Authors Posts by Melissa Arnold

Melissa Arnold


By Melissa Arnold

With its many beaches, parks, lakes and farmland, it’s easy to see that Long Island is full of natural beauty. For the local art community, the variety of landscapes provide a constant source of inspiration.

Of course, nature is always changing, but not only with the seasons. Global warming continues to affect all of us, driving home the message that nothing is guaranteed and that we must work together to protect our world.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) is reflecting on climate change and the environment through an extended series of exhibits at the Mills Pond Gallery in St. James that began this past fall. Their next exhibit, Long Island Landscapes: From Awe to Action, invites viewers to appreciate the beauty of this area while considering what they might do to preserve it. The show opens Feb. 5.

“I like to do a local, landscape-based exhibit each year, and I wanted to see if there was a way to connect it to the theme of climate change,” said Allison Cruz, executive director at the Mills Pond Gallery. “Art is a method of communication, a way to help people see things and make connections in new ways. We can read the newspaper or watch the news to see that the ice caps are melting and the world is heating up, but to see these artistic expressions of our area makes you realize we might not have them forever.”

The exhibit features 60 works from 53 Long Island artists. A variety of styles and mediums will be on display, including acrylic, watercolor, oil, graphite and charcoal.

Each artist also took time to reflect on what the natural world and environmental conservation means to them.

Anita Simmons of Commack finds her inspiration while going for a drive, walking through area parks or spending the day at the beach. A retired accountant and the daughter of an avid gardener, Simmons grew up next to sprawling fields of corn and potatoes — crops that are no longer as common on Long Island.

“My paintings are an emotional response to what can be seen in the natural landscape of Long Island, which I have enjoyed all my life,” she said. “My dad would plant morning glories that grew up our chimney every year, and I have always loved them. When I saw the morning glories at Schneider Farm in Melville, I just had to photograph them to paint later.”

Ellen Ferrigno often paints scenes very close to her home in Port Jefferson. Protecting the environment has been a part of her life for many years, and she eventually became a Cornell Cooperative Master Gardener to increase her own understanding and educate others about the natural world.

“What supports nature’s environment is a community as well as individual efforts. Therefore, I paint these scenes as reminders of what nature’s beauty is,” she explained. “During the early part of the pandemic, I researched and painted the plants in my gardens that attract beneficial insects, provide a soothing tea or feed the birds. I often included a narrative to educate the art viewers. I also found myself increasing my gardens, putting out feeders for the birds and attracting the bees.”

Cruz and STAC have partnered with a number of local environmental organizations to provide information, literature and ways for visitors to support their cause. They include The Nature Conservancy, Defend H2O, Save the Sound, The Sierra Club, Higher Ground, The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, the Seatuck Environmental Association, Save the Great South Bay, Long Island Water, and Group for the East End.

“We have so many wonderful locally-focused groups that work hard every day to protect and preserve our environment here,” said Cruz. “This isn’t just about appreciating beautiful art — we also want to bring attention to all the good these groups are doing and encourage visitors to get involved.” 

Along with Simmons and Ferrigno, artists participating in this exhibit include Marsha Abrams, Lucia Alberti, Tina Anthony, Shain Bard, Ron Becker, Claudia Bedell, Sheila Breck, Joyce Bressler, Renee Caine, Carol Ceraso, Patricia Cisek, Tobi Cohen, Donna Corvi, Lou Deutsch, Julie Doczi, Karin Dutra, Dorothy Fortuna, Donna Gabusi, Vivian Gattuso, Jan Guarino, Regina Halliday, David Herman, Wendy Hildreth-Spence, Gia Horton Schifano, John Hunt, Lynn Kinsella, Liz Kolligs, Lynn Liebert, E Craig Marcin, Avrel Menkes, Annette Napolitano, Catherine Rezin, Robert Roehrig, Oscar Santiago, Hillary Serota Needle, Gisela Skoglund, Lynn Staiano, Madeline Stare, Angela Stratton, John Taylor, Tracy Tekverk, Christine Tudor, Nicholas Valentino, Daniel van Benthuysen, Mary Ann Vetter, Mary Waka, Robert Wallkam, Patty Yantz, and Theodora Zavala.


Long Island Landscapes: From Awe to Action is on view at the Mill Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, Saint James from Feb. 5 through Feb. 26 Proof of vaccination and masks are required to visit. Meet the artists at an opening reception at the gallery on Feb. 5 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information about the exhibit and what you can do to protect the environment, call 631- 862-6575 or visit

Mark Freely with a furry friend. Photo from Mark Freely

Mark Freeley is the kind of person who likes to get his hands dirty, especially when it comes to helping people in need.

The longtime Stony Brook resident is usually juggling multiple projects, sometimes all in the same day. Whether he’s fighting insurance companies on behalf of his law firm’s clients or picking up rescued dogs, Freeley never shies away from stepping up.

As a young law student at Hofstra University, Freeley got his first taste of how his career could make a difference.

“I was a law clerk for a small firm that did personal injury cases, and I found that I really enjoyed it,” said Freeley, founder of The North Shore Injury Lawyer based in Woodbury. “It’s gratifying to know that I can help people dealing with serious accidents or injuries fight for the insurance money they need.”

This year, he’s also been working with small businesses struggling to access financial assistance in the wake of the pandemic.

Those efforts caught the attention of Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who also advocates for local businesses.

“I thought it was terrible that so many businesses were being denied support from their insurance companies because of the nature” of the pandemic closures, Rocchio said. “When I found out Mark was involved in fighting for those businesses, I picked up the phone and introduced myself. He has so much compassion for the entire community.”

As it turned out, Rocchio and Freeley often crossed paths while walking their dogs around the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park. Last summer, Tropical Storm Isaias did significant damage to the site, leaving piles of rubble and a six-figure bill in its wake.

Without prompting, Freeley launched a social media campaign to help restore the park and chipped in some of his own money. 

That’s only the latest example of how Freeley has used social media to create positive change. In 2017, he and his dog Storm earned national attention when Storm rescued a drowning deer on their usual walk. Freeley created a Facebook page, Good Boy Storm, to raise awareness of local animal rescue needs.

