Community

'Fair Exchange, No Robbery', 1865, by William Sidney Mount

By Tara Ebrahimian

William Sidney Mount was an artist whose Long Island heritage was integral to his identity and his art. Most famous for his portrayals of local and natural life, Mount’s initial interest in historical paintings and his commissions for death portraiture led him to create the work that would become his legacy. What Mount witnessed and experienced determined how he rendered the realm he could control: his art.

He was born in Setauket on November 26, 1807. His parents, Julia Ann Hawkins and Thomas Shephard Mount, had a farm and also ran a store and tavern on the edge of the village green. Interested in artistic endeavors from a young age, with his family’s support, he set out to pursue that goal.

Following his father’s death in 1814, his mother returned to his grandfather’s farm in Stony Brook and Mount lived for a time with his maternal aunt and uncle, Letty and Micah Hawkins, in New York City. Micah was a playwright, composer, and musician, who encouraged Mount’s interest in music. In 1815, Mount returned to Long Island, living in his grandfather’s home until returning to Manhattan where he apprenticed to his brother Henry as a sign maker. It was during this period that Mount really began to develop his interest in painting.

‘Returning from the Orchard’, 1862, by William Sidney Mount

With Henry’s encouragement, Mount attended the American Academy of the Fine Arts exhibition at City Hall Park in 1825. This event introduced Mount to a genre of art he had not yet enjoyed: history painting. Rather than pursue a formal art education or seek tutelage from a master, Mount continued to work for his brother while teaching himself. Henry was now business partners with a painter named William Inslee, who owned a collection of prints by British artist William Hogarth, who specialized in history painting. Moved by his art as well as that of another British artist, Benjamin West, Mount copied Hogarth’s prints in order to practice his craft.

History painting is characterized by its content instead of its artistic method. This form generally depicts an instance in a narrative story rather than a specific, fixed subject such as a portrait. Until the 19th century, history painting was considered the most prestigious type of Western painting. Then, as artists pushed back against the rigid parameters of academic art standards, it became a medium mainly regarded in that milieu. This genre encompassed works that portrayed religious scenes, and Mount’s most popular history painting is of this nature.

Upon the recommendation of family friend Martin E. Thompson, Mount enrolled in the National Academy of Design, which Thompson had cofounded. At the institution Mount was able to explore his appreciation for the Grand Manner, an idealized aestheticism that drew from classicism and the art of the high Renaissance. Initially it specifically referred to history painting, but came to include portraiture. The term Grand Manner was also used by British artists and critics to describe art that incorporated visual metaphors to represent noble characteristics.

In this manner, Mount created historical paintings that were very well received. He selected scenes from classical texts that focused on topics like near-death experiences, death, and resurrection. Mount’s first notable oil painting, Christ Raising the Daughter of Jairus (1828) caused a stir when it was exhibited at the National Academy of Design; the council was stunned that a young artist with little formal instruction could produce such a work. Mount, who was one of the school’s first students, was elected an associate member in 1831.

‘Bargaining for a Horse’, 1835 by William Sidney Mount

He returned to Setauket the next year, but continued to send work to be exhibited in New York City. Mount’s history paintings were admired and respected, but they were not, apparently, particularly profitable. Perhaps impacted by the shifting opinions about historical paintings, Mount suffered a setback all too familiar to artists: his work did not sell well enough for him to make a living. So, he shifted his focus to portraiture. His first portrait subjects were easily persuaded: he painted himself and close relatives.

Portraits provided a somewhat steadier income. Among his early patrons were the Weeks, Mils, Wells, and Strong families. Mount continued to improve his technique and was happy to be back on Long Island. “I found that portraits improved my colouring, and for pleasurable practice in that department I retired into the country to paint the mugs of Long Island Yeomanry.” Mount was less enamored with the other aspect of his business: death portraiture.

Mourning portraits were paintings of the recently deceased. Frequently the subjects were shown as though they were alive, and symbolic details, like bodies of water and flowers, were used to indicate that they were not. Arguably a bit morbid, their existence was emotional: they were usually commissioned by the departed’s loved ones. It could be among the only renderings/images that existed of the recently dead.

