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Joshua Ruff

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Joshua Ruff of The Long Island Museum and town historian Barbara Russell at the Longwood Estate. Photo courtesy of Town of Brookhaven

On Aug. 7, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and town historian Barbara Russell visited the Longwood Estate (circa 1790) in Ridge where they presented two historic paintings to Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretation at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, to be added to the museum’s collection as a long-term loan.

The portraits, painted by Shepard Alonzo Mount, were gifted to the town by Eleanor Smith of California. The subjects are William Sidney Smith (1796–1879) and his wife, Eleanor Jones Smith (1805–1884). A year after their marriage in 1823, the couple came to Longwood Estate and raised 10 children. William Smith served as Brookhaven Supervisor from 1829 to 1834.

“These pieces were donated to the Town of Brookhaven, they still belong to the Town of Brookhaven, but they are coming to the museum and will be stored in our collections to be used occasionally for exhibition purposes,” said Ruff in a recent phone interview. “We agreed in taking them as a long-term loan because we believe they really add to our holdings on Shepard Alonzo Mount.”

Painted in the early 1830s, the two portraits were displayed in the house on the property until the last Smith family owner, Eleanor Northrup Smith, sold the estate and moved to California in the late 1960s. The paintings have been stored in a warehouse since that time. 

Albeit a loan, Ruff is thrilled to be able to add them to the museum’s current collection, which includes more than 25 of Shepard Alonzo Mount’s paintings and several hundred of his drawings and sketches, not to mention the enormous collection of paintings and drawings by his more famous younger brother, William Sidney Mount.  

According to Ruff, these particular portraits are unique in that they precede the portrait paintings the museum has, which are from the later 1830s and 1840s. “They were done just when [Shepard] was starting to launch his career as a portrait artist. This was a phase of his career that we hadn’t really documented before. They are valuable in that sense to us,” he said. “They show him beginning to mature as an artist and improve in his skills.”

Robert Moses featured in Fortune Magazine in 1938. Photo by Fernand Bourges/courtesy of The LIM

By Kyle Barr

This summer, visitors to The Long Island Museum’s Visitors Center can enjoy The Land of Moses: Robert Moses and Modern Long Island, an exhibit dedicated to the legacy of the man responsible for the development of many of Long Island’s bridges, parks, highways and more. 

Presenting a major exhibit on Robert Moses meant trying to understand who he truly was, beyond many of the long-held concepts of the controversial 20th-century builder/planner and unelected official.

‘Southern State Parkway,’ watercolor on paper, circa 1930 by Samuel Rothbort. Image courtesy of The Long Island Museum

Though Moses wanted his story to be known through the pages of his own autobiography called “Public Works, A Dangerous Trade,” it was another book, a thick tome titled “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro, that defined his legacy, that of a callous and conceded individual who simply did not care who he ruined in his pursuit of his next, great project.

According to the exhibit’s co-curator, Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretations and chief curator at The LIM, “That became the portrait that Moses spent the rest of his life fighting. He wanted to get things done, and back then the way to get things done was to accumulate power.”

Close to 37 years after his death, Moses remains a controversial figure. In his decades spanning career, he was in charge of cultivating nearly 2.5 million acres of parkland in New York state, building 13 bridges and completing 135 miles of parkway on Long Island. Those parkways, originally intended to be used for “pleasure driving,” now exist as often congested strips of road that connect Long Island’s east and west ends.

Ruff, who organized the show along with Assistant Curator Jonathan Olly, spent the past several months researching and gathering the more than 170 items for use in The Land of Moses exhibit. On display is Moses’ oblong desk and typewriter along with many of the original models used when Moses was in charge of building the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and designing the 1964 World’s Fair along with many paintings, historical photographs and film and audio clips. “What we try to get into with this exhibition is you can go back much earlier in his career and see much controversy, but maybe just not as necessarily at the public level,” said Olly during a recent tour of the exhibit. “He was very press savvy, and he was often able to control the terms of the public perception.”