While he’s always loved animals, it was Freeley’s daughter that led him to do more. Their weekly visits to see the puppies at the Lake Grove Petco store in her younger years blossomed into them volunteering together with Last Chance Animal Rescue in Southampton.

“We did it every Saturday for eight years, rarely missing a week,” Freeley said. “They’re such wonderful people, and I’ve made some really tight bonds through helping to save animals.”

Last Chance is run entirely by volunteers, and Freeley has done everything from fostering to running adoption events and picking up newly rescued dogs at 6 a.m. each weekend.

“I meet the transport van in Patchogue every Saturday, when they bring up rescued dogs from South Carolina. I’m in charge of all the collars and leashes, and making sure the right dog is going to the right foster family,” he explained. “When that van opens up and you see it full of animals that have been saved from being killed, all that effort is worth it.”

This past year, according to Last Chance, it has facilitated the adoption of 875 dogs and cats. And even though his daughter is now away at college, Freeley keeps coming back. 

“Mark and his daughter Nicole were so faithful right off the bat, and Mark was always willing to take on additional responsibility when needed,” said Judith Langmaid, director of adoption for Last Chance Animal Rescue. “He’s been there to teach other volunteers that come in, run his own supply drives, sponsor fundraising events, and even play golf in the pouring rain for our benefit. He really is a superb individual and we are so grateful to have him.”

Langmaid added that Freeley is humble and would likely shy away from any attention focused on his contributions.

“He’d rather highlight everyone else and encourage others to lend a hand,” she said.

Before congratulating Mark Freeley for being named a TBR News Media Person of the Year, consider fostering or adopting through Last Chance Animal Rescue. An animal can only be brought to Long Island if there is a foster family ready to take it in, so help is always needed. Learn more by calling 631-478-6844 or visit

By Melissa Arnold

Putting on a stage production is about so much more than actors and musicians. The staff working behind the scenes — stage managers, set builders, makeup artists and costume designers — are just as important, and their skills can make the difference between an excellent show and a mediocre one.

Costume designer Jason Allyn is all about going the extra mile to create the perfect outfit, down to the jewelry, fine detail work and sequins. He sat down recently to talk about the costume design process and his new stage home at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

When did you first become interested in costume design?

My mother took me to musicals when I was young, and she was also a seamstress. As for me, I’m a huge comic book nerd, a big Marvel and DC Comics nut. As a kid, I loved the stories and the heroes, but I also loved their costumes! Since I knew how to sew from my mom, I would make and recreate those outfits because I wanted to be them. But I never had the thought of wanting to be a costume designer, at least not at that time.

So when did you start thinking about making it your career?

I did both theater and sports when I was growing up, and even worked at Theatre Three in high school. I went to college for musical theater, and we had to spend a certain number of credit hours on different parts of the process — acting, lighting, design. I found myself doing a lot of costume hours because of my natural love for fashion, period movies and sewing. I got a job working at a local theater as a director, and ended up designing some things. It snowballed from there, becoming a real love.

Why is costume design so important to a production?

It’s a piece of art, just like any other aspect of the show. People know when you’re giving them a bad product, and they know when you’re giving it your best effort.

How did you start working at Theatre Three?

My last job ended around the same time as the pandemic began. It was such a dark time for so many of us in theater, and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to find work again. I began considering going in a different direction with my career. But then my best friend asked me to work with her on costuming a production of The Nutcracker, and after such a long time focusing on directing, it really rekindled my love for costuming. 

I had borrowed a couple of pieces from Theatre Three, and when I went to the theater to return them I had a wonderful, two-hour conversation with [Theatre Three Executive Artistic Director] Jeffrey Sanzel. He ended up calling me some time later once the theater reopened and invited me to interview for their wardrobe supervisor position and I started work in August.

Tell us a bit about your process. How do you go about designing a costume?

First, I sit down and read the entire script, taking notes as I go. If it’s a musical, I listen to the original cast recording and sometimes try to find clips online to use as references. Some roles are very particular and iconic, like Maria’s white dress in West Side Story, which you really need to stick to. Other shows allow for the opportunity to design in the ways I feel would be most interesting. For example, I’m working on the costumes for Steel Magnolias right now for the spring, and the main character wears pink, but there is a lot of freedom there. 

Jeff and I will sit down and talk about each character and my ideas. Sometimes I’ll sketch or bring in pictures of other looks I enjoy, and he’ll make suggestions or changes. It’s a collaborative process. 

Where do you get the materials for the costumes?

Sometimes they are a part of my existing collection, other times we get them at thrift stores or I sew them. I dye pieces to get the right colors we need, and I love using wigs. I get my fabric from JoAnn’s, and the actors and staff are always excited to hear what I’m making next. With Barnaby Saves Christmas, I decided to use different styles for the boy and girl elves, with different colors and details to denote rank. It’s like creating an entire world.

Do you have a favorite fabric?

Cotton is great for children’s theater because it’s washable and doesn’t bleed — children’s shows are very active and so it’s important for the costumes to be durable and easy to care for. As for mainstage shows, it’s more about what would be appropriate for the period and setting of the show. I love confetti dot, as well as anything with sequins or a little glam. Sparkle really makes a costume pop and gives a great effect. There’s something about it as an audience member that’s exciting.

Do you have favorite shows you’ve done costuming for?

Nine the Musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast and  Cinderella are all on my list.

What do you love most about costuming?

Honestly, I love designing for women. Men are wonderful, but they’re simple — you put on a pair of pants and they’re good to go. But women come in so many different shapes, sizes and styles of dress. It’s all beautiful. There’s nothing that makes me happier than when a woman tries on her costume and says to me, “I feel so pretty!” or when a man says, “Wow, I feel great in this.” Everyone is gorgeous and deserves to feel that way. Each person is important and matters to me. 

Beyond that, it’s a joy for me to be in the audience and watch the faces of audience members, especially children, when a character comes onto the stage.

What are you enjoying about working at Theatre Three?

It’s such a loving work environment. Everyone is so supportive of everyone else, and it’s a joy to be a part of that. After the pandemic, I truly didn’t think I was going to be able to work again. Jeff is a wonderful director to exchange ideas with — he truly listens and gives me the freedom to be creative, and it means the world to me that he likes my work. 

