mount himself was surrounded by children in daily life, living under the same roof as both of his brothers’ large families. He had many nieces and nephews,” said Ruff.

“Children are featured in his work in a myriad of ways — representing innocence, a young nation’s optimism, political points etc. Since this was also a time that children worked extensively on the American/Long Island farm, there’s that element too. Mount is like a fair number of other American artists of the 19th century — Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson and others — who are using children in both allegorical and realistic ways in their work. So it’s a great theme to explore, even in a fairly small exhibit such as this,” he added.

‘Walking Out,’ 1854, by William Sidney Mount
‘Walking Out,’ 1854, by William Sidney Mount

Selecting the works to be included in the exhibit was a challenge. “Choice of the work was not easy,” said Ruff. “There are literally dozens of excellent drawings and paintings that could have been included, but this is our smaller gallery, so space only allows 18 works,” especially since many of Mount’s paintings are large.

Ruff continued, “I wanted to choose a range of both drawings and paintings, so we have five of the former, 13 of the latter. In some cases, these are works that we have not had out in a while — ‘Boys Snowballing,’ ‘Walking Out,’ and a few more have not been on view for some time. In other cases, such as ‘Girl Sleeping’ and ‘Turning the Leaf’ — these are some of Mount’s best-known works, but are usually not interpreted this way. ‘Turning the Leaf’ is also supported in this exhibit by a lovely small preliminary study Mount did for that painting.”

One of the best known of Mount’s works is “Dance of the Haymakers,” which shows workers in a barn dancing to a fiddler’s music. Outside, a small boy beats time to the music on the side of the barn with sticks. A dog lays on the ground and farm tools are propped up against the side of the barn.

“We wanted to show ‘Dance,’ not only because it relates to the theme, but also because it is going out on national loan to the Detroit Institute of Arts next year. One of the most important aspects of this exhibit for us is that we will be able to use it very well with our educational programming,” said Ruff.

Diamond added that the LIM has programs for school groups, one geared for kindergarten through second grade and another for fourth through sixth grade. “Both use the Mount exhibit as the basis for learning,” about American history.

“Also, it is a very good little family show. In addition to the regular labels/text, there are also labels for families. We hope that it will give people a chance to think about a side of Mount that they may not have considered much before,” said Ruff.

While at the LIM, visit some of its other exhibits, including Hooked@LIM, an outdoor exhibit of yarn bombing, the herb garden, “Gilding the Coasts: the Art and Design of Long Island’s Great Estates” and “Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes.”

“Young Island” is scheduled to run through the end of the year. The LIM, a Smithsonian affiliate, is located in Stony Brook at 1200 Route 25A. It is open Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Northport’s artistic identity on display in some businesses

Campari Ristorante restaurateur Danyell Miller stands in front of one of her favorite curated pieces, ‘Psychoblue’ by local artist Michael Krasowitz. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Inside the dimly lit dining hall at Campari Ristorante on Northport’s Main Street, Danyell Miller arranges the place setting on one of the dinner tables and takes a moment to admire the artwork of Michael Krasowitz, whose vibrant paintings adorn the room’s walls.

Miller, the new owner of the establishment, makes her way to the head of the room as the sound of a jazz piano drifts through the still air.

Campari is unlike your traditional eatery; it also doubles as an art gallery.

“I’ve always had a vision that if I ever had a public space, I’d want to include a gallery space for artists,” Miller said. “The first month I had it, I had met an artist, and we had a rotating exhibit of local artists every month. There was always somebody new.”

Campari Ristorante isn’t alone: more businesses on Main Street have been dressing their walls with art than before, according to the Northport Arts Coalition. Some of those stores include The Wine Cellar on Main and Caffé Portofino.

Kristy Falango, an employee of Caffé Portofino, admits to not knowing exactly when the coffee house began curating the work of local artists, but that since the practice began, it’s garnered a lot of attention.

“I just think that a lot of people that live in the community like to come in and see pieces of art that represent our town,” Falango said. “It started bringing a lot more people in.”

According to the barista, town residents have several destinations to choose from when they feel like indulging in the arts. Northport has a tradition of embracing the arts, and the village serves as a hub for local artists wanting to introduce their work to the public.

“Anything in the arts is going to enhance the community, and having art in the storefront is putting it out there. It’s putting it out there to the public,” said Isabella Eredita Johnson, founder and former chairwoman of the coalition.

Established in 1998, the goal of the coalition is to create a vibrant hub for the arts and humanities in Northport. The organization works to “inspire and support artists and to help them make connections with other artists and with the larger community,” according to the group’s website.

“I had kind of rounded up a whole group of people from the various arts and we really spearheaded sort of a cultural organization,” said Johnson, “and of course it was filled with musicians, visual artists, poets and singer-songwriters.”

When Johnson resigned as chairwomen in 2006, the coalition had already made significant contributions to the art community in Northport, including Happenings on Main Street, which promotes local street music and gives musical performers the ability to reach a larger audience, and Art in the Park, a free family event featuring artists displaying their photography and fine art pieces.

Down the block from Campari and Caffé Portofino is Wilkes Gallery. The gallery is a prominent fixture in the neighborhood and specializes in custom framing services and the sale of fine art. The business will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. Its long-standing relationship with fine art publishers gives its owner the opportunity to display and sell the work of renowned artists.

Wilkes employee Linda Frey, who’s starting on her 22nd year with the company, stressed the importance of supporting artists on the local level.

“You’ll come down here in the summer and different artists are set up in different corners painting,” Frey said. “Everybody promotes the locals around here as much as they can.”

In the time she’s been working at Wilkes, Frey admits that she’s seen the local art community change, but believes that Northport’s passion for the arts is still alive and well among young people.

“It seems like even the high school is very into the arts; they promote art there and they do a lot of shows there,” said Frey. “This town is just very big on the arts.”

Echoing that sentiment is Dan Paige, the current executive director of the coalition. He believes that by giving back to the community, he and his coordinators are enhancing the level of opportunity for local artists to receive recognition.

“The major thing is helping artists get their art out there, and then by doing that, we’re serving a purpose of bringing the arts to the community,” Paige said.

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