Moses held sway in multiple unelected positions throughout his reign, from head of the New York City Planning Commission to president of the Long Island State Parks Commission. Ruff said that, at his height, Moses held more power as an unelected public official than most other elected officials at that time.

The “master builder” never shied away from the public space and was quick to get his picture taken with influential figures; and the exhibit shows Moses with many famous people from Walt Disney to President John Kennedy. He wasn’t a man to shy away from controversy either. Quotes from Moses are posted high up on the exhibit’s walls. One reads: “As long as you’re on the side of the parks, you’re on the side of the angels. You can’t lose.” Another reads: “Those who can, build. Those who can’t, criticize.”

Though many perceptions of Moses have been formed from his description in “The Power Broker,” the museum curators wanted to offer a more nuanced, historical view of the man. “His ideas endured — because how do you deal with a lot of people living in a confined space?,” explained Ruff. “They need people to be able to move from one space to another. What about recreation? He was interested in the quality of life for the greatest number of people.”

Though Moses built this lasting infrastructure, he did so sometimes in nefarious ways. Building the roadways as he intended often put the work straight through some poor, yet vibrant, neighborhoods; and while he might have paid to move suburban houses out of the way of progress, he would easily make near-unilateral decision to tear down poor and minority neighborhoods to build his highways.

‘No Exit,’ acrylic on linen, 2006, by Margery Caggiano. Image courtesy of The Long Island Museum

This ties into many allegations of racism that people like Caro have made of Moses. Ruff and Olly said that reality is more complicated. “It’s been a controversial topic in academia,” Ruff said. “Robert Moses, in some ways, undeniably made some racist decisions in his career and his work, such as putting highways through poor areas. His thought process was it cost less to demolish a poor neighborhood than it was to demolish a rich neighborhood, so it would cost less to the taxpayer.”

There are allegations that Moses specifically built bridges along his parkways too low for buses (which were often used by poorer minority communities) from the city to pass under, just so they wouldn’t walk on Moses’ many beaches and parks. The museum curators don’t put too much credence to that claim. “There’s no evidence that states that this was a decision to make it so poor people couldn’t get to the beaches,” Olly said. “The reason really was about aesthetics and economics. What Moses wanted was this idea of ‘Ribbon Parks,’ for use in pleasure driving. Having buses or public transportation on the roads was unacceptable. He didn’t think this was the road that people in 20, 30 years would be commuting to work on.”

Olly added that buses were able to go to Jones Beach, Heckscher State Park and other parks since the beginning, and there are bus advertisements from the time that prove it.

“In many ways, [‘The Power Broker’] was the last word in many instances in a lot of things Moses — it’s one of the best biographies of an American public official ever written, but on this particular argument its on shaky ground,” Ruff said.

Moses’ power declined in the late 1960s. Perhaps his biggest failure was his inability in the 1970s to finalize the building of a cross-sound bridge from Oyster Bay to the town of Rye up in Westchester County. Many locals protested building the bridge over concerns of increased traffic congestion and potential environmental impacts. 

After Caro released his book in 1974, Moses spent the rest of his days contesting the allegations made in the book until his death in 1981 at the age of 92 from heart disease.

Though he remains controversial, Moses made a definite and lasting impact on Long Island. Ruff said that while his public perception changed over time, Moses was the catalyst that really created the Long Island identity. “People like to think about how his career ended — of how Caro’s book changed a lot of the perception about him,” Ruff said. “But he played a leading role in the 20th century, and we wanted to put an emphasis of his work specifically on Long Island.”

Related programs at the LIM

Summer Thursday 

Enjoy a free self-guided tour of The Land of Moses on Thursday, July 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Sample wine and tasty treats on museum grounds. Coolers and picnics welcome. 