I also love that I have my own workshop space there where I get to spread my wings and be creative. They even painted it purple for me and embrace how obsessive I am about organization. It’s my dream job!

From left, Lorelai Mucciolo and Leah Kelly in a scene from 'Frozen Jr.' Photo by Courtney Braun

By Melissa Arnold

It might seem hard to believe, but it’s only been eight years since Disney’s Frozen was released, captivating all ages and making Elsa and Anna household names. Children of previous generations might have idolized Belle or Cinderella, but now it’s all about the icy queen and her bighearted sister. The majority of girls under 20 would likely admit to belting out the now iconic “Let It Go” a time or two.

Among those Frozen superfans are Leah Kelly and Lorelai Mucciolo, who star as Elsa and Anna in the Smithtown Performing Art Center’s production of the stage adaptation for kids, Frozen Jr.

The pair have an effortless chemistry onstage, and when you get to know them it’s easy to see why. Behind the scenes, they’ve been friends for years, and both call Smithtown Performing Arts Center (SPAC) their second home. 

Leah Kelly as Elsa in a scene from ‘Frozen Jr.’ Photo by Courtney Braun

Some of Lorelai’s (Anna) earliest memories are of toddling around the theater — her parents were involved there before she was even born. She admits she was “stubborn” when her family suggested she give performing a try, despite growing up at the foot of the stage.

“I actually had terrible stage fright. I was really nervous to try acting, but once I got up there I realized it was the best thing ever. It just felt right,” said Lorelai, a 15-year-old sophomore at East Islip High School.

Leah Kelly, who plays Elsa, also needed a little coaxing to make her acting debut.

“I started off with dance when I was 3 years old, but I was always singing,” said Leah, a 17-year-old senior at Smithtown West High School. “One day, my mom found me singing along to the movie Tangled while I played with my Barbies, and she asked if I wanted to take a singing class. I was and am a little on the shy side, so I was reluctant, but she suggested I go with a friend.”

It was through those singing classes at SPAC that Leah met her current voice teacher, future directors and a host of new friends, including Lorelai. The two girls have known each other for almost 10 years now, often sharing the stage. But this is the first time they’ve played sisters.

Frozen Jr. director Courtney Braun has watched Leah and Lorelai blossom into young women with confidence and grace. Braun, who is pursuing a graduate degree in social work from Stony Brook University, found her own voice on the SPAC stage as a girl.

“I first became a part of the theater’s ‘Youth Experiencing Arts’ program when I was six years old. We were doing Grease, and I showed up in a pink poodle skirt and a high ponytail, ready to go,” she recalled. “I’ve met so many wonderful people here, including my best friend.”

Braun was in elementary school when she met Lorelai for the first time — she was an infant then. Years later, Braun met Leah during a production of The Wizard of Oz.

“I’ve always been amazed by them. They are so kind — truly each other’s biggest supporters, and they’re wonderful role models for others,” Braun said of the girls.

This production of Frozen Jr. was originally planned for two years ago, long before COVID-19 shuttered theaters. Leah and Lorelai eagerly awaited their chance to audition, and when the time finally came, Braun felt that the girls were natural fits for Elsa and Anna.

Lorelai Mucciol as Anna in a scene from ‘Frozen Jr.’ Photo by Courtney Braun

“Leah is a force to be reckoned with. For Elsa, I was looking for a strong personality that was also able to show the occasional insecurity when it’s called for, and Leah accomplishes that so well,” Braun explained. “And Lorelai has all of the sweet, bubbly, unique personality quirks that make us love the character Anna — she can be a little quiet when you meet her, but as soon as she takes the stage, it’s game on. She has such deep insights.” 

For the girls, it’s a welcome relief to be back onstage, especially after enduring canceled shows and remote learning. 

“Being part of a cast is very unifying, and you get to connect with an audience emotionally, which is a great feeling,” said Leah who is enjoying her time in Frozen Jr. 

“I love the relationship that’s mended between Anna and Elsa, despite their differences. They learn to work through things together instead of on their own,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic, I feel like we can all relate to feeling isolated and alone.”

Lorelai said that even with outdoor theater opportunities, there’s no replacement for being at SPAC.

“I love being able to look out into the audience and see the joy on people’s faces. A lot of people sing along and kids come dressed in costume,” she said. “There’s something about getting to go onstage and be somebody else for a while that I really enjoy — it’s like professional make believe, and for lack of a better word, it’s magical.”

Frozen Jr. is running now through Jan. 17, 2022 at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown. Tickets are $25. For showtimes, ticket purchases and information, visit or call 631-724-3700.

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like the energy of a live performance, especially if it’s been almost two years since your last show.

The Staller Center for the Arts on the campus of Stony Brook University is as eager to welcome audiences back as showgoers are to be there. Following an abbreviated but otherwise successful fall season, their upcoming spring lineup will feature a wide mix of dancing, theatrical performances and comedy.

“I had a lot of theatrical events planned for the fall, but when we scheduled them earlier this year, we had no idea what the rules were going to be for health and safety,” said Alan Inkles, the Staller Center’s director. “So we decided to focus more on bands for the fall and concentrate on theatrical performances in the spring. It’s been smooth, and everyone is just glad to be out and enjoying the theater.”

It’s a special year for the center’s quartet-in-residence. The Emerson String Quartet recently announced they will retire in 2023 after more than 40 years of performing as one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles. They’ll be presenting two concerts this spring on Jan. 26 and April 18.

For a quarter of a century, the Broadway rock opera Rent has broken down taboos as it chronicles a group of friends fighting poverty, discrimination and addiction in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. This fall the cast kicked off their 25th Anniversary “Farewell Season of Love” tour which will include a performance at the Staller Center on March 3.

“You never know when you’re going to be seeing a show for the last time, and with something as iconic and well-known as Rent, we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see a wonderful, high-quality touring production,” Inkles said.

