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Melissa Arnold

By Melissa Arnold

Did you ever have an imaginary friend or enjoy playing dress-up as a child? If so, then you’ve likely had an alter ego – another side to your personality or self-perception. Some people with alter egos share them openly with the world through socializing, music or writing, while others keep that “other self” a closely guarded secret.

Allison Cruz, executive director of the Mills Pond Gallery in St. James, is constantly dreaming up unique and fresh ideas for exhibitions.

“My personal belief is the gallery is here to serve the art-going public, and my goal is to grow the art-going public. We do a wide variety of exhibits to give people a chance to connect with something of their interest,” she said in a recent interview. “This is a new generation of young artists, and how people view and access art is changing.”

The idea for Cruz’s latest exhibit, Transformations: Figures of Our Other Selves, came as she contemplated how young people today have embraced the concept of an alter ego, from multiple Instagram accounts for different facets of their lives to different personas in music and media. The subject intrigued the director, who said alter egos can be seen as dark and hidden or common and ordinary.

Around 10 exhibits are showcased at Mills Pond each year, roughly half of which are juried. Juried exhibits are curated by a guest juror who examines each entry for its artistry and how well it fits the chosen theme, ultimately selecting his or her favorites for exhibition.

“We all think about ourselves in different ways and sometimes consider what we’d rather be like,” said Transformations juror Carol Fabricatore, who lives in Westchester County. “A lot of us have an image of that perfect self or other self. It’s so fascinating to see how artists see themselves.”

Transformations marks Fabricatore’s first time serving as a juror, but she brings with her a lifetime of experience in creating art and spotting artists with great potential.

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Fabricatore has spent the past 25 years on the Visual Essay faculty of her alma mater, where she also assists with admissions decisions. All the while, she has produced fine art and illustrations for newspapers, magazines, advertising firms and more. Her work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions across the country, including at Mills Pond, where she met Cruz in 2017.

“One of my favorite places to draw is Coney Island, and so I was a part of a Coney Island-themed exhibit Allison had curated,” Fabricatore explained. “She was so easy to talk to, genuinely curious and enthusiastic about my work. She asked right away if I would consider coming back sometime to jury for her. I took great care with my selections, but the process was so much fun.”

Fabricatore pored over digital images of artists’ submissions for the exhibit for more than a week before narrowing the field to 34 artists and a total of 47 pieces created with a variety of media. Each artist portrayed transformation in their own unique way, including representations of animals, masks, transgender people and angels, among others.

Cruz said she was initially apprehensive to pursue the theme but was thrilled with Fabricatore’s selections.

“I know this topic is out of the ordinary for a lot of artists. But I’ve been amazed with what I’ve seen,” she said. “We have reflections of how these artists see themselves at a deeper level. They have a lot to say, and as I read the artists’ statements and learn more about them, I’ve been so impressed with their willingness to share a different part of their personality.”

Northport artist Margaret Minardi is no stranger to alter egos. In fact, she’s seen her own alter ego every day in the face of her identical twin sister, Ellen.

One of Minardi’s submissions, titled “Twins Lost II,” is a colored pencil drawing of two sisters quietly sitting next to each other on a wooded path, their poses mirror images.

“For me, my sister has always excelled in the places where I struggle. We fill in each other’s gaps,” said Minardi, a retired high school art teacher. “[Ellen is] literally my other self. It was an easy subject for me to explore.”

As juror, Fabricatore still has one more job to do. She’ll choose first-, second- and third-place winners to receive awards at the exhibit’s opening reception on Aug. 17.

“As a whole, this is a really strong exhibit because there are so many different takes on the theme, and people are represented from all ages and all over the country. It’s a powerful, deeply personal show and it’s going to be fascinating to see the work all hung together,” she said.

Transformations artists include:

Bill Brunken (PA), D Brian Burns II (Brooklyn), Sarah Cameron (WA), Lisa L. Cangemi (Mineola), Nan Cao (NYC), Maureen Ginipro (Smithtown), Donna Grossman (FL), Alley Horn (Brooklyn), David Jaycox Jr. (Northport), Melanie Kambhampati (Whitesboro), Kathee Shaff Kelson (Stony Brook), Devin P. Kish (MA), Bruce Laird (Port Washington), AnnMarie LeBlanc (PA), Yuke Li (Brooklyn), Linda Louis (S. Huntington), Maria Gabriella Messina (NYC), Sarah Miller (VA), Margaret Minardi (Northport), Roni Murillo (Valley Stream), Anne Darby Parker (SC), Sean Pollock (Stony Brook), Adelyne Rizzo (PA), Jennifer Scuro (New Rochelle), Tod Seitz (OH), Eileen Shaloum (Long Beach), Scott Sherman (NYC), Steven Sherrill (PA), Michael Spencer (Manhasset), Matina Marki Tillman (CT), Yuta Uchida (MN), Nicholas Valentino (North Babylon), Dominique Vargo (MD) and Holden Willard (ME).

Transformations: Figures of Our Other Selves will be on view at the Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James, from Aug. 17 to Sept. 14. An opening reception, featuring many of the artists, an awards ceremony and light refreshments will be held on Aug. 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. The gallery is open to the public Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. For further information, visit www.millspondgallery.org or call 631-862-6575.