Mount worked on commission and he did not enjoy the work, which was fraught and could be gruesome. He could be summoned to someone’s wake or deathbed to make sketches or take notes for the upcoming portrait. Once he was called to the scene of an accident to paint the likeness of a man who had been run over by a wagon. The final product did not reflect the cause and nature of the subject’s death.

The art Mount created enveloped aspects of genres he had explored earlier in his career. These experiences helped him establish the style for which he would become best known. He combined the narrative elements of the history paintings with the human interest element of the death portraiture. Without this background, he may not have been inspired to create the art that became his job and his joy.

Genre paintings, art that illustrates scenes of everyday life, became the most renowned selections of his oeuvre. Unlike his previous work, this type of art is distinguished from history paintings and portraits in that the subjects have no distinctive identities. His first foray into this type of painting, The Rustic Dance, was immediately successful and encouraged him to further explore the medium. As Mount noted in his journal, “Ideas can be found in everything if the poet, sculptor and painter can pick them out.” He captured snippets of everyday life and frequently imbued them with subtle or more overt themes of social commentary.

‘Bar-Room Scene’, 1835, by William Sidney Mount

Motivated by the natural environment and his neighbors, Mount addressed moral issues, including economic standing and disparities as well as the implied status of Black people in the area. For example, in Bar-Room Scene (1835), Mount portrays patrons in a tavern. In the foreground a presumably inebriated man in tattered clothing is encouraged to dance by three  seated men who are clearly of a higher economic class. A boy, who is standing, gazes upon him in apparent wonderment.

In the back corner, there is a young Black man standing. He is also entertained by the dancer’s antics, but he is alone, separate from the group of other men. As a free Black man, he is allowed to visit the tavern, but he remains apart from the other visitors. Through this isolation, Mount indicates that the man is not fully able to participate in the community. The topics represented in this painting were recurring in his art.

Mount’s return to the Three Villages marked a shift in the nature of his work. His exploration of slavery, racial dynamics, and rustic vignettes offer indelible insight into 19th century life on Long Island. His creative expression was a culmination of previous artistic enterprises, driven by both his own passion and financial necessity. Mount continued to paint, integrating other interests, such as music, into his art. He never married or had children and died of pneumonia on November 18,1868, at his brother Robert’s house in Setauket.

Author Tara Ebrahimian is the Education Coordinator at the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket. This article originally appeared on the historical society’s website and is reprinted with permission.

Grey Squirrel. Photo from Pixabay

By John L. Turner

While it was more than 50 years ago I remember the details sharply, as if the event had happened a few days ago. The oak I carefully but rapidly climbed was a young tree about 30 feet tall with a full canopy of branches, growing in a small patch of woods between the elementary school I had attended and a residential street (It was in these woods I first saw Pink Lady’s Slipper, a wonderful native orchid). And there in a nook where two branches emerged from the main trunk was the object of my scamper — the nest of a grey squirrel that I wanted to inspect.

My interest in squirrels and their nests came about from a book I had looked at in the junior high school library; I think it was entitled “Animal Homes”— although this factoid I don’t remember quite so clearly! But what I do remember in the book was the account which explained that grey squirrels make two types of nests — those in tree cavities, often used in winter, and the one I was going to inspect consisting of a globe-shaped leafy ball, known as a “drey,” wedged amidst branches, also used in winter but more often during the warmer months. The account mentioned that most dreys consisted of a single chamber although occasionally they make two chambers — the equivalent of a foyer leading into the living room.

Working my way up the tree I reached the destination and with a little bit of anxiety bordering on trepidation stuck my hand into the nest and felt around. Fortunately no one was home, which is what I expected since several bangs on the main trunk next to the drey had elicited no response. I quickly realized I had a two chamber nest.

The entrance chamber was the smaller of the two and I could feel a partial wall separating the two. The back chamber was about 50% bigger than the size of a curled squirrel (say that tens time fast!) I was surprised by how solid the nest felt and how thick the walls were (they can contain more than 20 layers of leaves; one researcher tickled apart the wall of a drey and found 26 leafy layers).