Grace, skill and beauty are all on display this season with two unique dance companies. Complexions Ballet Company pushes the boundaries of traditional and contemporary styles while tackling a variety of topics, from current events to diverse cultures and renowned musicians. Look out for “Love Rocks” during the Feb. 5 show, which celebrates the music of Lenny Kravitz.

Dance-illusionists MOMIX return to the Staller Center on April 2 for “Viva MOMIX,” a two-act collection of dance vignettes using light, shadow and props to create stunning effects. The vignettes will take the audience on a magical journey that showcases the greatest moments in the company’s 40-year history.

If you’re looking for something interesting for kids, consider The Queen’s Cartoonists on April 5. These jazz and classical musicians will take you on a crazy romp, playing live music to accompany cartoons projected onscreen above them. The cartoons are from a variety of time periods and countries, allowing audience members of any age to enjoy old classics and new discoveries.

“The Queen’s Cartoonists is a 7 p.m. show, which gives families a chance to enjoy it without staying out too late — it’s always great to introduce kids to live and orchestral music by letting them see it up close,” said Daria Carioscia, Staller’s director of development. “They’ll be performing in our recital hall, which provides a great perspective from wherever you’re sitting, and the cartoons playing behind them will be entertaining and fun for everyone.”

Carioscia also recommends the high-energy, New Orleans jazz sounds of The Hot Sardines on March 19, as well as the May 7 appearance by The Doo Wop Project. If you’ve ever wondered what the music of Jason Mraz and Maroon 5 would sound like if the Jersey Boys sang it, look no further. Both shows are heavy on audience participation, so get ready to sing and dance along. It’s a great time to introduce kids to different genres and eras of music they may have never heard before, she said.

A few more events round out the season: 

■ March 12: 2022 Gala, including performances by Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. Regular tickets are sold out. Become a Gala Supporter to receive VIP tickets.

■ March 30: “Starry Nights,” an evening of music featuring cellist Colin Carr and Stony Brook University musicians

■ April 21: “Queen of the Flute” Carol Wincenc

■ April 22: Comedian, satirist and Grammy nominee David Sedaris

Of course, the Staller Center staff and performers all love to see their shows sold out. But when that’s not possible, they get creative and offer a seat to those who might have never seen a live performance before.

“We’ve been working really hard to fill the theater, and on the nights where we have unsold tickets, we give them away to local school districts, Stony Brook students, and other populations who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to attend,” Carioscia explained. “Ultimately, we want to make the arts accessible to as many people as we can. It’s good for the community, and a full house also changes the energy in an exciting way for our performers.”

The staff knows that there is still some understandable concern in the community about crowds and public events, and they are dedicated to helping audiences feel safe. Masks are required in the center, as well as either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. No time frame is required on testing. Additionally, concessions are not being sold at this time to limit the need to remove your mask.

“We recognize that everyone is in their own place regarding what they feel comfortable doing right now. People will come back when they’re ready, and we’re going to be fair with what we’re asking from our audiences as far as safety,” Inkles said. 

“It’s been smooth, and everyone is just glad to be out and enjoying the theater. We’ve spent the last 2 years stuck inside at home, watching movies on big screen TVs. We want to give people the energy of live performance, the opportunity to have a night out and spend time together and connect again. You can’t duplicate that experience with Netflix or HBO. There’s nothing else like it.”

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts is located at 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. Tickets for the Staller Center’s Spring 2022 season are on sale now. A 10 percent discount is offered on all shows through Dec. 12. For more information, visit or call 631-632-ARTS (2787) or email [email protected]

All photos from Staller Center for the Arts.

By Melissa Arnold

As global temperatures continue to climb, we are unfortunately subject to more natural disasters, lack of resources, and personal discomfort. It’s a harsh reality, but it can be hard for some people to grasp.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) is tackling the issue of climate change with a dynamic and colorful exhibit called “On the Edge” at the Mills Pond Gallery in Saint James.

Beginning Nov. 6 and running through Dec. 19, “On the Edge” will feature more than 50 works from environmental artists Pam Brown and Kathy Levine. The exhibit is part of a deeper exploration of environmental concerns through the lens of art. 

“For a while now I’ve been wanting to dedicate a year to the issue of climate change and what can be done about it. We read about it and are touched by it every day, but I thought we could explore this issue through art and the beauty of our natural world,” said Allison Cruz, executive director of STAC.

Cruz met Stony Brook-based artist Pam Brown years ago through the local art community, and since then, Brown has served as a juror for several STAC exhibits. Prior to the pandemic, Brown suggested she could put together an environmental-themed exhibit with Levine, her longtime friend and colleague from New York City. 

“Pam’s environmental work makes me think, and it touches my heart. I love the choices she makes,” Cruz said. “I was so excited to see this idea take shape and to meet Kathy. When I saw [Kathy’s] passion for connecting people to the environment and the way she salvages material to create beautiful art, I was hooked.” 

Brown, who focuses on sculpture, said that she spent much of her childhood exploring the woods around her home.

“The environment has always been a topic of interest for me, and art is a barometer for what is happening in the world,” she said. “It’s hard not to be connected to the environment, and it’s a tragedy to see the loss of beauty.”

Brown works with salvaged material that she says has its own story to tell. Everything is made of sheet metal or sheet copper, then hand cut with scissors or shears, stitched, soldered and welded together.

One of her works included in the exhibit is “A Place Called Home,” which depicts a bird inside of a hanging basket on a branch. 

“The bird is calling out, looking for a new place to call home. In the same way, populations around the world are being forced to relocate because of climate changes and disasters in their places of origin,” Brown explained.

Levine is originally from Queens, but had the unique opportunity to grow up in Spain and England, where she was constantly immersed in natural beauty.

At the same time, she was impacted by the energy crisis of the 1970s. Her electricity was cut in the evenings, leaving her to do homework by candlelight.

“I saw the way humans were able to work in harmony with the natural world and have the potential to make it even better,” she recalled, “But I also began to learn just how fragile our connection to the natural world can be, and that our impact can be positive or negative.”

Levine is a mixed media artist, including painting, photography and recycled materials in her work, to name a few. She also makes recycled paper casts of natural objects including leaves and bark, and uses a water-based method of photo transfer. 