Author Talk

Journalist and author Anthony Flint will speak about his book, “Wrestling with Moses:  How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City,” on Sunday, Aug. 19 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Flint will lead the audience on an introspective journey into the battle between Moses and activist Jane Jacobs.  Afterward, visit the Robert Moses exhibition to gain additional insight into Moses’ life and times. This event is free with museum admission.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present The Land of Moses: Robert Moses and Modern Long Island in the Visitors Center through Oct. 28. Museum hours are Thursday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 ages 6 to 17. For more information on ticket prices or for more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

‘Dance of the Haymakers’ by William Sydney Mount, 1845

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Sept. 3, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook presents a delightful treat: a special exhibit titled Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount.

William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was a renowned artist best known for his genre paintings, although he also painted landscapes and portraits. Born in Setauket, Mount lived in Stony Brook and painted many local scenes. A man of many talents, Mount was also a musician (he played the fiddle and fife), composer and inventor, designing a hollow-back violin that he named the Cradle of Harmony.

‘The Banjo Player,’ 1856, by William Sidney Mount, oil on canvas, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

So many of Mount’s paintings incorporate music into the scene, whether it is dancing or playing a musical instrument so it was only natural to “connect his two major passions in life,” according to the exhibit’s curator, Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretations and chief curator at The LIM.

Currently on view in the Victoria V. Costigan Gallery in the Art Museum on the hill, the fascinating exhibit links Mount’s music and art with more than 20 oil paintings, pencil drawings, musical instruments, original compositions and more.

Of course, it is the incredible oil paintings, drawn from the museum’s unsurpassed collection, that take center stage. “Catching the Tune,” “Dancing on the Barn Floor,” “Just in Tune” and the famous “Dance of the Haymakers,” among others, are displayed in all their glory.

The portraits, some of which are over 160 years old, are as colorful and vibrant as ever. “Both William and his brother, Shepard Alonzo Mount, were really great at painting eyes and giving one the feeling like they are sitting in a room across from you,” commented Ruff, who has a fondness for “The Banjo Player.”

‘Just in Tune,’ 1849, oil on canvas, by William Sidney Mount, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

Situated toward the center of the room is a unique music stand that Mount illustrated with sheet music of early American folk tunes including “Dearest Ellen” and a patriotic Fourth of July song. “These musical pieces were popular in the 19th century,” explained Ruff during a recent tour. The stand was designed to accommodate four musicians at a time and Ruff said that Mount most likely used it. “I would be surprised if he didn’t,” said the curator.

Also on display are some of Mount’s compositions including “In the Cars on the Long Island Railroad” and “The Musings of an Old Bachelor,” as well as musical instruments — a tin whistle, hornpipe, tuning fork — which belonged to the Mount family. A piano owned by Mount’s uncle Micah Hawkins sits in the corner. A General Store owner at Catherine’s Market in lower Manhattan, Hawkins composed music and to some extent was an influence to Mount “but his whole family was passionate about music,” said Ruff.

Along with Mount’s personal violin and initialed case, three prototypes of Mount’s Cradle of Harmony are also on view. “It’s nice that we were able to have all three examples of the violin that he designed and we have the 1852 patent design drawing for the first one,” the curator said.

In the background, a video plays several of Mount’s compositions, initially recorded by violinist Gilbert Ross for the Smithsonian in 1976 on its own Cradle of Harmony, tying the exhibit together perfectly.

“It is amazing how Mount was just able to bring music and art together and combine it. Until you have all [these items] gathered in a gallery you don’t necessarily appreciate just how much he was setting a violin down and picking up a paintbrush,” reflected Ruff. “Where one started and one finished is not always clear … nor should it be. It was just this continuing, constant influence and important part of his life.”

Related programs

Art & Music lecture

The Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, St. James will present a lecture on the Perfect Harmony exhibit with guest speaker, curator Joshua Ruff, on Thursday, April 12 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Atelier Hall featuring an early American fiddle performance by Director Kevin McEvoy. Suggested donation is $10. For more information, call 631-250-9009.