Mark Freeley with Storm
Facebook video reaches over 20 million worldwide

By Melissa Arnold

Two years ago, a peaceful walk down by the water in Port Jefferson brought 15 seconds of fame to injury attorney Mark Freeley and his English golden retriever, Storm.

You might have read an article about Freeley and Storm in the New York Times or People magazine, or maybe you’re one of more than 20 million people who saw the pair’s dramatic viral video online.

Storm made a splash in 2017 when he spotted a fawn struggling to stay afloat in the waters of Port Jefferson Harbor. 

Freeley, who lives in Stony Brook, walks at least five miles each day with the retriever and his younger adopted “sister,” Sarah, a mixed breed. On a steamy July morning, they headed to Harborfront Park and Centennial Park in Port Jefferson where they spent time walking along the shore and then started heading to Pirate’s Cove. Suddenly, Storm, who was off-leash, made a beeline into the water. 

Storm is well-disciplined and rarely takes off so suddenly, said Freeley, 55. He recalled being puzzled by his dog’s behavior at the time. 

“Storm never brings anything back to me, not even a tennis ball. So it was weird to see him run off into the water,” he joked. “I grabbed my camera and wanted to see what he was doing, and then I noticed an animal’s head bobbing in and out of the water. Storm hesitated for a minute and looked back at me like, ‘What do I do now, Dad?’ I tried to encourage him and keep him calm.”

Storm swam roughly 100 feet from shore and tenderly grabbed the fawn by the scruff of its neck before bringing it back to dry land. Freeley’s video captures the stunning rescue as he continually cheers, “Good boy, Storm! Bring it in!”

Frank Floridia carries the deer out of the water on July 16

When he reached the shore, Storm nervously let go of the fawn, which ran only a few paces before collapsing with apparent exhaustion. The video ends as Storm gently paws and nudges the animal with his nose in an attempt to revive it.

Many people are unaware of what happened next: Freeley took a close-up video of the male deer and attempted to send it to Frank Floridia at Strong Island Animal Rescue League in Port Jefferson Station, but spotty cell service hindered the call for help. Freeley had no choice but to leave the exhausted animal behind and head back toward the village.

Once Freeley picked up a cell signal, he was able to send the video to Floridia. Together with co-owner Erica Kutzing, Strong Island responds to calls involving injured and abused animals in emergency situations. They’ve rescued dogs, cats, possums, deer and a variety of other animals, sometimes performing several rescues in a day.

Floridia met Freeley in the village, and the pair headed back toward the cove. The trip takes around 20 minutes on foot and is full of slippery, rocky terrain. Kutzing drove to nearby Belle Terre, which provides faster access to the cove.

It wouldn’t be an easy task.

“We went back to the spot where the deer was left, but he got spooked when he heard us coming and actually ran back into the water again,” Floridia said. “We tried to get Storm to retrieve him a second time, but he wouldn’t go, and the deer became distressed — he was probably 100 feet out at least. I knew we either had to go get him or he was going to die.”

Floridia and Freeley waded out into the water, flanking the deer on each side. They attempted to reach for him, but he continued to avoid them. Finally, he grew tired and Floridia was able to secure the fawn with a rope, bringing it to shore. 

Their initial assessment found that the fawn had cuts and scrapes, was infested with ticks and severely dehydrated. Kutzing took the animal to STAR Foundation in Middle Island, where he was promptly named Water and underwent rehabilitation for several months. He was ultimately released back into the wild with a clean bill of health.

Erica Kutzing prepares to transport the deer to the STAR Foundation in Middle Island

“We think he must have come down the cliff in that area, and there was really nowhere else for him to go. He had no choice but to swim,” Floridia explained. “Deer are good swimmers, but this fawn was only a few weeks old. He was so exhausted that he didn’t even put up a fight.”

Storm’s brave rescue graced local and national headlines for several weeks. But Freeley wasn’t ready for their story to end.

In his spare time, Freeley and his family volunteer with Last Chance Animal Rescue based in Southampton. The 501(c)3 charitable organization rescues animals from high-kill shelters in the Carolinas and Georgia on a weekly basis. Upon arrival on Long Island, the animals spend a week with volunteer foster families before being adopted by their new owners. 

“Mark came to us as a volunteer leading adoption events and also offering us pro bono legal support. Once Storm had a following, people would come out to events just to see him and take pictures with him,” said Judith Langmaid, director of adoption for Last Chance Animal Rescue. 

“We couldn’t believe it when the video blew up. We thought it was crazy, but it was so exciting. As it got traction, Mark wanted to do anything he could to promote Last Chance and animal rescue in general. He said, ‘If I can use this for good, I want to do it.’ He’s genuine and dependable. We’re so grateful to have him,” she added.

Freeley began to use Storm’s Facebook page, called Good Boy Storm, to promote Last Chance events and animals in need of adoption. “I saw this as an opportunity to raise awareness for other animals fighting for their lives in kill shelters,” he said. The page has helped connect many animals with forever homes.

“There are very few things in life that you can watch make an immediate difference like this. To see a family come in and adopt an animal that would have been euthanized is a great feeling,” Freeley said.

To learn more about Mark Freeley and Storm, search for Good Boy Storm on Facebook. To learn more about animal rescue efforts in our area or to adopt, visit www.lcarescue.org or call 631-478-6844. Strong Island Animal Rescue League can be reached at 631-403-0598.