One of Levine’s pieces, “Rift,” is a cast paper cross-section of a tree that’s split in half. One half depicts the urban sights of New York, while the other side shows a woodsy and natural scene.

“This kind of work fascinates me. It’s the one thing I feel like I could never get tired of,” Levine said. “It’s inexpensive and tactile, flexible and light, as opposed to other methods of sculpture.” 

While the exhibit will showcase the beauty of our world, Cruz, Brown and Levine all hope that it will inspire viewers to become more active in preventing climate change.

“It can be overwhelming to consider just how large the issue of climate change is, but it’s small changes in your own family that make a big difference, like recycling, composting and using reusable materials as much as possible,” Brown said. 


The Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, Saint James will present “On the Edge” from Nov. 6 through Dec. 19. The public is invited to an opening reception on Nov. 6 from 2 to 5 p.m. Meet the artists and enjoy an Art Talk presented by the Artists and Environmental Art Activists at 3 pm. Masks are required for unvaccinated individuals and optional for those who are vaccinated. 

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. Please use the rear parking lot off of Mills Pond Road. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit

See more images at

'Children of Cadiz' by Bill Graf

By Melissa Arnold

From his early days, Bill Graf was laser-focused on becoming a professional artist. And while he didn’t come from an artistic family, they were still eager to support him.

Artist Bill Graf

“When I was a little kid, I always drew — my mom was a voracious reader and would bring home stacks of books from the library, and I would draw in the margins,” said Graf, 61, of Huntington. “The librarian called our house and that’s how I was found out. My mom bought me two big pads of paper and pencils, and after that, it opened the floodgates.”

That deep love for creating has taken Graf from an art degree to a successful career and, more recently, sharing what he’s learned with others as an art teacher. He has also traveled the world in search of new vistas to capture.

This fall, the Atelier at Flowerfield in Saint James will exhibit more than 50 of Bill Graf’s paintings from the 1980s to current times. The solo exhibit will highlight Graf’s great skill in a variety of media and the beautiful places he’s been fortunate to paint over the years.

After high school, Graf wanted to use his artistic skills in a practical way. He chose to pursue an associate’s degree in advertising art and design from SUNY Farmingdale, but was initially turned down for the program.

“I met with the director of the program to sort of plead my case, and outside the office were these photorealistic pieces from the second-year students,” Graf recalled. “I told the director that I could do that. He doubted me, but he said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you three days to draw something in that style.’ When I came back, he looked at my work and said, ‘You’re in.’”

He went on to work in design, illustration and advertising, and studied in his free time at the Art Students’ League in New York City, where he learned the Frank Reilly system of painting. He also had the opportunity to study in Italy at the prestigious Cecil-Graves Studiomin Florence, Italy. Those experiences made a huge impact not only on his art, but on his career as well: Graf would spend more than 20 years illustrating the covers of various Harlequin novels.

“I would have a description of the hero and heroine, along with a synopsis of the book. Then I would work with models who would serve as references. We would set up the lights and backgrounds that I had chosen, shoot some pictures, then I would take those pictures home with me. I would have about a month to complete the final painting,” he explained.

Ultimately, as Harlequin switched over to photographed covers in 2015, Graf returned to his old passions as a way of coping with loss of his major client. He found renewed joy in watercolor and oil painting. A friend even suggested he try leading a casual paint night, which was a great success.

“I came away from that event with a sense that I could pass on what I’ve learned to others,” he said. “Seeing the enthusiasm of the people that were there, it felt like a good time to start paying it forward.”

Since 2016, Graf has taught a number of workshops in drawing and painting throughout Long Island, including at the Atelier.

“When we first met, I was blown away by Bill’s talent. He’s been able to pick up and excel in so many different media, with an incredible level of detail and a very high standard,” said Gaby Field-Rahman, administrator for the Atelier at Flowerfield. “Bill was also an instrumental part of getting the Atelier online and offering virtual classes during the height of the pandemic. In that way, he was truly a lifesaver for all of us.”

Carol D’Amato of Sound Beach first met Bill at one of his watercolor classes. She was newly widowed at the time and struggling to navigate life without her husband of 58 years.

“My doctor told me very seriously that I needed to make some positive changes or I was going to die of a broken heart. He asked me, ‘What is something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance?’ I admitted that I wanted to try watercolor, and he broke out into this huge grin,” she recalled. “He immediately said that he knew just the thing — that I needed to go to the Atelier and study with Bill Graf.”

During the first class, Graf gently observed that D’Amato didn’t really know how to draw, and told her that if she could learn to draw, he knew she could learn to paint.

“I really was the worst drawer ever! I never knew that I had the capability. I just needed someone who cared to come alongside me and teach me,” D’Amato said. “No one teaches like Bill. He has the ability to make you feel good and find good things in your art, even when you’re doing things wrong. I started with simple shapes and now, amazingly, I can paint nudes.”

As for Graf, he is always striving to grow as an artist and has never lost the passion he found as a young boy.

“It was my lifelong ambition to become a painter. I still have the same enthusiasm for a finished piece as I did with those first drawings when I was a kid,” he said. “I can lose so much time in my art … it’s almost meditative. I’m not looking to be the greatest of them all — I just have a love for seeing ideas come to life and sharing what I’ve learned with others.”

Bill Graf’s solo exhibit is on display now through Oct. 21 at the Atelier at Flowerfield’s Atelier Hall, 2 Flowerfield, Suite 6 & 9, Saint James. A reception will be held Sept. 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-250-9009 or visit

By Melissa Arnold

Following a tough year for creatives of all kinds, the return of art exhibitions and concerts is a welcome relief. In Setauket, the community is looking forward to a longtime tradition, Gallery North’s Outdoor Art Show and Music Festival, on Sept. 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival has run annually on the grounds of Gallery North and along North Country Road since they first opened in 1965. With last year’s event scaled back to Maker’s Markets throughout the month of September for safety reasons, gallery director Ned Puchner can’t wait to kick things off again.

“It’s a really nice time of year to get out and enjoy the weather, the community and all of the very talented artists we have in the area,” he said. “The artists really rely on this event on an annual basis to make sales and meet new people. That’s especially true this year after taking a year off for the pandemic.”

