Stony Brook art community banks on Reboli

Stony Brook art community banks on Reboli

Three Village gathers in footprint of former Capital One building to open new arts center

A scene from Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Reboli Center in Stony Brook. Photo by Phil Corso

A group of dedicated Three Villagers has blended together a perfect cocktail of art and history, and anyone passing through historic Stony Brook village can have a taste.

The Reboli Center for Art and History held its ceremonial ribbon cutting in the company of founders and supporters on Tuesday morning while standing within the footprint of what used to be a Capital One bank. But they did much more than snip a piece of blue ribbon — they ushered in a new era in Stony Brook history, where North Shore residents can admire work from the late Joe Reboli of Setauket and take part in artistic and historic programming delving into the story of Three Village, Suffolk County and Long Island.

“It has been my dream, ever since he passed away, to have a place where the community can come and see his work,” said Lois Reboli, wife of the late artist. “He loved this community, he was very involved in the community and I am just beyond excited about this opportunity.”

Joe Reboli was born and raised on Main Street, not far from where his name was memorialized on Tuesday. He and his family had a long history in the area: His grandfather ran a business across the street, and his aunt worked in the same building when it was a bank decades ago.

He died in 2004 at age 58 after being diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. Since his death, Lois Reboli has been attending makeshift meetings at coffee and kitchen tables across Three Village with a squad self-identified as The Rebolians, working to make sure Joe Reboli’s story lived on. The list of names added to that squad has not stopped growing since his death.

Joe Reboli and his work line the walls of the new art and history center. Photo by Phil Corso
Joe Reboli and his work line the walls of the new art and history center. Photo by Phil Corso

One of the first people to make that list was Colleen Hanson, who worked as executive director of Three Village’s Gallery North from January 2000 until her retirement in September 2010. She worked alongside Lois Reboli after the artist passed and also helped launch the first Reboli Wet Paint Festival weekend at Gallery North in 2005. She said it was a long-standing mission of hers to honor Joe Reboli and keep his work at the forefront of the Three Village conversation.

“I made a vow that we would do something for him,” she said. “If we were to find a space, it had to be in Three Village and it had to have a Joe-like feeling. Now, I pinch myself and think, ‘This is so cool.’ We love this community. We want it to be even better and richer for everybody, and I see this as a beautiful upbeat place where people want to be.”

Lois Reboli started to see her team assemble before her eyes, with Hanson and former Gallery North assistant to the executive director, B.J. Intini. The three dubbed themselves the “tres amigas,” and that nickname followed them all the way to Tuesday’s ribbon cutting.

The founders received help from many along the way, but there was one significant piece of assistance they said they never saw coming.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was in talks with Lois Reboli regarding the potential creation of a Reboli arts center, and he helped the “tres amigas” create a not-for-profit called the Friends of Joseph Reboli, with a mission of collecting, preserving and exhibiting artwork and artifacts related to Joe Reboli. The group filed for federal 501(c)(3) status in 2012.

“This is not going to subtract from our existing cultural institutions,” Englebright said. “It is going to make this area an attraction and enhance it.”

It wasn’t until March 2015 when Hanson said she heard of the Capital One bank in Stony Brook potentially leaving the historic-landmarked building at a price tag of $1.8 million, and they have not looked back since. The Rebolians started raising money and seeking help from the greater Three Village community to acquire the space.

Englebright spearheaded a state grant at $1.3 million toward the purchase price, and that was coupled with two anonymous $150,000 donations that allowed them to plant a Reboli flag in the property.

Lois Reboli signed that contract on Sept. 25 — her late husband’s 70th birthday.

The Reboli Center for Art and History will keep Joe Reboli’s artwork alive with thriving displays and exhibits. A Reboli atelier will also complement the center’s work by establishing an education program at a Flowerfield facility, where participants can develop and foster a contemporary painting community grounded in classical traditions of drawing and painting — just like Joe Reboli would have wanted.

The rest of the story has yet to be written.

“It was very important to me that people didn’t forget his work,” Lois Reboli said. “He loved this area.”