Photos from Mark Freeley and Frank Floridia

Model Jean Patchett wears a Hulitar gown in 1952 for fashion magazine Vogue. Photo by Francesco Scavullo.

By Melissa Arnold

Before Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors became icons in the fashion world and a fixture of department stores everywhere, there was designer Philip Hulitar.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Hulitar was designing distinctively tailored and elegantly decorated cocktail dresses that were worn by the likes of Jane Fonda, Rosemary Clooney and Patty Duke. In 1949, a journalist wrote of him, “The star of a gifted designer has risen recently on the fashion horizon.”

Hulitar developed a passionate following on Long Island, where he lived and gave generously in support of his local community. So it was only fitting to host the first exhibit dedicated exclusively to his work and legacy at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Titled Gracefully Chic: The Fashions of Philip Hulitar, the show opens in the museum’s Art Museum on the hill on July 27 and runs through Oct. 20.

Curated by LIM’s Deputy Director and Director of Collections & Interpretation Chief Joshua Ruff, the exhibit has been years in the making, beginning with a single dress. The yellow silk chiffon gown with a green sash and floral accents was purchased at Henri Bendel in New York circa 1955 and was worn by Carolyn Fell of Nissequogue during her teen years. It was donated to the Long Island Museum in 1998. 

Ruff has included the dress in a few other exhibits over the years and always wanted to know more about the man who designed it. 

“This exhibit is unique in its dedication to a single designer. He’s never truly gotten his due in a museum project before, especially on this scale,” he said. “There are a lot of museums that have one or two Hulitar pieces in their collections, but to have the opportunity to gather so many pieces in one room is really special.”

Born in 1905 to a Hungarian diplomat and an Italian noble, Hulitar immigrated to the United States during the Great Depression. For 18 years, he worked as chief designer for the Bergdorf Goodman department store before launching his own brand in 1949.

Philip Hulitar dress, Museum of the City of New York

“Philip Hulitar’s work really evokes mid-20th century America. He was tremendously successful during that specific time in history,” Ruff said. “All major cities carried his label, from large department stores to small boutiques. In postwar society, parties and social events were hugely popular, so having several elegant dresses was a priority. Hulitar’s pieces were accessible to people in middle and upper middle class who needed fine evening wear at prices they could afford.”

Hulitar gained a reputation for his creative use of different materials, complex and elegant textures, and mixing synthetics with traditional fabrics like silk and satin. While he liked to employ a variety of cuts and silhouettes, Ruff said that Hulitar was very conscious of how a particular look would fit each person. 

“At his core, Hulitar was about making the feminine form even more beautiful,” Ruff said.

Gracefully Chic will include original drawings from Hulitar, along with apparel and dresses borrowed from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and a variety of other public and private sources. 

In all, the exhibit will display 45 garments and more than 100 objects and images. 

The Long Island Museum also benefits directly from the generosity of the Hulitar family. In 2016, the museum received a large monetary donation from the Hulitar Family Foundation, and the museum has since named its textile collection after them. The Mary and Philip Hulitar Textile Collection houses more than 10,000 objects, from a 1790s wedding dress to a pair of Jordache jeans.

Visitors to the exhibit will also have the unique opportunity to visit the “interactive dressing room,” an area designed to resemble an early 1960s department store. There, they can try on a Hulitar replica in various sizes. Velcro panels make it easy for the dress to fit over regular clothes, and visitors are encouraged to take pictures and show off their style. 

Those looking to explore fashion at a deeper level will want to join the Long Island Museum on Sept. 26, when they host Behind the Runway. This special dinner will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the museum and will feature guest speaker Madelyn Shaw, textile curator at the Smithsonian American History Museum. Shaw will speak on the development of American fashion in Hulitar’s era.

“I think people love to see fashion exhibitions, especially with such an interest in retro fashion today,” Ruff said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for people out here on Long Island to come and see these pieces in their backyard, without having to go to New York City.”

Gracefully Chic will be on view at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook from July 27 through Aug. 25. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students 6 to 17 and college students with ID. Children under 6 are admitted for free. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

 

By Melissa Arnold

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is bringing out its disco balls and bell-bottoms this summer as it kicks off its 2019-20 mainstage season with “Saturday Night Fever.” 

The high-energy musical delivers all the 1970s hits and fashion that’s made it a beloved classic for more than just baby boomers. The musical is based on the famous 1977 film of the same name that rocketed John Travolta into stardom. The film was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks, and the North American version was written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.

Directed by Richard Dolce, “Saturday Night Fever” is the story of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old ladies’ man from the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. It’s 1977, and Tony is restless, working a dead-end job in the shadow of the Verrazzano Bridge and dealing with his family’s scathing disapproval. It doesn’t help that his brother Frank Jr. is a priest, making Tony even more of a black sheep. 

All of that fades away on the weekends, though, when Tony escapes to the local disco Odyssey 2001 to show off his skills on the dance floor. He’s got real talent and sets his sights on winning an upcoming dance competition that could be his ticket to a more fulfilling life.

Tony is quickly frustrated with his overeager dance partner, Annette, who’s more interested in winning a trip to his bedroom than a dance competition. To Annette’s chagrin, Tony is drawn to Stephanie, a lovely yet guarded dancer he meets at the club. Stephanie reluctantly agrees to enter the contest as Tony’s partner on the condition that it’s strictly business. But their passion at the disco is unmistakable, and romance is hard to resist. 