The festival has grown considerably over the years, and now boasts more than 90 artists and vendors who come from around Long Island to exhibit and sell their work. There is truly something for every style and personality, including a diverse collection of original paintings, prints, photography, ceramics, pottery, woodwork, glassware, artisan created jewelry, handmade crafts, decorations, and even clothing. Awards will be granted for Best in Show in a number of categories, and award winners will be featured in a special Winner’s Circle exhibition at Gallery North in 2022.

Around 10 years ago, local musicians were also invited to perform throughout the weekend. This year, Gallery North has partnered with WUSB Radio (90.1/107.3 FM) to help broaden the variety of musicians for the festival. 

“I had approached Ned in the past about doing some music-related events at the gallery, and then the idea sat aside for a while because of the pandemic,” said WUSB general manager Isobel Breheny-Schafer. “This is the first time we’ve been able to work together, and it’s exciting for all of us.”

The station was intentional about including a mix of genres and time periods for both days of the festival. Staff members at WUSB formed a committee who spent time exploring each act’s music before making their final selections.

Five artists will perform each day on the WUSB Music Stage. Expect to hear a variety of eras and genres, including folk originals and covers from Grand Folk Railroad; Steely Dan hits from Night by Night; rockabilly tunes with Kane Daily and decades of chart-toppers from the Dirty Water Dogs and Kristhen, among others. Local DJs will also be on hand to keep the music coming all weekend long.

“Everyone is excited to get involved. It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful area,” Breheny-Schafer said. “People need things to look forward to, they need social interaction, and the arts have such an important role to play in bringing people together.”

While all the musicians are compensated for the weekend, many offered to play for free to support the station and the gallery, added Breheny-Schafer.  

Artist Gina Mars at Gallery North’s Outdoor Art & Music Festival in 2019. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The art community is equally excited to get back to doing what they love. One of the returning artists, sculptor Gina Mars, is a regular at the festival and this year’s event will mark her first public sale and exhibition since the pandemic began.

“I felt like the pandemic gave me the time to focus more on those things I always wanted to do but never had the chance, like animal sculptures,” said Mars, who lives in Huntington Station. “But so many shows have been canceled, so it was really a year of creating and waiting.”

Mars fell in love with ceramics by accident while taking an art elective in college. Her natural gift led to 30 years of teaching and sculpting along with global exhibitions. This year, she’ll bring a collection of bowls, centerpieces, mugs and animal figures to sell at the festival.

“The Gallery North show is one of the very few shows left that’s truly about craft — everything there has to be made completely by the artist. And everyone involved is so kind and generous. We feel like a family when we come together,” she said. “Being so close to the university gives us the chance to meet amazing people from all over the world. We develop relationships with people who have a genuine appreciation for our work.”

Kids can explore their artistic sides too, with free puppet making and printing demonstrations offered on the patio terrace at the Studio at Gallery North. Food vendors will be available as well including Katie’s Food Truck, Tasty Frosty Ice Cream, and St. James Brewery.

In addition to WUSB, sponsors for the weekend include: Printing Plus, Techmaven, Jos. M. Troffa Materials, Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA, Glynn, Mercep & Purcell, Stony Brook Vision World, Hamlet Wines & Liquors, Bill and Dina Weisberger, Janice and Jon Gabriel, Ronne Cosel, Judy Gibbons, and Stephanie and Michael Gress.



Saturday, Sept. 11

10 to 11 a.m. — Mike and Mel 

11 a.m. to noon — Kane Daily

Noon to 1 p.m. — Dirty Water Dogs

2 to 4 p.m. — Claudia Jacobs

4 to 5 p.m. ­— International Orange

Sunday, Sept. 12

10 to 11 a.m. — Kristhen 

11 a.m. to noon — Brian Reeder Trio

Noon to 1 p.m. — Danny Kean

1 to 3 p.m. — Night by Night

3 to 5 p.m. — Grand Folk Railroad

List of Exhibitors:

A 1    Gallery North

A 8    Jo Glazebrook — pottery

A 9    Gail Applebaum — glass art

A 10  Gerard Lehner — fiber art/works on paper

A 11  Amy Schwing — jewelry

A 14  Madison Muehl — photography

A 15  Brianna Sander — jewelry/mixed media

A 16  Tamara Hayes — pottery

A 17  Joyce Roll — fiber art

A 19  Jennifer Lucas — mixed media/works on paper

A 20  Douglas Keating — pottery/sculpture

A 21  Patricia Paparo — wood

A 33  Chloe Wang — painting

A 34  Denisse Aneke — jewelry

A 35  Marlene Weinstein — mixed media/works on paper/photography

A 36  Cassie Hussey — works on paper/printmaking/drawing

A 37, 38  Flo Kemp —  works on paper/printmaking/drawing

A 39  Toni Neuschaefer — jewelry

A 40  Simon Zeng — painting

A 41  Matt DiBarnardo —  wood/painting/sculpture

A 46  Russell Spillman  pottery

A 47  Three Village Community Trust

B 2  Emily Bicht — pottery/works on paper

B 3  Donna Glover — jewelry

B 4  Rachel Gressin — jewelry/works on paper

B 5  Don Lindsley — wood

B 6  Joseph Waldeck — jewelry

B 7  Nancy Weeks — painting

C 57  David Arteaga — photography

C 58  Susan Rodgers — jewelry

C 59  Jessica Randall — jewelry

C 60  Joanne Liff — works on paper/ watercolor/pastel

C 61  Renee Fondacaro — soaps/wellness

C 62  Anthony Cavallaro — wood/mixed media

C 63  Laimute Onusaitiene — painting

C 64,65  Linda & Scott Hartman— mixed media/watercolor/paper

C 66  Marlena Urban — painting

C 67  Eva Pere — wood/jewelry

C 68  Joyce Elias — glass art/jewelry

C 69 Peter Robinson Smith — sculpture

C 70  Gina Mars — pottery

C 71  Nancy Pettersen — jewelry

C 72  Christopher Santiago ­— painting

C 73  Jennifer Bardram — mixed media/works on paper

C 74  Kate Ackerman — fiber art

C 75  Daniel McCarthy ­— painting

C 76  Rachel Fournier — jewelry/fiber art

D 86    William Low — painting

D 87    Aja Camerlingo — jewelry

D 88    Michael Waltzer — wood

D 89    Don Dailey — wood

D 90    Four Harbors Audubon Society

D 91    John Mutch — jewelry

D 92    Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, Staller Center for the Arts

