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Flowerfield St. James

Janet Leatherwood demonstrates wheel throwing to guests at last Saturday's Open House
Ceramics studio and gallery find new home at Flowerfield

By Kyle Barr

As the potter’s wheel spins, ceramic artist Patrick Dooley plays his fingers along the side of the spinning clay like a harpist does a harp’s strings. The clay forms lips and edges. A thumb pressed clean in the center develops a hole and the lump of clay is slowly turned into an object, something tangible.

“You can turn clay into anything you want,“ Dooley said as his hands grow thick with the wet-brown of the clay. “There’s something about that tactile feel, being in control of that clay, turning it into something, something artistic, something functional. It’s creative.”

The nonprofit Brick Clay Studio & Gallery has finally opened in St. James. The new location at 2 Flowerfield joins others of its kind including The Atelier art studio and The Shard Art Shoppe. After two years of working to get it started, members are ecstatic to see their collective art education center and gallery finally become a reality. 

Patrick Dooley works on a clay piece.

“I feel the universe is on our side, I think we’re destined to be here,” gushed physical therapist and ceramic enthusiast Estrellita Ammirati during last weekend’s Open House as a huge smile stretched across her face. “If you saw what this place looked like 37 days ago … we had nothing, pretty much nothing.”

Many of the artists at The Brick Studio were artists who worked in the basement of Stony Brook University’s Union building, willing to teach community members and students who found their way into their space. In 2015 SBU declared it would be removing The Craft Center from the basement in preparation for the building’s renovations. 

“We were kicked out when the Union closed,” said member and ceramicist Astrid Wimmer.“There were 20 of us who wanted to go on and we had no place to go. So we formed this cooperative. We’re very excited and we worked very hard.”

Laura Peters gets ready to create.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and ceramicist Justine Moody, the group wanted to create their own space to practice their art and commune with each other. They set up a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that had 123 people pledge over $18,000 to the project. The artists caught a break when they learned that Dowling College would be closing and they were able to acquire the ceramic department’s equipment including motorized pottery wheels, kilns and pugmill relatively cheap.

The original plan was to locate the studio in Rocky Point in a brick building near the Rocky Point Farmers Market at the corner of Prince and Broadway, but the group was unable to land the deal. 

“Rocky Point needed to be revitalized and Broadway was really suffering. They wanted something like this in town. A cultural center, not-for-profit, it was going to be bringing art into the community, and the community into art, and we really wanted that,” Vogelle said. “But we really couldn’t buy anything, and they were looking for someone to buy.”

Cat mugs by Russell Pulick for sale at the Open House last Saturday.

When the group settled on the space in St. James, they had originally walked into a barren warehouse-type room. The ceiling’s electric wires were hanging loose from the ceiling, the floor was bare, the concrete was unpainted and there was no counter space or shelving. It took several weeks of volunteer work to bring the space into a livable condition.

“The members are just amazing with their efforts. They’re workhorses, they’re worker bees,” Vogelle said. 

It’s hard to understate how important having a space to practice is to the artists at the brick studio. Stony Brook University Professor Janet Leatherwood had practiced as a child on a pottery wheel at home, some 30 years before she picked it up again when she found The Craft Center at the university. 

“I have a studio at home, so I could still make stuff, but it was such a community, such energy and so much input from other people,” Leatherwood shook her head. “It wasn’t the same.”

Russell Pulick describes his artistic process to visitors.

Longtime studio and production potter Russell Pulick was tasked with fixing many of the machines that were purchased from Dowling, and he said places like this are necessary for the community it provides.

“I have technical knowledge of these machines, and of glazing. Somebody else could probably do it, but it would be a learning process,” Pulick said. “I have most of this equipment at home, but this place is about the people, dedicated people, people who love clay, who love creating.” 

The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery is located at 2 Flowerfield, Suites 57 and 60, in St. James. The studio offers a variety of classes including Portraits in Clay and Wheel Throwing as well as eight-week workshops in advanced wheel throwing, summer camp for children and internships. 

Drop by this Friday, April 13, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. for the studio’s  first Clay Try-Day, a great opportunity to see if working with clay is something you would like to pursue. $30 per person. Preregistration is strongly recommended although walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call 631-250-9530 or visit www.thebrickstudio.org.

All photos by Kyle Barr

County Legislator Kara Hahn and Stony Brook resident Cindy Smith at a Nov. 10 press conference to propose a county initiative for Flowerfield in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local legislators are paying attention when it comes to the concerns of Stony Brook residents regarding the proposed development of a land parcel in St. James.

At a Nov. 10 press conference held on the steps of Smithtown Town Hall, it was announced that Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) introduced a bill in the Legislature asking the county to begin the process of purchasing more than 40 acres of property currently owned by Gyrodyne LLC. The first step is an appraisal of the land, which runs along Route 25A and borders Stony Brook Road and Mill Pond Road. The goal is to preserve the open space, known locally as Flowerfield, while continuing to lease the few older buildings to small businesses and artists currently renting.