While it’s difficult to compare anyone to John Travolta, Michael Notardonato makes the role of Tony seem effortless. A newcomer to the Engeman, Notardonato has also played Tony elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad — he was even nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Musical by the Connecticut Critics Circle for a past performance of the show. Notardonato’s silky vocals and expert footwork are a treat to take in.

Annette (Andrea Dotto) and Stephanie (Missy Dowse) are in contrast throughout most of the show: One is bold, the other withdrawn; one is full-on Brooklyn, the other tries to forget her roots. Both Dotto and Dowse are great dancers with strong vocals; newcomer Dotto tugs on the heartstrings with a powerful rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” while Dowse’s multiple duets with Notardonato (“100 Reasons,” “What Kind of Fool”) are where she really shines.

Also at the heart of “Saturday Night Fever” are Tony’s knucklehead best friends who are prone to making bad decisions, including some that change their lives forever. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore and Casey Shane act like they’ve known each other forever. They play well off of one another and have no trouble getting laughs out of the crowd while also drawing empathy in the show’s darker moments.

The standout work for this show goes to the ensemble and orchestra — after all, it’s the soundtrack and dancing that drive “Saturday Night Fever.” Chris Rayis leads the band in foot-tapping, dance-in-your-seat favorites from the Bee Gees, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “Boogie Shoes” and “Disco Inferno.” The ensemble’s dance numbers, including “Jive Talkin’” and “Night Fever,” are among the best in the show. 

Dance captain Kelsey Andres, choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan and associate choreographer Emily Ulrich deserve accolades for the obvious hard work and effort that went into preparing the cast to be at the top of their game. Keep an eye out for Gabriella Mancuso who plays Candy, 2001 Odyssey’s professional singer. Her vocals are among the strongest in the entire cast, and definitely the most memorable. 

The extra touches to the Engeman’s production of “Saturday Night Fever” help the audience feel like they’re a part of the show. Disco balls can be found both above the stage and in the lounge area, covering the entire theater in those characteristic funky lights we all love. The set is equally dazzling and showcased a wide variety of scenes. The mirrors in the dance studio, neon lights in the club, and a stunning, climbable Verrazzano Bridge made the show more realistic.

The only drawback in the musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” is the number of unanswered questions by the end of the show, but it’s still a fantastic performance that’s not to be missed. Stick around after the curtain call for a few extra songs, and don’t be afraid to dance in the aisle.

See “Saturday Night Fever” now through Aug. 25 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $75 to $80 with free valet parking. For showtimes and to buy tickets, visit www.EngemanTheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro

A sensory-friendly performance of 'Cinderella' will be held on July 7. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Jason Furnari was 11 years old when he appeared onstage for the first time as part of a school production. Acting immediately became his passion, and he was eager to be in as many shows as possible.

Jason Furnari

One day, Furnari’s school took a field trip to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. His life would never be the same. “As soon as I saw the stage I knew I had to be up there,” recalled Furnari, now 34. He auditioned for his first Theatre Three show in 2002, and soon became one of the theater’s full-time actors, appearing in local shows and becoming a part of their professional touring troupe. His credits include “The Laramie Project,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” and “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” to name a few.

In a gesture of gratitude to the theater, Furnari has announced that his Port Jefferson Station based real estate company, EXIT Realty Island Elite, will sponsor Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre and offer complimentary tickets to its sensory-friendly performances. 

“I love acting so much because you get to go onstage for a few hours and tell a story. If people are having a bad day, you can bring a smile to their face,” Furnari said. “Every day when we go onstage, we get to see how much the kids really enjoy live theater. They get a glimmer in their eye, and I wanted as many people as possible to experience that joy.” 

That desire to do good has run through the entirety of Furnari’s career journey. He studied nursing, worked in restaurants, and ultimately launched a successful real estate career, helping families find their dream homes. All the while, he continued to do occasional shows with Theatre Three, hoping for the day he could give back to them, too.

Furnari’s moment finally came during rehearsals for “Barnaby Saves Christmas” this past December. Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of the theater, was preparing the cast for their upcoming sensory-friendly performance. 

Each Children’s Theatre production has one performance that is specifically tailored to those with sensory processing disorders or other special needs. The shows provide lower volume levels, remove sudden noises, leave the house lights on and are accepting of audience noise and movement. Sensory-friendly shows also offer complimentary social stories, booklets which explain the parts of the theater, its employees, what to expect at a show and more, all accompanied with helpful pictures.

“I was talking to them about the sensory-friendly shows, and I said that I would love for someone to come along and underwrite those performances, so we could just give the tickets away for free and we wouldn’t have to charge,” Sanzel recalled. “Jason pulled me aside and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He committed in that moment and [the free tickets] began immediately with the next show. “I was stunned but not surprised because Jason is such a profoundly generous person. It was an amazing moment for us.”

In addition to underwriting the sensory-friendly shows, EXIT Realty Island Elite will be the official sponsor for Theatre Three’s children’s performances for the 2019-20 season. 

Jason Furnari, center, in a scene from last year’s ‘Barnaby Saves Christmas’

Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three, noted that, while the theater is a not-for-profit, they still have expenses and need support. “At the theater, we want to treat everyone equally and provide an experience that anyone can enjoy, regardless of their needs,” Koutrakos said. “I’ve known Jason for a long time, and he’s done so well for himself. He always wanted to give back to the theater and make sure it was cared for, even when he didn’t have the means to do so himself.”