The thick wall of a squirrel nest serves two vital functions — helping to keep rain out and body warmth in and the leafy layered wall exceeds in doing both. The leaves act like shingles on a roof and their overlapping positioning helps to prevent water from infiltrating the nest. Similarly, the leaves help to retain heat and many experiments have documented their thermal benefits, by keeping internal nest temperatures high when occupied by the squirrel. In one study in Finland researchers found that once a red squirrel entered a drey it quickly warmed up, making the temperature inside the nest 60 to 80 degrees warmer than the surrounding air.

The latin or scientific name for the grey squirrel is Sciurus carolinensis; the genus name means “shadow tail,” a reference to the shadow the tail makes when its arched over the back of the squirrel, a common position when the animal is eating. The species name relates to Carolina, where the first squirrel was presumably first discovered and described to science.

Grey squirrels live up to their name, being grey in coloration, but if you get a chance to view a squirrel up close you’ll see the pelage is a bit more colorful. Occasionally while birding I’ll train my binoculars on a nearby squirrel and I am always taken by their subtle beauty, enrobed as they are in muted earth tone colors. The squirrel’s underside is white and it’s face, tail, and armpit is diffused with brown. There’s a flecking of black, white, and brown or tan peppered throughout the grey fur. Melanistic (all black) and albinistic (all white) squirrels occur with melanistic being the more common of the two rare pelages, but even these blacks squirrels make up less than one percent of the population. I remember, as a child,when visiting my aunt who lived in Rye, New York seeing a population of black squirrels that lived in the forest next to a golf course.

When it comes to managing their food supply rodents generally display two types of behaviors: scatter hoarding or centralized or “larder” hoarding, with grey squirrels practicing the former (chipmunks employ the latter). If you watch grey squirrels in the fall you’ll see them carrying acorns and other nuts burying them (or caching them) in dozens of locations. This behavior suggests they possess very good memories, which they indeed do, since 95 to 99% of the cached nuts are recovered and eaten.

I recently watched acorn caching involving a squirrel on my front lawn. The squirrel walked slowly and then stopped to paw the earth, followed by some sniffing, the way a squirrel assesses the suitability of the site in the grass in which to hide the acorn. It did this three or four times apparently unhappy with something about each of the sites until it finally met the right set of squirrelly conditions at a site near a tall holly tree. Scratching quickly with its front paws the squirrel quickly buried the acorn. Its scattered larder was now one acorn larger.

Grey squirrels are quite adept at differentiating acorns from different oak species; they “know” that acorns from white oaks germinate in the fall while those of red oaks do so in the following spring and, not surprisingly, eat the white oak acorns first while storing acorns from red oaks. Another advantage to this strategy, besides eating acorns that would be lost to germination if they tried to store them, comes from the fact that tannin levels in red oak acorns (tannin is the ingredient that makes your lips pucker when drinking red wine) lessens over time, making the acorns less bitter and more palatable.

We’re not sure if squirrel lips pucker when eating tannic acorns but I do know they develop a large stained moustache while and after eating black walnuts. Despite the impending facial smudge they’ll develop, they look like the definition of contentment as they hold the prized walnut in their paws and proceed to gnaw through the green husk to get to the walnut shell and meat that lays within.

We have another squirrel species that roams the forest of Long Island: the Southern Flying Squirrel. Strictly nocturnal, this little living fabric of “flying” carpet can be seen at bird feeding stations where it’s especially fond of suet. Of course, they don’t fly but rather glide from one tree to another, using an extended fold of skin on each side of its body connecting front and back legs. Their flattened tail helps to serve as a rudder and brake.

Many years ago I worked in a nature preserve and one day went to look at some white baneberry growing along a trail I knew was developing fruits (also known as doll’s eyes due to the resemblance of the fruits to the eyes once used in old fashioned porcelain dolls, white baneberry is in the buttercup family). As I neared the plants I noticed, at the base of a large chestnut oak on the other side of the trail, a small brownish object. Inspecting it I realized it was a freshly dead flying squirrel. I sadly wondered if the squirrel had misjudged the location of the tree or got carried by the wind and collided with the tree with such force that it caused its demise.

