By Rita J. Egan
The Three Village community is mourning the loss of a champion of the arts. Terence Netter, known by many as Terry, died June 27 at his home in Setauket. He was 89.
The professional artist, professor and once Jesuit priest was born Donald Terence Netter in New Rochelle April 12, 1929. He left the Jesuit order in 1968 and married Therese Franzese the same year. The couple moved to Setauket in 1979, and in later years divided their time between their homes on Long Island and in France.
Netter was the founding director of the Stony Brook University Fine Arts Center, now named the Staller Center, a position he began in 1979 and held for 18 years. In 1984, The Village Times named him Man of the Year in the Arts for his achievements at the center, which included bringing high-quality art, music, theater and well-known musicians to the community. He also helped to create the Friends of the Arts Center.
“Our programming is intelligent and aims for a standard of excellence,” Netter said in a 1984 interview. “We’re not Lincoln Center, but we are in the big leagues of higher education.”
According to his wife, Netter received an honorary degree from Stony Brook University in 2013 which was in addition to multiple degrees he had already earned. Netter had a bachelor’s in English and master’s in philosophy from Fordham University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in studio art from George Washington University.
Alan Inkles, current director of the Staller Center, said Netter gave him a job as theater manager at the arts center in 1983.
“I learned a lot from him,” Inkles said. “He was a great mentor and a great guy to work for, very supportive of everybody.”
Gene Sprouse, an SBU distinguished professor emeritus, met Netter at the university 40 years ago when he served on the board of the Friends of the Arts Center. He credited him with mentoring artists, musicians and art managers, and fostering the acquisition by SBU of the Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton; Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner were both renowned artists.
“Terry Netter has left an indelible mark on the arts community in the Three Villages,” Sprouse said. “As founding director of the Fine Arts Center at Stony Brook, he was instrumental in growing and strengthening the arts in the area.”
Netter was also on the board of trustees at Gallery North in Setauket and was a past president of the gallery. His artwork has been showcased there several times through the years. In 2017 at its annual gala, the gallery named him a “community treasure.”
Gallery North director Judith Levy said Netter was a tremendous asset. “He’s one of the most intellectual people that I’ve ever met,” Levy said. “He was a great mentor, a serious person with kind of a twinkle in his eye and always a good joke or good story to tell.”
Levy said an exhibit of Netter’s work is slated for October at the gallery. She said although his artwork has many facets, while living in France the artist developed a love of the horizon line, and created many renditions of the vista.
Outside of the Three Village area, Netter’s work was exhibited at the Woodward Gallery in New York City, where he has been represented for many years, and galleries and museums in San Francisco, France and more, according to his wife.
Among his many career achievements, he was the director of the Paul Mellon Arts Center at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut, and contributed to the study abroad program for the University of Southern Mississippi at Pontlevoy, France, in the later years of his career.
“Wherever he went he gravitated to any place that was serious about art,” Therese Netter said. “Once he made connections, people just loved him.”
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he would remember Netter as an internationally accomplished artist who lived modestly amongst his fellow Setauket residents. The assemblyman met the artist more than 30 years ago, and for a few years Netter rented studio space in a building that Englebright’s family owns. “He lifted us all with his art and with his very strong sense of place and with his spirit,” Englebright said.
In a June 10, 2017, interview for TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles section, Netter was asked what he wanted art lovers to feel or see when they viewed his paintings.
“I want the viewer’s mind and eye to take a walk beyond the here and now,” Netter said. “I hope that they experience that there is more beyond the horizon — the possibility of existence beyond the reach of our senses, even though we can’t see it. Most of all, I wish that they sense the deep peace that I am trying to evoke in my paintings.”
Netter is survived by his wife Therese, son Dylan and his beloved dog, Pip. A private Mass was held at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan.