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Joshua Ruff

Children sit in one of the carriages at The Long Island Museum during a school program. Photo from The Long Island Museum

The planning process for a new gallery is about to begin at The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced Aug. 3 the museum was awarded $40,000 through NEH’s competitive grant program. The new interactive gallery will be called “A World Before Cars” and plans include developing a simulation ride where visitors can experience how it felt to ride in a carriage.

“The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage.”

— Lee Zeldin

Zeldin thanked the NEH for recognizing the museum’s contributions of providing a source of art, history and culture to the community.

“Our local history and culture is so important to us here on Long Island, and The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage,” Zeldin said in an email. “The Long Island Museum presented a strong application for this grant when compared with other applicants, and as such were able to get through the rigorous NEH selection process.”

The NEH is an independent federal agency that was established in 1965 and provides grant funding for museums, archives and libraries to promote excellence in the humanities in the country. Zeldin was among the congressmen who voted to fund the agency at $149.8 million this year, which was an increase of $1.9 million from 2016.

Funding organizations such as this is important to Zeldin.

“Our museums, libraries, art galleries, archives, and other related venues serve an incredibly important purpose, and it is imperative that they remain supported through initiatives like these,” the congressman said. “Long Island has a unique and cherished history unlike any other, and securing grants like this for our local institutions is integral in preserving our distinct heritage and attracting visitors to help our local tourism economy.”

Neil Watson, executive director of The Long Island Museum, said in a phone interview he feels the future gallery is the missing element at the museum.

The director said they submitted a proposal in 2016, and while they weren’t awarded a grant last year, they were able to rework and resubmit the proposal for 2017. He said the grant was awarded for the planning necessary to construct the gallery, and the museum will apply for another grant through the NEH to implement the plans. Additional funds will be raised to supplement both grants.

“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year.”

— Neil Watson

Watson said the proposal was one that needed time to be honed as the new gallery will incorporate history, interactive features and is object-driven.

The director said the concept for interactive elements was a result of requests from visitors to the museum, which features carriages from various eras. 

“What visitors have told us often … is they want to know what it’s like to ride in a carriage,” Watson said.

The director said the planning period will take approximately a year and the gallery will be located on the lower level in a 2,500 square foot space. While they have held preliminary meetings with the architecture company Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, future meetings will include historians, curators, and they will also approach the plans from the educational and public access angles.

“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year,” Watson said.

Joshua Ruff, director of collections and chief curator, will be part of the planning process and said he was pleased when he heard the news about the grant.

“I think it’s a terrific thing,” he said. “NEH has been very instrumental in the process to renovate the carriage museum.”

The curator said the planning committee will be taking a long, meticulous look at the proposed plans for the gallery that he said will be rich in content. He said a simulation ride will give museum guests the opportunity to choose the type of horse, carriage and ride they would like to experience and feels it will add a new dimension to the museum.

“I think it will help us to connect with a new, larger audience,” Ruff said. 

Watson and Ruff said the gallery will incorporate displays to show the direct correlation between cars and carriages, too.

“[A carriage] was the car before there were cars,” Watson said. “Everybody used it for industry, for everyday life, to get to one place to another. It was like a car. So we want to make that connection through a variety of activities.”

For more information about The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Watercolor study of “Steeds of Apollo” for the Apollo XIII insignia. Photo courtesy of Alex Katlan
New exhibit at The LIM showcases a modern-day Renaissance man

By Heidi Sutton

‘I always thought I was born under a certain star because I’ve been lucky my whole life.’  

– Lumen Martin Winter

Lumen Martin Winter (1908 —1982) was an American public muralist, sculptor, painter and mosaic artist for more than 50 years. His most famous works are displayed at the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapels in Colorado Springs, at the AFL-CIO Headquarters and the National Bank in Washington, D.C., and at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Lincoln Center and the United Nations in New York City.

Through Sept. 17, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will present an exciting new exhibit titled Lumen Martin Winter: An Artist Rediscovered in the Art Museum on the hill. The exhibit, which includes 90 of Winter’s works of art along with photographs, letters and audio tapes, was made possible through a major donation by Alexander Katlan, a conservator for the museum, who began to collect artwork from the Winter family estate in 2015. Additional items are on loan from private collections and other museums.