While I’ll never know what killed that flying squirrel so many years ago, I do know the cause of many squirrel deaths today— roadkill. Grey Squirrels routinely cross roads that are within their territory; unfortunately, they have no awareness of cars as lethal objects. In one study a state wildlife biologist counted 390 dead squirrels along a fifty mile stretch of highway in New Hampshire.

As I drive Long Island roads I’m constantly alert for squirrels bounding out from the road shoulder (and other wildlife like box turtles); so far so good — while I’ve had a number of close calls with darting squirrels I haven’t hit one.

I’m very grateful I haven’t hit a squirrel with my car and even more grateful of the experience I had, climbing an oak tree half a century ago, since it was the catalyst for developing a lifelong fondness of squirrels.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Photos courtesy of Pixabay

By Daniel Dunaief

Children may not be able to sit on Santa’s lap this holiday season, but they will have a chance to chat with him.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization has announced a Holiday Program for the Stony Brook Village Center to be held December 6, 2020. WMHO will be bringing Santa Claus direct from the North Pole live over Zoom. 45-minute free sessions will run at  2, 3 and 4 p.m.

Santa will speak to 100 children during each hour. Residents can sign up to share their holiday wish list through Eventbrite, which will have a description of how each session will run.

A special mailbox just for letters to Santa will be at the Stony Brook Post Office, 111 Main Street in Stony Brook starting on Dec. 6.

Parents and their children eager to connect with Santa can go to www.stonybrookvillage.com, which will have a link to the Eventbrite registration. Each child will have between one and two minutes with the bearded wonder.

“Our organization does distance learning for schools and we are excited to use our technology pieces to bring Santa Claus to the children,” said Gloria Rocchio, President of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization. “With this approach, we can make children happy and the families safe.”

Eventbrite is also providing a link for the public to make a suggested donation to the 25th annual Santa Fund, which provides people in need with clothing, food, essential items and gifts.

Guests can also place their holiday present requests with Santa in the Chat Box during their zoom session or mail it physically at the Santa Mail Box in front of the Stony Brook Post Office, which will also start receiving wish lists on Dec. 6.

After the Santa interactions on Zoom, residents can watch the Stony Brook Village Center Facebook Page which features a tree lighting on the Village Green at 5:30 pm.

To reserve a virtual spot to visit with Santa in the North Pole on Sunday, December 6th 2020 visit the WMHO’s Eventbrite page at http://wardmelvilleheritageorg.eventbrite.com

For further information, please call 631-751-2244.

Photos courtesy of WMHO

Thanks to all the children who entered Times Beacon Record News Media’s Thanksgiving Coloring Contest! The second annual event had creative kids across our coverage area sharpening their colored pencils and breaking out the markers. Congratulations to 7-year-old Emily C. of Port Jefferson Station and 5-year-old Charlee H. of Sound Beach for being this year’s winners. They both received a $25 gift certificate to Chocolate Works in Stony Brook. Special thanks to Chocolate Works for sponsoring our contest! Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Gurwin Healthcare System has begun site clearing work for the construction of its new Independent Living Community, Fountaingate Gardens. Several key stakeholders were on hand recently to commemorate the first step toward groundbreaking for the 129-luxury apartment independent living complex, creating only the fourth Life Plan Community on Long Island.

“We are thrilled to be taking this milestone step, as we move closer to groundbreaking within the next couple of months,” said Stuart B. Almer, Gurwin Healthcare System President and CEO. Joined by members of the Gurwin board, Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, and Fountaingate Gardens Founders Club members, Almer spoke about the progress toward construction, and the community’s impact on Long Island seniors.

