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Joe Reboli

The Reboli Center for Art and History is located in Stony Brook at the former site of the Capital One Bank. File photo

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.

The Reboli Center is named in honer of late Stony Brook artist Joe Reboli. File photo

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,”
Englebright said.

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
surprise.

“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.”

'Peony' by Joseph Reboli

By Susan Risoli

The poet/artist William Blake wrote of seeing “a World in a Grain of Sand, and a Heaven in a Wild Flower” and holding “Infinity in the palm of your hand, and Eternity in an hour.” The Reboli Center for Art and History will consider the ways different artists see not only wildflowers but landscape in all its elements, through its latest exhibit In Bloom, which opens May 2.

‘Hydrangeas’ by Ty Stroudsburg

The show features paintings by Joseph Reboli and Ty Stroudsburg’s paintings and pastels. Although Reboli was known for classical realism and Stroudsburg works in a more abstract, less representational way, the artists knew and admired each other, said Lois Reboli in a recent interview. “The exhibit will be a riot of color,” she said, as her late husband’s work is presented side-by-side with Stroudsburg’s.

The Reboli Center opened this past fall to preserve the legacy left by Joe Reboli, a well-known painter and longtime Three Village resident who died in 2004. Every exhibit will show his paintings together with work done by someone he knew.

Stroudsburg will show 12 pieces in the In Bloom exhibit. Some are framed oil paintings on paper, others are oils on linen canvas and the rest are framed pastels. Although she and Reboli shared the same birth date (Sept. 25) and a love of landscape, they respond to their environments differently.

Lush abstraction

“The first thing I deal with is color,” Stroudsburg said in a recent interview. “I just love it.” Her slashing brushwork (“people have called it ‘Zorro-esque’”) grew from her abstract expressionist work done in the 1960s. “I love to experiment with what the paint can do,” Stroudsburg explained.

‘Vineyard’s Edge’ by Ty Stroudsburg

When it comes to interpreting light, “I don’t use it in terms of light and shadow. But obviously, without light there’s no color, so it’s there.” Areas of lush color lead the eye around her pieces, as one takes note of the forms and textures Stroudsburg uses to interpret what she called the “natural, unpopulated world.” The result, she said, is “an effort to record the pervasive qualities of places that excited my vision. In this way, hopefully, the viewers of my work will be able to share that vision.”

Stroudsburg is a self-taught artist who started her career as a teacher. “I lasted three weeks,” she said wryly. A 1962 trip to Long Island changed her life. Inspired by the Parrish Museum, Guild Hall and then-rural South Fork, “I got a part-time job in a dress shop, just continued to paint and that was it,” she recalled. Stroudsburg lives in Southold now, where the North Fork’s farm fields and changing seasons “are a big point of takeoff” for her art.

Yin versus Yang

Presenting Stroudsburg’s landscapes alongside Reboli’s demonstrates how artists can see the same subject with different vision, said Colleen Hanson, co-director of the Reboli Center with Lois Reboli and B.J. Intini. In Stroudsburg’s and Reboli’s interpretations of nature, “you have this kind of yin/yang painting of Long Island. Both are known for color and light, but Ty is abstract and Joe used classical realism.”

‘Hydrangea Cottage’ by Joe Reboli

Sunlit vegetables that almost seem to glow from within, spirited hydrangeas staking their claim against the wall of an old cottage, Stony Brook Village blanketed with snow — all are rendered with Reboli’s attention to light and shadow, and his devotion to interpreting the hallmarks of a season.

“In the 1960s, when Joe went to the Paier School of Art, there was a huge abstraction push” in the art world, Hanson said. “Many schools were deviating from a classical education component” but Reboli embraced and excelled in the tradition. In Stroudsburg’s painting, “Ty’s strokes are looser, the composition is looser. Her work has that color field and movement that just engages you.”

Showing Reboli’s art next to the work of other artists gives people “a way to understand how different origins make for different paintings,” Hanson said. “What we’re trying to do is explore Joe’s origins and his references. We show the contrast with painters who were in the same area at the same time, doing the same subject.”

Third Friday talks

The Reboli Center’s monthly Third Friday talks from 6 to 8 p.m. link the local community with its history, said Lois Reboli, while at the same time focusing on aspects of the exhibits.

On May 19, the center will welcome Christina Strassfield, museum director and chief curator of Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, who will speak about “My Life in Museums,” a life and career shaped by art.

‘Peony’ by Joseph Reboli

On June 16, Deborah Johnson, deputy director and director of development at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington and author of a book titled “Joseph Reboli,” will speak about Reboli’s work.

On July 21, Katharine Griffiths, director of Avalon Park and Preserve, will discuss the park’s use of native plants. Reboli’s mother Olga Jicinsky Reboli was born and raised in “a little tiny house” that eventually became the renovated building where Avalon Park staff are headquartered, Lois Reboli pointed out.

Third Fridays are a chance for people to gather for stimulating discussion and “a wonderful, fun evening,” Reboli said. “We’re pretty much packed every time we have one.” The talks are free and light refreshments will be served.

The Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook will present In Bloom from May 2 through July 30. An artist reception is yet to be scheduled. The center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-7707 or visit www.rebolicenter.org

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