“This is the first [solo] exhibition on this artist in a museum setting,” said Director of Collections and Chief Curator, Joshua Ruff. “Winter had been featured in other museums in small ways as parts of other projects; but this is the first time there has been a full-scale retrospective study of this artist in any museum anywhere.”

‘Mission’ by Lumen Martin Winter

Divided into several galleries, the diverse exhibit explores Winter’s art and career from his early works as a cartoonist at a newspaper and as a student in art school, his years spent in Europe, time spent out West in the 1960s and his final years in New Rochelle. Display cases further showcase Winter’s work as an illustrator of books and magazines, stamps and medallions, including one for the Apollo XIII lunar mission.

“Lumen Winter was a name that I didn’t know a few years ago,” said Ruff during a recent guided tour. “This is a guy that made his bread and butter on public art commissions. These were projects that were done all around the United States — a lot of them were centrally located around the New York Metropolitan area.”

According to Ruff, “many of Winter’s biggest commissions and biggest projects were large-scale murals.” As a result, much of the artwork on view at the museum are preparatory works. For example, the large colorful mural that greets visitors at the entranceway to the exhibit is a preliminary corner panel for “The Fisherman,” a 14- by 28-foot mural on view at the HSBC bank in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, at the corner of Avenue U and 17th Street.

Winter’s favorite artist was Leonardo da Vinci and his mural replica of Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” which is the same size as “The Fisherman,” still hangs in the South Dining Hall at the University of Notre Dame. In the exhibit, a recurring video plays next to a colored print of “The Last Supper” in which Lumen describes his process in re-creating the famous work.

Ruff spent many hours researching and planning the exhibit in chronological order, visiting many of Winter’s murals in areas in and around New York, Washington, D.C., and even interviewing members of Winter’s family. “Many of Winter’s works were untitled, often not dated, so there was a lot of detective work” that needed to be done, said the curator.

Lumen Martin Winter in front of ‘Venus of the Lakes’ at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, 1961. Photo courtesy of The LIM

According to Ruff, Winter started his academic career at the Cleveland Academy of Art and trained at the National Academy of Design and Grand Central Art Academy. He lived in New Rochelle from the late 1950s until his death in 1982 and had a studio in lower midtown Manhattan as well as out in Taos, New Mexico, for many years. “As a New York area artist, he was connected to the New York and Long Island artists that we have in our [museum] collection and knew them well.”

Winter did 13 different public commissions for public schools in New York City including “Voice of the Bell” a reference to the Verrazano Bridge, which was commissioned for a school on Staten Island. Some were marble sculptures but most of them were mosaic murals for the entranceway of the schools, said Ruff. Winter was also commissioned to do a lot of lobby work for the Sheraton Hotels across the country.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog that documents Winter’s works including what still exists and what is gone. Said Ruff, “We documented in the catalog all the projects that [the museum] had good details on. Unfortunately there are many that are gone or were moved elsewhere.”

For Ruff, creating an exhibit on an artist where most of his large significant commissions are gone or are in places that are hard to get to and see was a challenge. “What we have is the design work, the reference work, but then also what we really have is paintings that show his skill as a watercolorist and as an oil painter that he was doing for the love and joy of doing the art — without a profit motive.”

Winter once said that he had an intrinsic feeling that he could do anything. Scanning the exhibit, it is incredible how that statement rings true. It seems as if whatever medium Winter tried he mastered, including watercolor, red conte, gouache, graphite, oil, ink, charcoal, bronze and marble. There are incredible landscapes on one wall, abstract art on another and portraits on yet another.

Preparatory works for massive sculptures are also on view including sketches and designs for the Kansas State Historical Society’s “White Buffalo” marble sculpture, which depicts a Navajo Indian on horseback with a buffalo. This was Winter’s final commissioned piece and he passed away before finishing it. His son William, working from the designs of his father, saw the statue to its completion in 1983.

