One on One with Neil Watson

One on One with Neil Watson

Neil Watson. File photo by Katelyn Winter

By Katelyn Winter

When Neil Watson, the executive director of the Long Island Museum (LIM), sat down with me in his office for an interview, he warned me not to be alarmed if, during our session, people came up close to the window to take a photo with a tree covered in crocheted yarn. It is one of five trees in the Crocheted Tree Project, a current exhibition at the museum, and visitors love to take photos with the stunning pieces of art.

Watson, who began his career as a maker of art, loves the attention the trees are getting. Living and working in the heart of Stony Brook Village, his appreciation for art and eagerness to engage with the community has shone through since becoming executive director in 2013.

What do you like the most about working at the LIM?

There are so many aspects to what I do, which is the beauty of it, because I’m involved in curatorial, education, fundraising, the site itself and the community. So if I could take one of those things, it would be that as the director I get to work with the community and make this museum as vibrant and as relevant to here as possible. This job is so far from boring because there’s something new all the time.

What is the most popular exhibit at the LIM right now?

Having a show from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience) is terrific, because a lot of people can’t go to Cleveland, so to have that here is great and having it alongside the Long Island in the ‘60s exhibit that was curated by Joshua Ruff, our chief curator, there’s a connection to that. While they are two different exhibitions, they are speaking of culture in America, a lot of which overlaps with what was happening on Long Island in the ‘60s; it’s looking at the political, the economic and also art and design. Those two shows overlap as the ‘60s, and the culture and the counterculture of the ‘60s and music festivals, from those in the past to more contemporary.

What kinds of exhibits would you like to see the Long Island Museum present in the future?

Well, there’s the vehicles — we have the carriages and people have become so disengaged from the idea of carriages, while at the same time they’re completely engaged with their cars. This is the car that was available for them before cars. The way cars and carriages work is, to me, so similar, and what we like to do is we like to make that connectivity come to life. We have a long-term desire to create a new interactive space in the carriage exhibit, … a simulated ride in a carriage, so people could not just ask what it feels like to ride in one, but actually experience it. It would involve using technology in some capacity to create a virtual ride. It’ll connect people to our collection. We have the finest collection of carriages in America — it’s a major part of what people know about us. The carriages already have a certain draw to them, but to engage people even more is what we’d really like to do.

How have the LIM’s summer events been?

It’s been great, and we love to have events that tie into what we’re showing at the museum currently. On Aug. 7 we’re showing “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” which is a documentary by Jonathan Demme on Neil Young. It’s such a great concert film. Andy Keir, the film editor, will be speaking about cutting that film at the showing. We also have a new bluegrass series, and there will be a concert for that on Aug. 12 [with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado]. I love having a variety of music series. People will come here for all kind of music who maybe haven’t been here before, and then want to come back and explore more. We are an art museum, but we are also a cultural hub: for music, for talks about books, for history — it’s very broad.

Do you have any hobbies?

If I do have a hobby, it’s cooking. I prepare all the meals for my family; I love to cook. I think it’s a great way of separating yourself from what you’ve done during the day, good, bad, whatever, it’s nice to focus on the task at hand. And feeding people is such a great thing to do; [whether it’s] feeding them knowledge, visual information, or food — I love it. Music is also always on in the house, and I play guitar. I still have the callused fingers; I started when I was 13, and I have the same guitar that I bought in 1974. Now it’s actually vintage, which is scary. I also love going to museums. My family and I just went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art up in Amherst, and it’s a wonderful museum. We also went to the Emily Dickinson Museum, which is the house where she grew up.

What is your favorite thing to do in Stony Brook Village?

My family and I walk every morning. We walk in the village, because I live right here, right by the museum — when I say I’m here all the time, I’m really here all the time! Having the Long Island Sound here, I mean, the water is just such a gift. I also like to shop locally whenever I can. I love Pentimento; I love the wine shop, Lake Side Emotions & Spirits; Brew Cheese; my drycleaner’s. I try to support everyone as much as I can. So that’s what I like to do here — walk and shop. It’s a beautiful place to be.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.