Sensory-friendly performances at Theatre Three began in 2016 when the parent of an actor with special needs encouraged Sanzel to pursue it. Since then, he said the feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The families and organizations that come to the sensory-friendly shows are so appreciative and grateful,” Sanzel said. “And now that we’ve eliminated the costs, it’s an opportunity they’ll always be able to enjoy.”

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Upcoming sensory-friendly children’s performances include “Cinderella” on July 7; “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 6; “Barnably Saves Christmas” on Nov. 24; “Little Red Riding Hood” on Jan. 19, 2020; “Hansel and Gretel” on March 8, 2020; “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on April 19, 2020; and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on May 31, 2020. All shows begin at 11 a.m. and tickets are free. 

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘Boy Drinking From Water Fountain’ by John Goldstein of Stony Brook is one of 51 photos chosen for the Art League of Long Island’s latest exhibit. Photo courtesy of Art League of LI

By Melissa Arnold

 You’ve probably heard the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. As it turns out, it’s more than just pithy wisdom. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the heart and muscles, releases feel-good endorphins, reduces tension and can even lower blood pressure. 

Inspired by the belief that we could all use a good laugh, the Art League of Long Island invited amateur and professional photographers from the tristate area to submit photographic images “capturing smile provoking images of humor, laughter, and all things silly with their camera lens” for its 7th annual juried photography exhibit, Laughing Out Loud, which opens June 29. 

‘French Art is Not PG’ by Gemma Saylor

“We all need a break from the seriousness of life and to share a little joy with one another,” said Susan Peragallo, gallery coordinator and curator for the Art League’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery in Dix Hills. “Everybody on the exhibition committee latched onto the idea and they really loved it. We were so pleased with the submissions and were literally laughing out loud.”

More than 200 photos were submitted for juror Alex Ferrone, owner of the Alex Ferrone Gallery in Cutchogue, to review. She ultimately narrowed the field to 51 of her favorites. 

“I was looking for an immediate response that made me laugh or chuckle because of what was happening in each scene. Along with that, I considered the structure of the image and the technical execution including composition, use of color, balance, and mood,” Ferrone explained. 

“Jurying is never easy, and it was an honor to be asked to work with the Art League on this fun exhibition. I believe this exhibit will make people feel good inside, and maybe just keep that feeling to pass along to the next person they meet,” she added.

Gemma Saylor of Centerport quickly had the perfect photo in mind when she heard about this year’s theme. Her submission, titled “French Art Is Not PG,” features her young daughter bashfully covering her eyes in front of a revealing painting at a French museum.

‘The ULTIMATE Movie Experience’ by Alissa Rosenberg

“Reading the news every day is just depressing, and I loved the idea of getting people to laugh no matter how bad things are,” said Saylor, who works as a dietitian while also running her photography business, Leela Bleu Photography. “It’s good to have a laugh and appreciate that small things in life can make us smile.”

Alissa Rosenberg of Commack chose her photo “The Ultimate Movie Experience” for the exhibit, which depicts her husband posing before a billboard of moviegoers as if he were one of them. The photo is part of Rosenberg’s ongoing Manhattan billboard project, where her subjects alter or enhance the meaning of the billboards with their poses.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this exhibit because I love the community that the Art League provides, and the gallery is beautiful. I also really respect Alex Ferrone’s work,” said Rosenberg, a speech pathologist and owner of Alissa Beth Photography. “Everybody wants to find things that make them smile and feel good, and it’s nice to create art that evokes those feelings.”

Laughing Out Loud will be on view from June 29 through Aug. 4 at the Art League’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery, 107 East Deer Park Road, Dix Hills. Winners of the juried exhibit will be announced at an artist reception on Sunday, June 30 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. followed by a Gallery Talk led by Alex Ferrone on Thursday, July 11 at 7 p.m.  

The gallery is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. except for major holidays. Admission is free. For further information, visit www.artleagueli.net or call 631-462-5400.

Update:

Six Long Island Photographers Win Awards at “Laughing Out Loud” Juried Photography Exhibition

Local photographers came together at the June 30 reception honoring the photographers selected for “Laughing Out Loud”, the Art League of Long Island’s 7th annual juried photography exhibition.  The photographers were challenged to submit photographic works that captured the essence of humor. Of those who were selected to participate, exhibition juror Alex Ferrone singled out six photographers for the following awards:

Awards of Excellence: Anna Fredericks, Spin Me Again, Digital image capture; Edward Hansen, Woman at Mermaid Parade, Digital image capture; Eric Smalkin, Fun in the Mud, Digital image capture

Honorable Mentions:  John Michaels, Who Does Your Hair?, Digital image capture; Denis A. Ostrovsky, Brighton Beach, Digital image capture; Alissa Rosenberg, The ULTIMATE Movie Experience Billboards Around the City series, Digital image capture on archival Hahemühle Torchon paper.

For the full list of exhibiting photographers visit www.artleagueli.org.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Dave Dircks

Dave Dircks of Stony Brook loved sharing bedtime stories with his children when they were small. But the stories his kids liked the most were the ones Dircks dreamed up himself, with zany characters and subtle lessons.