“Fountaingate Gardens will provide an amenity-rich, resort-fashioned lifestyle with a wide array of services on one campus, enabling seniors to remain on Long Island, close to the things and people they love,” he said. “Offering an active lifestyle and both financial and healthcare security for the future, the community will be the final piece to Gurwin’s full continuum of care. We are grateful for the support of Supervisor Lupinacci and the Town of Huntington for this project which is vital to enabling our area’s seniors age in place.”

“I’m so excited to see my future home coming to fruition!” said Bonnie Soman, a Founders Club member, who stopped by to see the progress. Accompanied by future neighbor Michelle Leone and wearing Fountaingate Gardens hardhats, the two Founders watched as heavy equipment moved dirt and trees to prepare for the community’s groundbreaking.

Located on Gurwin’s 34-acre Commack campus, Fountaingate Gardens will have a charming, village-like ambience offering a dynamic lifestyle for active adults. Dining venues, a fitness center, an indoor salt water pool, social gathering areas, and numerous other amenities will be conveniently located just a few steps from each residence.

Fountaingate Gardens will offer active adults the freedom and lifestyle of a Life Plan Community while ensuring access to the acclaimed Gurwin continuum of care should health needs change in the future. The project is already almost 65% sold, with some of the most popular floor plans nearly or completely unavailable.

For more information, call 631-715-2693.

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Visitors to Avalon Nature Preserve will find a new boardwalk along the mill pond. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Enjoying the great outdoors has become even easier at Avalon Nature Preserve.

Visitors to the preserve in Head of the Harbor, adjoining Stony Brook, will soon see the completion of a much-anticipated boardwalk. While nature lovers in the last few weeks have been able to enjoy the new boardwalk at the preserve, the Monday after Thanksgiving will see work begin for the installation of additional railings. The work will close part of the boardwalk near the grist mill Monday through Thursday, but it will be open to visitors Friday through Sunday. Katharine Griffiths, director of Avalon Nature Preserve, said the boardwalk should be completed by the beginning of the new year.

The boardwalk and other projects are part of the park’s strategic master plan. Work on the boardwalk began in March, but once the pandemic hit, construction halted for 10 weeks, according to Griffiths. Once work was able to begin again, production was delayed sporadically due to wait times on materials, as many supply chains were slowed due to the pandemic. Originally, the hope was for the boardwalk to be completed in May.

Griffiths said the preserve has also installed new benches along the boardwalk, and the upper frog pond is being repaired due to a hole in the liner. Trail systems have been redone and many paths have been resurfaced during the last few months, and due to the renovations, the park’s labyrinth will now only have one access point. Restorative plantings have been placed around the labyrinth as well as other areas in the park, and Griffiths said they will be more plantings in the spring. Currently, the frog pond and labyrinth are closed due to
the renovations.

With many seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic, Griffiths said she has seen an increase in visitors.

“When the world feels a little crazy, people want to come here to feel better,” she said.

Head of the Harbor resident Harlan Fischer said he visits the park often with his dogs. While he hasn’t seen all of the improvements yet, he’s thrilled with what he has seen so far. He described the preserve as an asset to the area.

“It’s a really neat place, the nature preserve,” he said. “Kathy Griffiths sees everything gets done and is really good at this.”

The park abuts the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park, which also will be undergoing a makeover of sorts. Maintained by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the duck pond park is in need of restoration after damage sustained during Tropical Storm Isaias in August when more than a dozen trees fell as the storm ripped through the park. There was also major damage to the park’s braille-engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the gardens and the walkways along the pond.

The entrance to Avalon Nature Preserve is located at the corner of Harbor Road and Route 25A in Stony Brook. Additional parking is available on Shep Jones Lane in Head of the Harbor.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Reichert Planetarium, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport presents The Little Star That Could on Nov. 28 and 29 at 12:15 p.m. The Little Star That Could is a story about Little Star, an average yellow star in search for planets of his own to protect and warm. Along the way, he meets other stars, learns what makes each star special, and discovers that stars combine to form star clusters and galaxies. Eventually, Little Star finds his planets. ages 4 to 8. Tickets, which include admission to the museum and access to the grounds, are $13 for children, $16 adults, $15 seniors at the door. To order, in advance, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli is pictured with Reverend Kimberly Gambino of the Helping Hand Rescue Mission in Huntington Station. Photo from Town of Huntington

The holidays are rapidly approaching. Unfortunately, this holiday season will be quite different for many people. Many families in our community are suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no better time than the present to reach out and help our neighbors. That is why the Huntington Highway Department recently partnered with the Helping Hand Rescue Mission of Huntington Station this year for our “Highway Cares – Third Annual Food Drive”.

