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Ned Puchner

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Ned Puchner stands in Gallery North’s gift shop. Photo by Rita J. Egan

For 2020, Setauket’s Gallery North trustees have set their sights on featuring more Long Island artists and making art appreciation even more accessible to the community. They plan to forge ahead with these resolutions with a new executive director.

With more than 20 years of experience in the arts as curator, manager and administrator for galleries, nonprofits and museums, Ned Puchner took over the role of executive director of Gallery North Dec. 1. The position was previously held by Judith Levy, who recently retired.

“He’s got the whole package, and we’re really excited to have him on board.”

— Nancy Goroff

Nancy Goroff, president of Gallery North’s board of trustees, said a search committee was formed to find a new executive director and dozens of applicants were narrowed down to three for the board to choose from.

She said Puchner had what the board was looking for, with experience producing high-quality art exhibitions and an understanding of running the business of a nonprofit. She described him as personable and community minded, which she believes will help to strengthen connections in the area.

“He’s got the whole package, and we’re really excited to have him on board,” she said.

Puchner said he discovered the nonprofit while job searching online and saw Gallery North possesses some of the same elements as his last place of employment, the Greenville Museum of Art in North Carolina. He said while the staff there was smaller, like the Setauket gallery they would organize various fundraisers throughout the year and worked with the local art community. The North Carolina museum also has other similarities to Gallery North as it has been around since the 1960s and has a university in town.

“It’s really uncanny how I came across Gallery North,” he said. “There were so many various similarities between what I saw in Greenville and what I see in Setauket and the Three Village area.”

Once he visited Gallery North, the new executive director said he was impressed with how casual it was inside with a community feel among the staff and people who visit, where everyone seems to know each other. He added it’s an ideal place to present art in a nonintimidating way as an educational and fun-based gallery.

“I don’t want people to be scared away from the notion of being in an art gallery,” he said.

Puchner said a bonus was that he heard how wonderful the Three Village community was and his research confirmed that. A few weeks after his arrival, his wife, Nancy, and two children, aged 4 and 6, joined him in their new home in Stony Brook. Another plus with moving to New York, he said, is being closer to his family that lives in Piermont, Rockland County. He said his children were excited to hear they would live closer to their cousins and grandparents. His wife, who teaches art history at UNC Pembroke, has been able to continue working for the school by transitioning to online teaching until the end of this year.

As for his first few weeks in the Three Village area, Puchner said he’s been busy helping with Gallery North’s holiday pop-up store and lining up exhibits for the new year. The first exhibit he has helped with is for Paton Miller, an artist from Southampton, which will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23. The gallery will host an opening reception for Miller’s exhibit Jan. 16 at 6-8 p.m.

“I don’t want people to be scared away from the notion of being in an art gallery.”

— Ned Puchner

In the future, he hopes to organize a committee to help review work that is submitted to Gallery North. He has been putting together the suggestions of board members and others about artists so that he can review the list and see if the gallery can present the work and if the exhibits will be equitable.

He respects the gallery’s reputation for featuring local artists, and Puchner said he hopes to broaden its vision to also show artists from the East End, Brooklyn and Long Island at large.

“One of the great things about Gallery North is that it’s so rooted in the local area, it’s so community based, it has a very strong history with that and with the artists that it has shown and promoted over the years, and I certainly want to continue that dynamic to something to be really nourished, because there’s a lot of great talent in this region,” the director said.

In addition to his work in Greenville, Puchner earlier in his career worked at the former Luise Ross Gallery in SoHo, where they also trained artists. His interests include folk/self-taught/outsider art, and he said his experience at Luise Ross was one of the things that inspired him to focus on the community-oriented aspect of folk art and self-taught artists.

Goroff said after talking to the president of the board of the Greenville museum, she was impressed to hear about different ways Puchner got the community more involved by reaching out to artists in the area. To complement the museum’s permanent collection, he brought in the work of local artists who produced work that was related to the permanent collection.

“It was something he chose to do when there were other ways that he could have enlivened his exhibitions down there, but he chose to do it by reaching out to the members of the art community so that really spoke to how committed he is to that and how much he values it,” she said. 

Puchner has spent much of his first weeks here by visiting local art centers such as the Wang and Staller centers at Stony Brook University as well as the Reboli Center and Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. He is looking forward to visiting The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery and The Atelier at Flowerfield, both in St. James, in the near future and working with all of them “to try to build on some of the work that all these organizations are doing to create a really vital
and important art community here.”

“I think that’s something that is really vital to helping to create a very family oriented community,” he said. “I want to play a role because I have a family of my own so I want to do what I can to nourish that art community here in the Three Village area.”