It’s much more than a place to go to appreciate the work of late artist and painter Joe Reboli.
Located at the former site of Capital One Bank across the street from where Reboli grew up in Stony Brook, the Reboli Center for Art and History, which opened a little more than a year ago, blends a collection of art from the prolific painter with works by other local artists, rotated every three months.
Housed in an A-frame white building with blue awnings, the center has showcased the work of artists including Ken Davies, who was Reboli’s teacher and mentor.
Reboli was born and raised on Main Street, not far from where his name is memorialized.
He and his family had a long history in the area. His grandfather ran a business across the street from where the center now stands, and decades later his aunt worked in the same building when it was a bank.
He died in 2004 at age 58 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Since his death, his wife Lois Reboli had been attending makeshift meetings at coffee and kitchen tables across Three Village with a squad self-identified as The Rebolians, working to make sure Joe Reboli’s story lived on.
“[The center is] hopefully a gift back to the community my husband loved so much,” said Reboli, a former art teacher.
He was on the board of the Three Village Community Trust and Gallery North. When asked by his wife why he attended those gatherings, she said he told her he loved the community and wanted to support it in some way.
“I didn’t really understand it at that point,” she said. “I did after he got sick, and I just really wanted to give something to the community so they would remember Joe.”
As part of the center’s cultural contributions, free talks are given with local artists, and, after a successful musical debut, the center may be the site of future concerts.
Donna Crinnian, a photographer whose pictures of egrets were featured at the center in the fall, called the center a great addition to the community.
“Everybody in the community likes having it there,” she said. “They get a really nice crowd coming in for the speakers.”
Besides Reboli, the idea for the studio gallery came together with the help of Colleen Hanson, who worked as executive director of Gallery North from January 2000 until her retirement in September 2010. She worked alongside Lois Reboli after Joe passed and also helped launch the first Reboli Wet Paint Festival weekend at Gallery North in 2005. Hanson also worked with B.J. Intini, a former Gallery North assistant and executive director who is the president of the Farmingville Historical Society.
“I made a vow that we would do something for [Reboli],” Hanson said. “If we were to find a space, it had to be in Three Village and it had to have a Joe-like feeling. Now, I pinch myself and think, ‘This is so cool.’ We love this community. We want it to be even better and richer for everybody, and I see this as a beautiful upbeat place where people want to be.”
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is credited with helping to make the purchase a reality, Reboli said. He helped the three, self-dubbed the “tres amigas” create a not-for-profit called the Friends of Joseph Reboli, with a mission of collecting, preserving and exhibiting artwork and artifacts related to Joe Reboli. The group filed for federal 501(c)(3) status in 2012.
Reboli had been looking for a suitable place to share her late husband’s work with the public and had been demoralized by a few false starts when she wondered if she would be able to find the right spot.
“If we were to find a space, it had to be in Three Village and it had to have a Joe-like feeling. Now, I pinch myself and think, ‘This is so cool.’”
— Colleen Hanson
It wasn’t until March 2015 when Hanson said she heard of Capital One in Stony Brook potentially leaving the historic landmarked building at a price tag of $1.8 million. Englebright spearheaded securing a $1.3 million state grant that went toward the purchase of the building, and two anonymous $150,000 donations turned the dream into a reality.
“He went to bat to help us get as much funding as we could,” Reboli said of the lawmaker. “He was remarkable.”
She signed the contract Sept. 25, 2015 — her late husband’s 70th birthday.
“It’s everything I hoped for and more,” Englebright said of the center. “I have heard from dozens of people and they are absolutely thrilled that this is a new part of the cultural dimension in our community.”
Englebright said the late artist’s paintings open up a wide range of conversations about the interaction between nature and development. One of his favorites is of three gas pumps in front of a coastal scene on the North Shore.
“He put this scene together that clearly to me is an expression of concern regarding the impact of overdevelopment, on a way of life, and on the beauty of Long Island,”
In its first full year of operation, the center, which is free for guests, has hosted a range of crowds and events. In May, it welcomed a visit from the Commack High School Art Honor Society. In late October, world-renowned cellist Colin Carr, who has appeared with the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Montreal Symphony and is teaching at Stony Brook, performed at a benefit concert.
He said the way the sound worked its way through the building was an unexpected
“When I went in there and played the cello briefly as a trial run, it was immediately apparent that this was perfect for the cello,” Carr said. “It’s always exciting to walk into a new place, whether it’s a room or concert hall or even a church, to sit down and start playing and feel that there’s an immediate rapport between me, the instrument and the space.”
Carr is the one who suggested that the center would be a “wonderful place for a small music series.”
Reboli said she is thrilled with the direction the center is taking and suggested the showcase is far beyond what she had imagined when she first discussed highlighting her late husband’s artwork.
On a Friday in late November, the building hit a high-water mark with about 180 guests in attendance, Reboli said.
“I would have been happy with a wall somewhere,” Reboli said. “This has morphed into something that would have been unimaginable before. Never did we expect to have a place like this. This is a miracle.”