D 93    Jonathan Zamet — pottery

D 94    Meryle King — fiber art

D 95     Lou Frederick — jewelry

D 96     Lynda Lawrence — mosaics

D 97 Bebe Federmann — pottery

D 98 Cassandra Voulo — works on paper/printmaking/drawing

D 99 Lynn Pisciotta — jewelry/sculpture

D 100 Russell Pulick — pottery

D 101 Ned Butterfield — painting

D 102 Vincent Delisi — mixed media/works on paper

D 103 Stephanie Occhipinti — jewelry

D 104 Andrea Feinberg — jewelry

D 105 Michael Josiah — wood

D 106 Tracy Levine — jewelry

D 112 Jo Wadler — jewelry

D 113 Dawn Jones — glass

D 125 Melanie Wulfrost — pottery

D 126 Jane Ruggiero — jewelry

E 148  Brianna D’Amato — painting

E 149  Susan Alexander — fiber art/mixed media

E 150  Christopher J. Alexander — painting

E 151  Najda Adman — fiber art

E 152  Daphne Frampton — soaps/wellness

E 153  Michael Iacobellis — photography

E 154  Neal Wechsler / Tom Venezia honey/spices

E 155  Barry Saltsberg — wood

E 156  Cathy Buckley — jewelry

E 157  Denise Randall — pottery

E 158  Diane Bard — soaps/wellness

E 159  Justin Cavagnaro — glass art

E 160  Stefanie Deringer — wood/glass/jewelry

E 161  Eric Giles — mixed media

E 162  The Brick Studio and Gallery — pottery

E 163  Joan Friedland — fiber art

E 164  Samantha Moyse — jewelry

E 165  Donna Carey-Zucker — jewelry

E 166  Keith Krejci — photography


The 55th Annual Outdoor Art Show and Music Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the weekend of Sept. 11 and 12 on the grounds and area surrounding Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call 631-751-2676.


Shades of Bublé, a three-man tribute to Michael Bublé, heads to the Engeman on July 25.

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been an agonizingly long year for lovers of the arts as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled concerts, closed galleries and darkened theaters everywhere.

At the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, owners Richard T. Dolce and Kevin O’Neill have shouldered the burden of keeping the venue afloat and adapting to ever-changing safety guidelines.

“A part of running a business like this is being aware of risks where people wouldn’t be able to come to the theater,” said O’Neill, the theater’s managing director. “I’d been watching COVID spread since January of 2020, and I knew it was going to get ugly here. The last thing we wanted was to find out after the fact that one of our Saturday matinees ended up being one of those super-spreader events.”

Artistic director Richard T. Dolce recalled his last meeting with actors and the uncertainty they struggled with at the time.

Adam Pascal heads to the Engeman on Aug. 14

“We were in rehearsals for [a Main Stage production] in the city, and I went in on the 13th of March. The day before, Governor Cuomo had shut down Broadway. The show was ready to go on, and I said goodbye to the cast, saying we would take it day by day and see how it went. Not long after, we realized we weren’t going to reopen. It was difficult, because we had no idea what was going on.”

Of course, weeks turned into months of waiting. Fortunately, the theater was able to receive some financial support through federal small business relief loans. The community was eager to help as well.

“Everyone has been so incredibly kind and understanding, and we didn’t have a lot of refund requests — people wanted to continue to support us,” O’Neill said. “We’ve worked hard to build strong relationships with our patrons over the last 14 years, and it really felt like we were in it together.”

With the building unoccupied for the foreseeable future, it was also a good time to do some sprucing up. The Engeman now has a high-tech ventilation system that ionizes and purifies the air, a new stage deck, fresh carpets, new bar equipment and renovated bathrooms.

While the Main Stage productions have been postponed until September, the theater is ready to open again at full capacity for fully-vaccinated patrons on July 9 with a Summer Concert Series featuring a variety of musicians and other performing artists for one or two performances apiece. The series has a little something for everyone, from show tunes to crooners, folk rock and even comedy.

A few highlights include cabaret/jazz artist Carole J. Bufford honoring revolutionary women artists including Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Carole King and Cher in “You Don’t Own Me: Fearless Females of the ‘60s and ‘70s” on July 10; Comedy Nights on July 15, July 24 and Aug. 26; “Shades of Bublé” will make you swoon with a three-man tribute to classic swing icon Michael Bublé on July 25; “Jersey Boys and Girls” will celebrate the best of the Garden State: Frank Sinatra, the Four Seasons, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston and more on Aug. 5 and 6; “Adam Pascal: So Far” welcomes the Broadway veteran for songs and stories from more than 25 years onstage on Aug. 14; and “Rock ‘n’ Radio” will feature more than 80 years of chart-topping pop hits on Aug. 19. 

The theater’s reopening is also a time for families with young children to rejoice, as children’s theater returns on July 24 to Aug. 29 with Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. and teenagers can enjoy Heathers the Musical on July 31 and Aug. 1. Two sessions of Musical Theater Camp are also returning (July 5 to 30 and Aug. 2 to 27).

From the box office to the stage, the Engeman staff is beyond ready for the busy weekend crowds and the energetic crackle of a great performance.

“It feels wonderful to be back at the theater! Although as management we were working from home during the height of the pandemic and we all saw each other on our weekly Zoom meeting, there is something so special about being back together again. It feels like a kind of rebirth,” said box office manager Phyllis Molloy. 

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since we opened the doors. Our patrons are excited that we are back and they are really looking forward to the [summer lineup]. They have wanted to chat and catch up,” said Molloy. “For me, it’s nice to be able to book them into upcoming performances and say ‘See you soon.’ I’m looking forward to the opening evening and seeing all their familiar faces back in the theater.”