Mount tribute concert

On Saturday, April 14, The LIM will host a concert by the Manhattan-based Red Skies Music Ensemble at 2 p.m. The group will bring Mount’s music and art to life through visual imagery and theatrical interpretation of songs from the artist’s own collection. One of the musicians will play Mount’s Cradle of Harmony. Followed by a Q&A. Admission is $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 members and students. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

Hands-On Art

Students in grades K through 4 can take part in an after school program, Hands-On Art, on Thursday, May 3 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. by visiting the Perfect Harmony exhibit and taking inspiration from William Sidney Mount to combine music and art. $10 per child. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount through Sept. 3. The museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children 5 and under free. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

 

‘Lure of the Butterfly,’ c. 1914-15, oil on canvas, private collection

‘My great and absorbing passion is the love of beauty. Beautiful things give me pleasure. As fine art is the application of the principle of aesthetics or beauty, painting has especially appealed to me as an outlet.’

­— Jane Peterson interview with The Garden Magazine, 1922

By Heidi Sutton

After a brief hiatus in January, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook opens its 2018 season with a new traveling exhibition featuring the works of artist Jane Peterson. Titled Jane Peterson: At Home and Abroad, it was organized by the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Conneticut, and was initially on view there from November 2107 to January of this year. The show, which opened last weekend in the Art Museum on the hill, will run through April 22 and will be accompanied by a number of gallery tours, workshops and other public programs.

Jane Peterson sketching on the beach, Jane Peterson Papers, 1907-1981, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Jane Peterson was a modernist painter whose artistic journey provided a vital link between the impressionist and expressionist art movements in the United States. Born in Elgin, Illinois, in 1876, her love of art led her to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and after graduation she studied oil and watercolor painting at the Art Students League in New York City. Peterson went on to have a formidable and successful career as an award-winning artist and was featured in more than 80 solo exhibitions until her death in 1965 at the age of 88. Today her artwork can be found all over the country in various museums, galleries, institutions and in the hands of private collectors. 

For those of you who have never heard of Jane Peterson you are not alone. But her artwork is so extraordinary that the public deserves to be enlightened and that is precisely why this show was created, according to its curator, Cynthia Roznoy of the Mattatuck Museum.

“From the time of her one-person show in Boston in 1909 Peterson exhibited frequently right through the 1950s when she is already in her 70s,” said Roznoy during a recent phone interview. “During the high point of her career from the teens through the 30s she had multiple exhibitions a year. By the 1950s she had one exhibition per year, but that was still a great accomplishment for a woman painter at the turn of the century.”

‘Tiger Lilies’, Mattatuck Museum

According to Roznoy, the idea to create a solo exhibit on Jane Peterson occurred rather serendipitously. While visiting the Liros Gallery in Blue Hill, Maine, in 2013, the director of the Mattatuck Museum, Robert Burns, was immediately drawn to two paintings by Peterson. Intrigued, he purchased one of the works, “Tiger Lilies,” and upon returning to the museum asked Roznoy if she had ever heard of this artist. She had not and after some quick research “we decided it was time to do a show and bring her back to public recognition,” said the curator. 

Jane Peterson: At Home and Abroad brings 85 of Peterson’s incredible paintings together for the first time in over 45 years along with photographs and archives that provide a glimpse into her personal life. An enormous undertaking, the process took two years to complete and included the collaboration of over 30 museums including Hofstra University Museum in Hempstead, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Brooklyn Museum as well as many galleries and private collectors nationwide. 

While researching Peterson, Roznoy was most impressed by how evolutionary and versatile she was as an artist. “What I learned about her is her scope of technique,” she said. “I always admire an artist who evolves — who doesn’t do the same sort of paintings all the time … [Peterson] never stopped learning and she loved to study and to learn from other artists and also she always enjoyed expanding her repertoire … her style, her subject matter, her interests all changed as she developed, professionally and personally.” 