“I don’t think that people even realized in Winter’s lifetime how much he had really accomplished,” said Ruff, adding “Hopefully this exhibition and the catalog we’ve reproduced is a start and I’m hoping that continuously going forward this museum and other museums will be able to do more about him in the future, make more discoveries and that we’ll be able to connect him to other artists. It’s been a great journey so far …”

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Lumen Martin Winter: An Artist Rediscovered through Sept. 17. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

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A photo in ‘Kings Park’ of a family at a clambake on the Nissequogue River, which is present-day San Remo, circa 1900. Photo from Joshua Ruff

By Jill Webb

Before it was Kings Park, the suburban hamlet in Smithtown was known as St. Johnland, a utopian Christian community founded as a haven for poor members of the Protestant working class and orphaned children.

In the newest installment of the Images of America series, you can learn all about the history of Kings Park — which just celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016.

The co-authors of “Kings Park,” Smithtown historian Bradley Harris, the Director of Collections and Interpretations at the Long Island Museum Joshua Ruff and the Executive Director of the Smithtown Historical Society Marianne Howard came together and selected more than 180 vintage photographs to be featured in the book, along with captions detailing the images relevance within the history of Kings Park.

Howard set aside time from supervising the day-to-day activities at the Smithtown Historical Society to contribute to the book and said it took two years to compile images.

She noticed in her research that most small, American towns all underwent the same transformations from colonization to industrialization. The unique aspect to every small town is the people and resources they contribute which Howard said is what is highlighted in the book.

“I hope that the people from Kings Park see people and places that they know in the book,” Howard said in a phone interview. “That’s what they should be excited about — seeing how their own community transformed the history here in this part of Long Island.”

The book’s chapters are titled St. Johnland, The Kings Park Psychiatric Center, Early Kings Park, Churches and Schools, and Building Modern Kings Park. The book’s authors divided the chapters based on personal interest and selected the photos collaboratively.

Ruff, who has been a consulting curator for the Smithtown Historical Society for over 10 years, said the image-centric format is an “immediately accessible and terrific way of connecting” with the community of Kings Park and those who are interested in its history.

But Howard, Ruff and Harris were not the only ones putting in the research — the community was also able to participate. The authors said they were grateful to receive private collections of photographs from residents that are featured in the book.

“When we thought that we were finished with what we had, other people were coming forth with their photographs that had something a little bit different that we wanted to share with everybody else,” Howard said. “What’s great about Smithtown is that many people have a strong connection to the town and have lived here for either their whole lives or are third or fourth or fifth generation Smithtown residents.”

In completion, the authors “really felt like it was a good balance of architectural and social history,” Ruff said.

One section Howard finds particularly interesting displays how the wave of immigration brought on by the Kings Park Psychiatric Center shaped the town, along with how the town dealt with — and is still dealing with — the after-effects of its closure in 1996.

The caption a photo of the hospital’s Building 93 describes it as “now obsolete, unsafe and a magnet for vandals.” It goes on to describe the building as a “decaying symbol of a past age,” which makes residents wonder when the buildings on the grounds will finally be demolished.

Howard noted Kings Park has received funding for downtown revitalization. The proposed plan hopes to reshape Main Street by initiating “the economic strength of the community and provide a center of activity for residents to enjoy,” according to the action report prepared by Vision Long Island, Inc., the group hired to create the revitalization plan. The action report said the fate of the psychiatric grounds has yet to be determined.

“I think the community has grown enormously over the last 100 plus years and the book really shows how it’s evolved,” Ruff said. “The community has grown into this large multi ethnic suburban community that now has plans in place for major downtown changes in the next couple of years that will help to continue the changing evolution of the place.”

LIM senior curator Joshua Ruff, center with red tie, stands in front of ‘Fishermen’s Mural’ by Lumen Martin Winter with members of New York City’s Salmagundi Art Club after the tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook welcomed members of the Salmagundi Art Club last Saturday morning to view its latest exhibit, Lumen Martin Winter: An Artist Rediscovered. A guided tour of the collection was led by the museum’s senior curator Joshua Ruff followed by a live jazz performance and lunch in the Carriage House Museum.

Lumen Martin Winter was an important American public artist for more than 50 years, with major murals and commissions at the United Nations in New York and the AFL-CIO Building in Washington, D.C. In the late 1960s, he was chosen by NASA to design the official insignia for lunar missions Apollo 13 to 15. After his death in 1982, Winter’s name became as obscure as some of the fading frescoes produced in the prime of his career. Now, for the very first time in a museum setting, his work is being reappraised with new light being shed on this prolific but not fully appreciated artist.