As a professional illustrator and advertiser, Dircks, 56, has spent his career painting and drawing for other people. But in April, he published his own book for children, “Astronaut Arnie.” The timing is perfect as it ties in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The story follows Arnie as he sets out to visit Mars, only to fall asleep in his spaceship. When he wakes up, he’s shocked to learn he traveled farther than he planned — a lot farther. Paired with Dircks’ vibrant and detailed illustrations, the story is both educational and entertaining.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dircks about his latest venture.

Did you always want to be an illustrator and writer?

It developed. There were seven kids in my family growing up, and our parents were so busy caring for us that we were responsible for our own entertainment. Many of us sought our own creative outlets, and I was often in the basement building things or drawing. I seemed to excel in math, music and art, so from a very young age I made friends and impressed teachers by drawing for them. That was the thing I did really well, and it was what made me come alive. I studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which honed my skills in illustration.

Did you work in the field right away?

When I graduated college, I worked as a commercial illustrator doing book covers for Scholastic and other companies, as well as magazine illustrations. When I got married, we got pregnant right away and I needed to find a way to make enough money to support my family. I went into accounting for a while and made a good living, but eventually ended up in advertising and marketing. For 24 years I’ve owned my own agency, Dircks Associates in St. James, that’s more of a creative boutique.

When did you start to think about storytelling?

When my kids were young, my wife would always read to them and encourage me to do the same. But what I preferred to do was come up with my own stories, to turn out the lights and open up their imaginations.

Is that where Astronaut Arnie came from?

At the time, he didn’t have a name, but I had a story about an astronaut that kept oversleeping on his journey to Mars. It was a way for me to teach them a bit about the solar system while still being funny and goofy, which my kids liked. Arnie has great ambition, but he’s also imperfect, and they really responded to that.

Would you say that’s the message in this book?

Sure. It’s about having flaws, but learning to make the most of it instead of getting angry or upset. It also shares some basic facts about the planets and space in a way that’s engaging.

What made you want to develop this story into a book?

My brother, Rob Dircks, has written and published his own books. I illustrated a book of his called “Release the Sloth” which did pretty well, and then a children’s book called “Alphabert! An A-B-C Bedtime Adventure.” After that, my daughter Sam reminded me of the astronaut story and encouraged me to illustrate it.  It was probably the most developed of all the stories I told my kids, and it was a favorite.

Rob ended up starting his own publishing company, called Goldfinch Publishing, and “Astronaut Arnie” was published through that.

Where did Arnie get his name?

I have a house in Vermont, and the guy who shovels the snow for me is named Arnie. He’s kind of bulky, with a big mustache and a very calm personality. He seemed to have a real peace within himself, and it inspired me. So the name and some elements of Arnie’s character come from a real person.

What’s the recommended age range for this book?

I’d say anywhere from 2 to 8 years old. I’ve enjoyed getting feedback from preschool classes. One school in Andover, Massachusetts, was read the book by their teacher, Mrs. Bagge. The students drew pictures of their favorite pages, and I sent them a video about the publishing process. It’s nice to have a little back-and-forth with my target audience.

How can we purchase your book?

“Astronaut Arnie” can be purchased at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

What next for you?

My daughters have been lobbying for me to publish their second-favorite story, which is informally titled “The Princess and the White Carnation.” It’s about a princess who has no friends because her parents won’t let her leave the castle. But every morning, she wakes up to find a white carnation on the window sill. She saves them all, and then one day sneaks out with the flowers and gives them to children in the village. It should take about a year to make it into a book.

Dave Dircks is an author, illustrator and creative entrepreneur whose work has been featured in books, magazines, album art and advertising for over 30 years. In addition to commercial art, his paintings have been exhibited in New York City and his native Long Island. Visit his website at www.goldfinchpublishing.com/authors/dave-dircks.

American Bombshells
Event to benefit military veterans and their families

By Melissa Arnold

As our country pauses to mark many of its patriotic holidays this summer — Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day and Independence Day among them — most people will go about their business. They might head to work or to the beach or a barbecue.

But millions of veterans and those who love them live with daily reminders of their time in active duty. Some require ongoing medical care, while others need counseling to process all they’ve experienced.

On June 17, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will host a patriotic concert by the American Bombshells to honor members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families.

From left, the American Bombshells trio of Vanessa Simmons, Rayna Bertash and Crystal Cimaglia will present a patriotic-themed show in Northport on June 17. Jen Parente Photography

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families (UBHC), a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort co-operated by Northwell Health and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) in Northport.

“What we’re offering [at UBHC] is a novel way to approach treatment for veteran families,” said Mayer Bellehsen, a psychologist who’s directed the center since its opening in 2012. “We provide an outpatient clinic for veterans, as well as therapy, medication management and educational resources for their families and caregivers.”

Bellehsen also noted that the families of service members make their own sacrifices, both during their time of service and afterward, and that their well-being should also be addressed.

Huntington native Ali Reeder founded the American Bombshells Patriotic Services organization in 2011 as her own way of giving back to our troops. There are now 21 American Bombshells nationwide who perform in trios all over the world. Reeder described the group as a modern twist on the Andrews Sisters.