‘Tiffany’s Garden,’ c. 1913, watercolor and gouache on paper, Long Island Museum, gift of the Estate of Miriam Godofsky.
Image courtesy of LIM

The decision to turn the show into a traveling exhibit was an easy one for the curator. “There were a couple of reasons. The first one was our perceived notion that she was an artist who deserved to be better known and one way to do that was to travel it. Another one was after 45 years this is the first retrospective exhibition and it is the first museum exhibition and we felt other museums would be interested in doing so. Once we started talking to other institutions, everyone said ‘Great idea! Why didn’t we think of this before?’ So it was like tapping into that zeitgeist where everyone says yes, time to do it, and we were the ones to get it started,” said Roznoy.

Entering the art museum at the LIM, a lovely portrait of Peterson by Elsie Southwick Clark beckons you to explore the life and art of this American master. Divided into several sections, the exhibit explores Peterson’s early years; her travels to Europe as well as Egypt and Turkey; her home cities of New York, Palm Beach and Glouchester, Massachusetts; portraits of women; her floral still lifes; and the grand gardens of Laurelton Hall, Louis C. Tiffany’s Oyster Bay estate. The Long Island Museum contributed Peterson’s “Tiffany’s Garden” to the show. Preferring to work in oil, watercolor, gouache and charcoal, the artist often combined a few of the mediums together to create colorful, vibrant scenes.

As a whole, Roznoy is personally most impressed with Peterson’s Glouchester street scenes. “I think they are the most enchanting works in the exhibition. They’re just beautifully painted, with very intricate composition.” She also enjoyed investigating the Tiffany garden paintings. “The link was very interesting to me because of Tiffany [and] the fact that he would invite artists to Laurelton Hall and Peterson was one of the artists who painted the gardens.” 

‘Girl with Fruit,’ c. 1914, oil on canvas, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Dale B. Finfrock

“It’s just a great exhibit. We are very thrilled to have it,” said Joshua Ruff, curator at the Long Island Museum during a recent tour. “She’s not a name but boy she was good,” he gushed. “It’s always exciting to do a [solo] exhibition about an artist [that people are not familiar with].” Roznoy agreed, saying “It is every curator’s wish to find an underknown artist and to bring them to public attention and there is that whole scholarly pursuit that is so satisfying.”

An accompanying catalog, written by Roznoy and Arlene Katz Nichols with an introduction by J. Jonathan Joseph and a foreword from Burns, is available for sale in the LIM gift shop or at www.mattmuseum.org. After April 22 the exhibit will travel to the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, South Carolina, from May 13 to July 22 and then head upstate to The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls from Aug. 5 to Oct. 14. 

Roznoy hopes visitors to the exhibit will see Jane Peterson as a conduit to modernism in the early 20th century, gather enjoyment of her work and also experience “a sense of satisfaction in seeing a woman in the early 20th century succeed.”

The Long Island Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, is located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook. The museum is open Thursday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children under 6 free. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Images courtesy of Long Island Museum and Mattatuck Museum

A portion of Sunrise Highway during Hurricane Gloria, 1985. Photo from LIM
Exhibit examines the many facets of dangerous storms

By Rita J. Egan

Five years after Hurricane Sandy hit the shores of Long Island, and as our country continues to recover from recent hurricanes, the new exhibit, In Harm’s Way, at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook delves into the effect such storms can have on communities.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 30, 2012. Photo by Edward Kent

Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, an organization dedicated to preserving local traditions and heritage, curated the exhibit. Through artifacts, hands-on activities, photographs and paintings dating back to the 1938 hurricane nicknamed “Long Island Express” and earlier, Solomon has created various vignettes where museum visitors can discover how residents and government agencies prepared and recovered from natural disasters through the decades.

“It’s really about how we have coped and prepared for storms both on a personal level and on a community level through history up to the present and looking forward,” Solomon said.

The curator said In Harm’s Way is an exhibit she’s been working on for a few years. Before Sandy hit Long Island, she was working on an exhibit about boaters and boatyards and talking to those who worked and lived along the coastlines.