“As many food banks and local charities try to keep up with the overwhelming demand for food and supplies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is especially important to donate whatever we can to help those in need in our community,” stated Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli.  “I’m so proud of the men and women in the Highway Department for giving their all in this year’s food drive. They have collected, itemized and packaged ten full boxes of food and delivered all to the Helping Hand Rescue Mission on Monday, November 16th, 2020,” added Mr. Orelli.

For those interested in helping to ‘Give the Gift of a Meal’ this holiday season, please contact Reverend Kimberly Gambino of the Helping Hand Rescue Mission at: 631-351-6996 or via email to: [email protected]

Suggested donations are canned tuna, chicken, beans, soups & stews, chili, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, stuffing mix, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, oatmeal, nuts and trail mix. Monetary contributions can be sent to the Helping Hand Rescue Mission, 225 Broadway in Huntington Station, NY 11746.

Members of the Miller Place Fire Department and other community volunteers successfully packed a department bus full of food and other supplies for the St. Louis de Montfort church’s food pantry. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though students now aren’t meant to sit too close on the bus, the Miller Place Fire Department, for the 10th year in a row, is using every inch of space in a bus that bears its own logo.

Members of the Miller Place Fire Department and other community volunteers successfully packed a department bus full of food and other supplies for the St. Louis de Montfort church’s food pantry. Photo by Kyle Barr

MPFD’s 10th annual Stuff-a-Bus event managed to fill every seat in their red-and-white bus to the brim with food and other essential items donated by the community. All food was delivered to the St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach for its food pantry.

Items were donated by fire department members and the surrounding community at the annual Stuff-a-Bus event held at the Miller Place Stop & Shop Nov. 20, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. In addition to the donated items, Miller Place EMS Capt. Rob Chmiel, who headed the event, said they received nearly $1,000 in cash and gift card donations. The cash was used to purchase items the department was short of, and the gift cards were given directly to the food pantry staff, so they could use them to address their needs in the future.

Though normally the fire department holds its donation drive over two days, on the night of this year’s event, Chmiel said that they were receiving an incredible amount of donations, more than they usually do. They even received a car full of groceries by a volunteer at 4 p.m. By around 5:30 p.m., just two hours into the six-hour event, they had filled half the bus through several dozen residents donating a few boxes, cartons or jars at a time. By the end that same bus was packed to the seams. 

“We set out to make this the biggest year we possibly could, given the pandemic and everybody being stuck at home for most of the year,” Chmiel said. “We broke every record we possibly could.”

Elaine Bender, outreach director for St. Louis de Montfort Church, said the department did a “fabulous job” as they got way more than initially expected. The gift cards are also a big help as those are needed to help needy people purchase big ticket Thanksgiving items like turkeys.

The late afternoon-evening event was a large-scale operation, with a score of department volunteers bringing food to the bus and loading it up as music rang out over the crowded lot on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Other fire department volunteers stood by the doors to the supermarket asking local residents for donations.

“There’s a lot of hungry people right now,” volunteer Lori Aliano said. 

Since the pandemic’s start, Bender said the church has seen an increase in the overall number of clients they help. She added she expects there could be an increase in need should there be another statewide shutdown in the near future.

Chmiel thanked Marchand’s School of Dance for their yearly donations and Stop & Shop of Miller Place for allowing them to host the drive.

St. Louis de Montfort Church also hosts a drive for Christmas and will be accepting gift cards from any shop that sells toys supplies and/or clothing. Donations can be dropped off at the church located at 75 New York Ave. in Sound Beach.