“I had a lot of relatives who served, so I’ve always felt very strongly about supporting our troops and their families,” said Reeder, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

The trio performing at the Engeman includes Long Island natives Rayna Bertash of Centerport and Crystal Cimaglia from Deer Park, along with Vanessa Simmons from California. The 90-minute performance will take you on a musical journey through the decades, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “One Fine Day” and “New York, New York.” From patriotic favorites to swing tunes and country hits, there’s a little something for everyone.

As “ambassadors of American gratitude,” the American Bombshells are more than just entertainers. They also serve as companions and listening ears during their visits to military bases and hospitals. It’s not uncommon for a soldier to confide in one of the women, or to hold her hand while getting stitched up.

Reeder, whose husband is a Marine, knows firsthand how military life impacts families.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and we’ll never fully understand what a soldier goes through,” she said. “Being a caregiver for someone [in the service] has given me a deeper appreciation for how challenging the transition out of the military can be for our veterans.”

To help facilitate that transition, the Bombshells partner with organizations such as Boots in Suits, which provides gently-used work clothing to vets in need, and Alpha K-9, which pairs vets with service dogs.

Kevin J. O’Neill, co-owner of the Engeman Theater, is thrilled for the opportunity to support and honor local military families.

“When we opened the theater, I also wanted to support other causes in order to honor my brother-in-law,” said O’Neill, who has owned the theater with Richard T. Dolce for 13 years.

O’Neill’s brother-in-law, John W. Engeman, served in the U.S. Army for 28 years. He was killed in Iraq in 2006 while assisting the Iraqi people in establishing their own security forces.

Since then, the Engeman has raised more than $1.3 million for various charitable and community organizations. O’Neill saw the American Bombshells perform at another event and was eager to have them come to Northport.

“The families of our military have their own struggles, and it’s important for them to be acknowledged and cared for,” O’Neill said. “Northwell has been a great supporter of what we do for many years, and this is an expansion of that relationship.”

The American Bombshells benefit performance will be held at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport on Monday, June 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 and all proceeds will benefit the UBHC at Northwell Health. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com. If you cannot attend but wish to make a donation, visit http://give.northwell.edu/Engeman.

'Stony Brook Harbor' by Leo Mancini-Hresko

By Melissa Arnold

From as far back as the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the standard setting for art education and professional work was the atelier. At an atelier — which means “workshop” in French — a master artist would work in a studio setting alongside his students, rather than simply telling them what to do. The result was a collaborative community built on shared expertise and creativity.

In the 1940s, art classrooms built on a lecture-based dynamic became popular and the era of ateliers faded into history. But today, more artists are returning to the roots of their craft by starting and joining ateliers.

‘Silence,’ bronze with warm silver patina, by Gwen Marcus

Here on Long Island, Kevin McEvoy is the artist-director of The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James. The space is home to an art studio, a 2,000-square-foot exhibition space titled Atelier Hall and even a developing library of fine art books.

Beginning this week and continuing throughout the summer, Atelier Hall will display its annual Masterworks collection, an exhibit showcasing the works of nine gifted artists from around the world.

“The Masterworks exhibit is the crystallization of dreams I’ve had for more than a decade to take our Long Island community, which has so much momentum, and marry it to the international art community, to put them all in the same room and celebrate the work they do,” said McEvoy in a recent interview. 

The journey to opening an atelier was a long one for the 38-year-old artist, who has traveled the world to hone his artistic talents. A first-generation American, he spent time as a boy living in Ireland, where his father was raised. After studying studio art at Stony Brook University, he headed to Santiago, Chile, and Florence, Italy, where he joined the prestigious Charles H. Cecil Studios.

The time abroad allowed McEvoy to cross paths with a diverse group of artists from around the world, nestled in a community where he continued to learn and grow.

By the time he returned to the States, McEvoy was married with young children and his career was taking off. But he found himself aching for something more — a social and professional circle like the one he left overseas. He began to teach at different places on Long Island in hopes of making new connections, and the rest is history.

“As soon as I plugged into teaching, this community was born and it was such a breath of fresh air,” McEvoy recalled. “Many of my students were very serious painters, and to share ideas and fan those latent gifts into flame meant so much to me. I knew then that I wanted to start an atelier.”

‘Quarter Rest’ by Wendy Jensen

The Atelier at Flowerfield officially opened in the spring of 2016. As his classes grew, McEvoy knew he needed help. He began to reach out to friends in different parts of the country and overseas, offering to put them up while they taught workshops at his studio.

“In the past, there were all of these artists I knew, but couldn’t work with because of a lack of infrastructure. And now they were able to come in regularly to stay,” McEvoy said.

The Atelier now boasts more than 120 artists who come to lecture, create and learn. Among them is Leo Mancini-Hresko, who regularly makes trips from his home near Boston to give workshops on oil painting and materials. 

Mancini-Hresko is a graduate and former principal instructor of The Florence Academy of Art whose paintings of New England and his travels abroad have appeared in exhibits across the globe. He and McEvoy got to know each other while living in Florence. 

“Many of us [who met in Florence] were not really art teachers. We’re professional artists with careers who happen to teach occasionally, and I think that’s part of the attraction, to learn from someone who considers themselves an artist first,” Mancini-Hresko said. 

‘Codman Barn’ by Leo Mancini-Hresko

Lana Ballot of Lake Grove continues to find a wealth of inspiration in Long Island’s natural scenery. She grew up in a small town in Russia where an art education wasn’t easily accessible. She studied foreign languages instead, and when she arrived in the U.S. in 1994, pursued a degree in studio art at Stony Brook University.