“During Sandy I said to myself these people are going to have to cope with a lot of damage and to think forward to how they are going to prepare for this [in the future] since these storms are becoming more frequent,” she said. “And I thought of that while [Sandy] was happening. Chances are there are things they know that other people might benefit from, as well as things they don’t know that we might learn from that have happened over the last 100 years.”

Solomon, who has a M.A. degree in Folklore and American Studies from George Washington University and is an active member of the American Folklore Society, said the title of The Long Island Museum exhibit came about after talking to a fisherman who explained to her that those who work on the water have many ways of monitoring conditions to get out of harm’s way. “Ordinary people have tremendous knowledge, and we can learn from those things,” she said.

Solomon said one story she was told was about a boat captain who noticed the barometer went down one full point in an hour, signifying a tremendous drop in atmospheric pressure, during Hurricane Carol in 1954. While he used a ham radio to alert other captains to head back to shore, they didn’t heed his warning. While his crew made it back safely to Jones Inlet, the others didn’t. Solomon said the story had a big impact on her.

“That was my first major understanding that there are things that you have to pay attention to,” she said. “You have to pay attention to bird migration. You have to pay attention to fish migration because they are natural warning signs that fisherman are keenly aware of as well as people who live in places like Fire Island.”

A 1938 clock with a watermark from the “Long Island Express” hurricane. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Visitors to the exhibit will find it separated into three sections. The first — Looking Backwards — includes museum objects and items from personal collections from the 1938 Long Island Express to the 1991 Halloween nor’easter. Among the pieces are damaged items from 1938 including a clock that was mounted high on a garage wall that still bears the watermark from the Long Island Express hurricane.

A second section is dedicated to the hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy that occurred in 2011 and 2012 and their impact on Long Island and upstate New York. A featured artifact is a piece of the Long Beach boardwalk. Another piece that is a favorite of Solomon’s is a bay house, built by museum staff member Joseph Esser, where visitors can see what measures one can take to protect themselves when in harm’s way, including the use of bags filled with sand or clamshells.

The last section of the exhibit, Looking Forwards, focuses on solutions such as flood-proof homes and new technologies. There is also an interactive table where museum-goers can build their own home or community, taking into account safety measures for those who live along the coastline.

The museum’s curator Joshua Ruff compared the timely subject of battling storms to how generals and military planners talk about how the last war is still being fought as a new one is starting.

“I think that the exhibition really does a wonderful a job of looking at recent memory and looking at how memories have been guiding experiences for Long Islanders storm after storm after storm,” Ruff said.

Neil Watson, director of the museum, said he is pleased with the collaboration with Long Island Traditions and the exhibit that he said is informative and entertaining due to being visually stimulating. “For our museum to do a show that is focused on Long island and has a global overreach, I think is really terrific,” he said. “It’s what we do. It’s the mission of the museum to have an exhibit of this caliber, especially at this time given what’s happened recently, it’s become almost a timeless problem.”

The remnants of a steeple from the Old Whaler’s Church in Sag Harbor destroyed by the 1938 hurricane. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Watson said the narrative is personal for everybody and the objects included in the exhibit are varied and effective. “They really give you a sense of place,” he said. “They put you in the moment as opposed to looking at a photograph of a house. So, I think in that way it’s a very ambitious installation of the exhibition, and it’s very effective. It’s pretty wonderful in that way.”

Solomon hopes that visitors will think about how waterfront and coastline communities are changing after viewing the exhibit. During her research, she said she learned a lot about the importance of high dunes and how hardening the shoreline may not be the best approach. “I hope they start asking questions of planners and our public agencies about the rationale for doing things and when there might be some better ways,” she said.

The Long Island Museum will host In Harm’s Way until Dec. 31. Special programs include the symposium “In Harm’s Way: Past, Present and Future” Oct. 28, a panel discussion “Learning from our Neighbors” Nov. 12 and the curator’s gallery tour Dec. 3. The museum is located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook. For more information call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

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

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

– Lumen Martin Winter

By Heidi Sutton

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.

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