The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main Street, Northport. For the full summer schedule and to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit Please note: As of press time, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for all patrons 16 and older to enter. 

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METRO photo

By Melissa Arnold

Just about everyone knows the throbbing discomfort of a headache, whether it comes after a long day of work, too little sleep or an oncoming cold. It’s also likely that you’ve heard someone say they have a migraine when the pain becomes severe.

But the truth is that migraine is more than just a bad headache, and the term has taken on a variety of meanings, not all of them accurate.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine is an incurable brain disease that affects approximately 40 million people in the United States — that’s 1 in 4 households. In the majority of those cases, at least one close relative has migraines as well, but it’s still uncertain what causes the disease. 

METRO photo

Migraine can come with a wide range of neurological symptoms that differ from person to person and day to day. These symptoms exist on a spectrum from sporadic to chronic, mild to incapacitating, and some people can even experience trouble speaking, weakness and numbness in ways that mimic a stroke.

“Migraine is more than just pain. While the pain is often moderate to severe, one sided and throbbing, there are other characteristics,” said headache specialist Dr. Noah Rosen, director of the Northwell Headache Center in Great Neck. 

“The individual must also have either sensitivity to light and noise or nausea to meet the full definition. This can worsen with movement, and many people also develop associated skin or hair sensitivity. Many people may also experience changes in mood, energy level and appetite. About 20% of migraine patients may also have aura with their migraines, which is a brief, fully reversible neurological deficit. Auras can cause visual changes, sensation changes and sometimes weakness.”

For Cat Charrett-Dykes, migraines have been a regular part of her life since she was 13 years old. She would see sparkles and spots and go through bouts of nausea and vomiting, all while feeling like a knife was stabbing through her head. At school, she had trouble reading and finding the right words. “I felt like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Some of my siblings also had migraine occasionally, but not to the same degree,” said Charrett-Dykes, who lives in Holtsville. 

The attacks were relatively easy to tame until after the birth of her first child. Then, as is common, her migraines became more severe and frequent. She saw countless healthcare providers, who couldn’t agree on a diagnosis: They suggested she had anxiety, allergies, epilepsy. One even asked if her ponytail was too tight.

Unfortunately, getting a proper diagnosis and care can be a problem in the migraine community. The World Health Organization reports that more than half of all people with migraine haven’t seen a doctor for their condition in at least a year. Many more have never been formally diagnosed. While seeing a neurologist can be useful, not all neurologists are experts in headache disorders.

“Only about 700 people in the country are certified headache specialists, and the field of headache medicine is not yet formally recognized by the federal government, so there are limits on the field’s growth despite how common the condition is,” Rosen explained. “During my time as a resident physician I was seeing severely disabled patients with headache disorders end up in the emergency room, yet I had almost no education in that area, in part because of how underserved the condition is. It is often ignored, stigmatized and mistreated.”

Charrett-Dykes waited decades to find someone who understood her. 

“It wasn’t until 2003 that I was finally diagnosed. As soon as the physician’s assistant walked into the room, he took one look at me and turned off the lights,” she recalled. “No one had ever done that before. He said, ‘You have migraines, don’t you? I know that face. My wife has migraines, too.’ It was such a relief.”

Still, a diagnosis is only the beginning of the migraine journey. Treatment is focused on identifying the person’s unique triggers — perhaps certain foods, scents, strenuous activity, or an irregular schedule — along with the precise combination of medications and other options to help ease their symptoms. There is no magic bullet, and finding treatment that helps can be challenging. 

“Trigger identification and avoidance is a great thing to try, but not always possible.  Raising the ‘threshold’ required to set off a migraine can be done with pharmacological or non-pharmacological approaches,” Rosen said. “Of the medications that are available now, some are preventive and some are acute (or abortive). The preventive treatments help avoid getting the headache in the first place. Healthy habits like regulating sleep, diet, hydration and stress can reduce frequency, as can some vitamin supplements, complementary practices like acupuncture, biofeedback, mindfulness and regular cardiovascular exercise.”  

Nancy Harris Bonk

The process of trial and error is exhausting for many people with migraine, including Nancy Harris-Bonk of Albany, who’s tried countless doctors and medications since her first migraine attack as a young teen. At one point, she was taking the highest dose of oxycodone allowed under a doctor’s care and still having 25 or more migraine days each month.

“I just wasn’t recovering, so I went online and started looking for answers,” said Bonk, whose episodic migraines turned chronic after a fall left her with a traumatic brain injury. “I was able to make contact with someone else who had migraine attacks, and it opened a door for me. I learned that I wasn’t alone and that there were treatment options. It made me want to help educate others about migraine disease and how to live with it.”

Downstate, Charrett-Dykes had similar goals. She founded Chronic Migraine Awareness, Inc. (CMA) in 2009, a simple chat group that later grew into a multifaceted nonprofit connecting people with resources, specialists, and one another. CMA’s main Facebook group now has 12,000 members around the world, with several smaller groups for specific demographics and topics. They also provide care packages for people with migraine, support caregivers, and lead advocacy efforts.

Bonk eventually qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance, freeing her up to focus on her well-being while acting as a resource for others. She still has about 15 migraine days a month, but medication changes and a knowledgeable healthcare team have made life a lot more manageable, she said. She serves on the board of CMA and works with the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Leadership Council; the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients (CHAMP); and

“Learning all you can about migraine disease, knowing what it is and what it isn’t, can make a big difference when it comes to seeking care and advocating for yourself,” Bonk said. “Forming connections with others who have similar experiences is important so we know we’re not alone. This disease can leave us feeling isolated, frustrated and overwhelmed … talking with others who are going through a similar journey is validating and a great comfort. ”

While each of these organizations has a unique focus, they all share a desire to increase knowledge and awareness of migraine disease.

“The pain of migraine is not like other pain and should not be treated like that. It needs to be discussed and not just treated,” Rosen said. “The stigma of people with migraine having a low pain tolerance is also nonsense. I have been impressed on a daily basis by the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of these patients.”

June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. To learn more, visit To connect with others, visit CMA’s website at The Northwell Headache Center has several locations on Long Island and telehealth appointments are available. For information, call 516-325-7000 or visit