The exhibit, which features 90 works of art from paintings to sculpture, runs through Sept. 17.

A watermelon-shaped minaudiére with crystal rhinestones and onyx details by Judith Leiber, 1991. Image from LIM

By Ellen Barcel

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook is busy putting the final touches on a stunning new exhibit, “Brilliant Partners: Judith Leiber’s Handbags and the Art of Gerson Leiber,” which will be on view from Feb. 24 to June 4.

Julie Diamond, director of communications said, “One of things we wanted to stress is that this was a real partnership, right from the beginning.” Diamond noted that of the nearly 200 items on display, the purses “have been paired with the paintings, not matching, but you can see the inspiration there.”

The museum is known for its large costume collection, so the exhibit was a logical choice. “We’ve been thinking about doing an exhibition about the Leibers for a couple of years now. It’s such a fascinating and multilayered story, and I think it was an interesting challenge … not simply to explore two very different creative figures, but to consider their influences upon one another over the course of their marriage and their careers,” said Joshua Ruff, museum director of interpretations and collections and exhibit curator.

Tiffany-inspired minaudiére with dragonfly pattern and sodalite lock, 1992, by Judith Leiber. Image from LIM

The Liebers have been married over 70 years, having met while he was a solider in World War II, she having avoided Nazi persecution in Europe. Judith’s early training in making handbags was the result of her having a traineeship at a handbag company in Europe.

After the couple married and moved to the U.S. Judith Leiber began her designing career working for Nettie Rosenstein (1913-1975), fashion designer, in New York City. Rosenstein was known for the famous “little black dress,” a fashion piece that every woman must have. An award-winning designer, she was often copied and, as a result, had a major impact on women’s fashion in the first half of the 20th century. In addition to dresses, she was known for designing accessories, such as purses.

In 1963 Judith Leiber started her own company. Her handbags — 130 of them — will be part of the Brilliant Partners exhibit. Some are referred to as chatelaines, small purses usually hanging at the waist from a belt or sash. Some are minaudiéres, small decorative handbags without handles or a strap, essentially clutch bags. Her elegant bags have been carried by many stars, first ladies and have walked the “red carpet.”

Many of her works are fashioned after animals — a polar bear, a penguin, an elephant’s head. Some are inspired by natural objects such as the purse that resembles a slice of watermelon, while others are more abstract in design such as the purse inspired by a painting done by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Some were inspired by Fabergé eggs. She even designed a feminine interpretation of a briefcase for a successful businesswoman.

Gerson Leiber, an American abstract artist, was born in Brooklyn. He is known for his award-winning, brilliantly colored paintings, 50 of which will be on display in Brilliant Partners. While many are oils, he also works in watercolors and produced many woodcuts, etchings and engravings.

‘The Simple Swagger of Spring,’ 2014, oil and graphite on linen by Gerson Leiber. Image from LIM

In addition to his paintings, Gerson Leiber is also a sculptor and designed the gardens around The Leiber Collection, a gallery in the Hamptons they built to display their work. The gallery is open spring through fall.

In addition to her purses and his paintings, a portrait of the couple done by one of Gerson Leiber’s teachers at the Art Students League in New York, Will Barnet will be on display. Barnet remained close to his former student and did the portrait in 2000 as the couple were each nearly 80.

There are two museum programs related to the exhibit. On March 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., senior conservator from the Smithsonian, Sunae Park Evans will explain the process of conserving textiles and costume pieces. Afterward, participants are invited to view Brilliant Partners, including the one-of-a-kind bag Judith Leiber designed for former first lady Mamie Eisenhower.

Senior Tuesday will be held on Tuesday, May 9 from 10 a.m. to noon when those 62 and over are invited to tour the exhibit, free of charge. No reservations are required and groups are welcome. In addition, the museum is sponsoring a bus trip to The Leiber Collection in the Hamptons on June 5. Call the museum for details and reservations.

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The Art Museum will reopen to the public on Thursday, Feb. 23; “Brilliant Partners” opens on Feb. 24. Hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org for further information.