Ballot worked in web design for more than 15 years, but the desire to paint never faded. She eventually began freelance work, then full-time painting and teaching. Today, she teaches an ongoing pastel class at The Atelier. “It’s really like a family here,” she said of The Atelier. 

“Kevin says a lot that he wants to create a community, and that’s what is happening. It’s not just us coming in, teaching a class and going home. We interact, and as working artists we are connecting to one another and continuously learning.”

Masterworks 2019 will feature 31 two-dimensional works, including still lifes, landscapes, interiors, figures and portraits painted predominantly in oil, as well as charcoal and pastel. The show also boasts a collection of sculpture pieces by notable local artist Gwen Marcus, who will present several full life bronze cast figurative pieces. McEvoy will display his own bronze sculpture of his grandfather, Bill McEvoy. The inclusion of life-size sculpture in the Masterworks exhibition also highlights the introduction of The Atelier’s first sculpture program set to begin this summer.

Participating artists:

• Lana Ballot

• James Beihl

• Megan Euell

• Bill Graf 

• Wendy Jensen

• Leo Mancini-Hresko 

• Gwen Marcus

• Kevin McEvoy

• David Shevlino

The Atelier at Flowerfield, located at 2 Flowerfield, Suite 15, St. James will present Masterworks 2019 from May 16 through Aug. 30. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and admission is free. Join the artists for an opening reception on Thursday, May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Enjoy live demonstrations by Atelier instructors and fellows during the event. Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres will be served. For more information, call 631-250-9009 or visit www.atelierflowerfield.org. 

All images courtesy of The Atelier at Flowerfield

Lauren Auerbach’s ‘Keeta Kangaroo’ teaches kindness in rhyme
Above, author Lauren Auerbach and Leg. Tom Muratore

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

 

For nearly 10 years, Lauren Auerbach of Port Jefferson has been hard at work as a legislative aide for Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma). She’s always dreamed of writing her own children’s book; however, and after two decades of nurturing the idea, she’s proud to share her first story with the world. “Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” follows young Keeta, who has just learned how to rhyme, as she shows off her new skill with the animals in her neighborhood. But Keeta quickly discovers that using the wrong words can be hurtful to others.

Auerbach’s book is a sweet and funny tale of making mistakes, saying you’re sorry and learning to be kind.

Tell me a bit about your background. Have you always been a writer?

I went about my education the nontraditional way. I had an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College, then married young and had children. I went back to school later to get my bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the New York Institute of Technology. I always had an interest in advertising. I was a stay-at-home mom for the better part of 20 years, until my children were grown and went off to college. Since 2010, I’ve been working in marketing for Legislator Tom Muratore, planning his events and writing press releases.

How did this book come about?

I’ve always had a dream of having a book published, and writing was always my strong point in my school years. Believe it or not, I actually wrote “Keeta Kangaroo” about 25 years ago. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I did take a few noncredit courses in children’s literature writing. That was always interesting to me. I learned some really valuable information not only about writing, but how to submit a story for publication. 

At that time, it was common to print out hard copies and send them to publishers with cover letters, so that was what I did. I got some lovely rejection letters, and as life got busy I tucked the book away. A little over a year ago, I was cleaning out some old files and found a copy of the book, which sparked my interest again. Since we’re in the age of self-publishing now, I figured I would give it another shot.

Who is the illustrator for the book? How did you connect?

Erin Bonner is my adult niece and an amazing illustrator. She has a background in photography and teaches art at a local library. I told her about the book and she loved the idea of doing the illustrations. 

What drew you to children’s literature as opposed to other kinds of writing?

To be honest, I would love to write the Great American Novel, but I know that involves a lot of research and time — you have to have the resolve for it, and I’ve never been in a place in my life where I’ve had the time to devote to a project of that size. Beyond that, I’ve just always loved children, and I felt drawn to writing a children’s book. We’ll see what the future holds after my retirement.

Was there any particular reason you chose to make the main character a kangaroo?

The name Keeta Kangaroo rolled off my tongue, and it was a simple decision after that. I wanted to choose animals for the book that kids would find interesting, and I think kangaroos are one of them.

What is the target age for this book?

Ideally, it would be best for children ages 4 to 7. We all know that there’s a lot of negativity out there. In this internet age, it’s all too easy for kids to learn to be unkind and treat one another poorly. It’s important to show them that using kind words goes a long way. Sometimes people can be mean without even realizing it, and we have to think hard about what we say before we say it. All of those messages are wrapped up in a sweet story. 

What has the experience been like for you now that the book is published?

It’s pretty awesome. It’s one thing to have an idea and a vision in your head, but to hold the tangible evidence of that and see your name on it is an incredible feeling. I may never get rich because of this book, but the sense of accomplishment goes so much deeper than any monetary gain could. 

I haven’t had as much time to market the book as I would like, but I have been going around to some of the local elementary schools and reading in classrooms. The feedback I’m getting from the children is very positive because the overall message is about kindness. They really seem to be responding to its message, and in this age of anti-bullying efforts the timing really couldn’t be better. It’s been a lot of fun to share with people, and accomplishing a goal I dreamed up a long time ago.

“Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” is available in paperback and digital formats at Amazon.com. To order a copy from the author directly or to schedule a classroom or library reading, send an email to auerbach.lauren@gmail.com.

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