By Melissa Arnold
In 1867, August Heckscher left his native Germany and, like so many others of that time, embarked on a journey to start a new life of prosperity in the United States. He immediately set to work mining coal for his cousin’s business, all the while studying English. Heckscher’s efforts led him to a lucrative career in iron and zinc mining, and he ultimately became a multimillionaire.
Heckscher was well-known for his philanthropy, and in 1920, he gave back to the town of Huntington with the establishment of Heckscher Park. The beautiful setting of the park became home to the Heckscher Museum of Art, which was founded with a gift of 185 works from Heckscher’s personal collection including art from the Renaissance, the Hudson River School and early modernist American art.
The museum has since weathered the Great Depression, eras of war and peace and changing artistic tastes in the community. That early collection has blossomed to include more than 2,000 pieces that include many styles, media and historical time periods from artists all over the world.
Today, the Heckscher Museum of Art is looking ahead to 2020 and honoring its home with a museum-wide exhibit entitled Locally Sourced: Celebrating Long Island Artists.
At the helm for this exhibit is the Heckscher Museum’s new curator, Karli Wurzelbacher, who joined the staff in August. Wurzelbacher studied art history in college and spent the better part of a decade in and around Manhattan before coming out to Long Island.
“We wanted to take a broad view of all the artists who have visited and worked on Long Island at some point in their lifetime,” she said. “In this exhibit, we’ve represented more than 130 years of art in all styles, from very abstract to very representational. It’s about all the different perspectives that Long Island has inspired. I think everyone here has been looking forward to our 100th anniversary and wanting to commemorate it in a special way. The museum has always been so supportive of artists who have lived and worked here, and it’s part of our mission to preserve and share the history of Long Island through art.”
The process of planning Locally Sourced was already underway when Wurzelbacher arrived on Long Island. She acknowledged that an exhibit that encompasses the whole museum was quite the undertaking, but it allowed her to dive deep into the Heckscher’s permanent collection.
“Curating gives the opportunity to tell stories and create narratives visually using objects, and to help people make connections between artists,” said Wurzelbacher. “Some of the artists in this exhibit were teachers or students to other [artists], and you can see that in their work.”
The exhibit is divided into four sections, each offering a unique view of Long Island. They include Huntington’s Own featuring the works of renowned painters George Grosz, Arthur Dove, Stan Brodsky, Mary Callery and many more who live or lived and worked around Huntington; East End Exchanges which explores the connections and influences of artists of the East End, including Fairfield Porter and Jane Wilson; Women Artists which features the work of female artists who have made a profound impact on their field, such as Miriam Schapiro, Betty Parsons and Esphyr Slobodkina with a nod to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, allowing women the right to vote; and Landscapes that trace the changes in environment and in art throughout the Island’s history. This gallery includes 19th-century images from Thomas Moran, to modern works by Ty Stroudsburg who interpret Long Island’s land, sea and air.
The exhibit includes work in a variety of media, including painting, photography, sculpture and mixed projects. In all, more than 100 pieces represent the work of 89 artists — just a fraction of the museum’s permanent collection, Wurzelbacher said.
Visitors to the museum will have a chance to weigh in on the places and things that they believe make Long Island special. Stop by and leave a pin on the 15-foot graphic of Long Island in the Huntington exhibit. The graphic will also show where the exhibit’s artists lived.
“Artists have been escaping the city to come out to the country and take part in the natural life here from very early on. To see the rugged terrain and vegetation of the North Shore, it’s easy to understand why artists would be drawn here,” said Michael Schantz, the museum’s president and CEO. “Ultimately this collection belongs to the community, and everyone should be proud that there are so many artists that have called Long Island home. We want to celebrate that.”
The Heckscher Museum, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington will present Locally Sourced: Celebrating Long Island Artists from Nov. 23 through March 15, 2020. The museum is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission discounts are available for children, students, members of the military, first responders and residents of the Town of Huntington. For more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.