The wedding of Marcia Lawrence, a descendant of Richard Smythe to Verne LaSalle Rockwell, an army colonel in the 11th U.S. Calvary during World War I, in 1910. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

By Rita J. Egan

Benjamin Newton’s wedding vest and his wife’s slippers, 1854. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
Benjamin Newton’s wedding vest and his wife’s slippers, 1854. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

Romance is in the air at the Smithtown Historical Society. The organization is currently hosting the exhibit Smithtown Gets Married: Weddings Past and Present at the Caleb Smith II House.

Curator Joshua Ruff said the exhibit, which examines the changes in wedding traditions throughout the centuries, presents a universal theme that provides the historical society the perfect opportunity to display some of its collection pieces that the public may not have seen before.

“The story and topic is one thing, but if you have the objects and the photos and the clothing that really can do justice to the story, then you have the making of a good exhibit,” the curator said. Ruff said the society has a great number of wedding-oriented artifacts in its collection, and among the pieces on display are items that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Items from 1854 include a wedding vest of Benjamin Newton, who ran a livery service, and wedding slippers worn by his wife Ellen.

A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

A wedding slipper from 1755 belonging to Martha Smith, who was married to Caleb Smith I, the original owner of the home located on the property of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, is also featured. “It’s pretty amazing that it survived,” the curator said.

Ruff said the historical society borrowed a couple of artifacts from the Smithtown Library including the wedding invitation of Bessie Smith and architect Stanford White, who designed the second Madison Square Garden as well as local structures including All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Stony Brook and Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham.

“It’s a small gallery, a small space, so I think it’s always good for us to have a little gem of an exhibition, something that has a few really great artifacts. You also have to realize that you can’t do a great, huge elaborate exhibition in the space,” Ruff said.

Marianne Howard, the historical society’s executive director said, “I think the exhibit is beautiful. One of the reasons why we were excited about the exhibit is because we wanted to have those partnerships with community members and with other organizations like the library who have a collection that is deep in this history, in this topic in particular,” she said.

In addition to the small artifacts, the exhibit features seven dresses from different periods. Gayle Hessel of Kings Park donated a 1980s wedding dress worn by her daughter Mary in 1985. “This is the kind of thing that people save and at a certain point after handing it down generation after generation, they start to think, ‘Well, what do I do with it now?’” Ruff said.

Two of the wedding dresses on display at the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society
Two of the wedding dresses on display at the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Historical Society

The curator said the gown by Laura Ashley has the princess style that was popular during the era due to Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding. “It’s timeless. You can tell it’s modern because of the material, and the overall look, and how low cut it is, but at the same time it really is this throwback, and it just looks great,” he said.

On the same side of the room as Hessel’s dress is one from 1882 worn by a Julia Strong. Ruff said it features a lace filigree neckline, and the dress is so small, it looks a child wore it even though the bride was 23 years old when she married. Ruff said he first attempted to put the dress on a regular mannequin, then a child’s mannequin, but finally had to carve a form for it. Ruff said it’s a perfect example of how people were smaller in the past, and the tight bodices and corseted waistlines worn in those days, too.

While at the museum, visitors can watch a 2½-minute video featuring wedding announcements of Smithtown residents in 1961. Ruff said it’s interesting to see the choices couples made as far as venues before the big catering halls of today. He said he chose 1961 because “the video is just a good way of returning to one moment in time, a moment that’s both long ago to feel like history, and maybe modern enough also to have some relevance and connection to people that come to see the exhibit.”

Howard hopes with the exhibit that attendees will not only learn about local history but also realize they can contribute to future exhibits, when they see the artifacts that are on loan. “I want people to learn about the history of Smithtown and the history of Long Island as well. And, I also want people to know that this is a place where they can have a say and have an impact and be a part of something bigger, and that’s what we’re really trying to do,” she said.

With the historical society’s museum located at the Caleb Smith II House on North Country Road slightly north of the Smithtown Library, Ruff said he hopes library patrons will take a few minutes to visit the museum adding, “They can step right next door and see a wonderful little exhibit with really unique little treasures that they’re not going to see anywhere else.”

The Caleb Smith II House, 5 North Country Road, Smithtown will present Smithtown Gets Married: Weddings Past and Present through Nov. 29. Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, call 631-265-6768 or visit www.smithtownhistorical.org.

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