The announcement was made a few days before a public hearing regarding the Gyrodyne subdivision proposal at the Smithtown Town Planning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting. On Nov. 13, the bill was approved during the county Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture committee meeting and will be voted on in the general meeting Nov. 21.

“We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

— Cindy Smith

Cindy Smith, founder of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, thanked Hahn, Trotta, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their support. Smith founded the coalition after the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved the conceptual subdivision of the 62 acres of land owned by Gyrodyne at an Aug. 2 meeting. The proposed plan includes a 150-room hotel, two medical office buildings and two assisted living facilities. There is also the possibility of opening a street behind University Heights Drive that would lead to Stony Brook Road.

“We know already what it’s like when development is done and things happen in your backyard,” Smith said of why she was hosting the press conference. “All of a sudden there’s a tremendous amount of traffic.”

The Stony Brook resident said she doesn’t want to see the same thing  occur in Smithtown, or see things get worse in her area. Due to increased traffic over the years from Stony Brook University and the Wireless Center, which borders the Gyrodyne property, she said residents along Stony Brook Road, where she lives, have witnessed 18-wheelers using the street, drivers littering and historical characteristics in the area disappearing. During rush hour, Smith said emergency vehicles have difficulty traveling down the street.

The coalition founder said no traffic studies or environmental assessments have been conducted by the county and there has been no estimate of the impact on the local infrastructure.

“We’re not against development,” Smith said. “We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said if the land is developed it could harm local bays and waterways, and agreed it would overburden roads and increase the dangers of traveling in the area. The hazards of 25A and Stony Brook Road are something she is acutely aware of after being involved in a head-on collision at the intersection in April 2001.

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved,” Hahn said, adding that she asked Trotta if she could take the lead on the bill because she felt it was critical to her district.

Cartright, who was in attendance to represent the Town of Brookhaven and spearheaded 25A-visioning meetings in the Three Village area during the last year and a half, said the main concern of Stony Brook residents was traffic congestion in the area, especially at the juncture of 25A and Stony Brook Road.

“Today there is an alternative that is being presented by our county Legislature and that is to preserve this vital open space,” she said. “And we stand in support of the preservation of this land.”

Englebright said he wrote a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation asking it to deny any application for curb cuts on 25A. He said the town needs to change the zoning in Smithtown. While it made sense for the property to be zoned for business when Gyrodyne tested helicopter blades, the assemblyman said it should no longer apply to the residential area.

“If this proposal is allowed to go forward it will paralyze the communities of Stony Brook and St. James,” Englebright said, adding it would bring mid-Manhattan-style traffic to the area. “It will be like driving a stake into the heart of St. James.”

Gyrodyne could not be reached for comments by press time.

Ralph D. Spencer, Jr.
Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul

Grab your bedazzled jeans and get out your “jewels” for a night of fun with dinner, dancing, raffles, live and silent auctions and more at Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s annual Jewels & Jeans benefit dinner on Wednesday, June 28, at Flowerfield in St. James. The celebratory evening will honor leaders in the community for their outstanding achievements and contributions. All proceeds will be used for WMHO educational programs, Youth Corps and historic properties.

Dr. David B. Paul

 

Live auction items will include: Chef Barrett Beyer from “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Casino,” who will purchase, prepare and clean-up a three-course meal plus wine for eight in your own home; a private, behind the scenes wine tour for 15, courtesy of Pindar Vineyards and the Damianos family, which includes a tour of barrel and tank rooms, production facility and a select tasting of five wines. Also includes a case of specially created “Grist Mill White” wine with each bottle signed by the owners of Pindar Vineyards; “Princess,” “Pampered Princess” and “Pampered Tweens” parties, each courtesy of Blue Salon & Spa. Young ladies will have lunch, manicures, facials, foot scrubs, makeup lessons, makeup applications and much more (age groups apply) and a six-course tasting dinner courtesy of Mirabelle/Three Village Inn in Stony Brook with wine paring for 10.

Brian Kilmeade

This year’s distinguished honorees are Brian Kilmeade, recipient of the Champion of History Award and co-author of “George Washington’s Secret Six” and “Thomas Jefferson & the Tripoli Pirates”; Ralph D. Spencer Jr., president and CEO of Suffolk Federal; Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, professor of medicine and assistant dean for clinical education at Stony Brook School of Medicine; and Dr. David B. Paul of Long Island Anesthesia Physicians, LLP.

Festivities begin with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. Flowerfield is located at 199 Mills Pond Road, St. James. For full information and registration visit http://wmho.org/jewels-and-jeans/or call 631-751-2244.

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