Tags Posts tagged with "Adventure"


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‘Teddy’s Fourth of July: Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay’ © 2008, by Mort Künstler

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

‘The Poseidon Adventure’ ©1972 by Mort Künstler
‘The Poseidon Adventure’ ©1972 by Mort Künstler

Chatting with artist Mort Künstler about his career retrospective opening at the Long Island Museum on Feb. 26, it’s hard to believe that this dynamic man will be 90 next year. The light-filled Oyster Bay home overlooking Long Island Sound he shares with his wife Deborah displays their collection of paintings by Norman Rockwell, Maxwell Parrish and other American illustrators. Deborah’s talent as an interior designer is reflected in the warm, jewel-toned rooms. The couple delights in telling how Mort approached her at Pratt Institute when she was a freshman and he a graduate student. Deborah has been Mort’s favorite model and is the final arbiter when Mort creates a very complicated painting.

After they married, they lived on Deborah’s income as a textile designer, then watched his career grow rapidly as a phenomenally successful illustrator of magazine covers, book jackets, advertisements and movie posters and then as a painter of significant moments in American history. One that they recall as the most thrilling of his long career — one moment that they were privileged to experience in person — was viewed on television by millions. It is captured perfectly in his dramatic painting “Launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, April 12, 1981.”

‘Launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, April 12, 1981’ © 1981 by Mort Künstler
‘Launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, April 12, 1981’ © 1981 by Mort Künstler

Fifteen years into his successful career, he started doing work for National Geographic in Washington, D.C. “National Geographic set me on the right course to conduct thorough research and be in touch with the foremost expert on a given subject. My career as a painter of complex subjects fell into place after that.” An advertising agent brought him assignments to do historical paintings for corporate calendars and ads. “I was doing a lot of movie posters, too. They were the most exciting, highest paying art at the time. I had a lot of fun meeting movie stars, directors, and others.” His brilliantly colored, action-packed, multifigured movie poster of 1972 for “The Poseidon Adventure” is among other well-remembered posters in the exhibit.

Künstler has done a number of paintings set on Long Island, which are part of the exhibit at the Long Island Museum. Two are set during the American Revolution with the Townsend family home, which is now Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, as the backdrop. “Sally’s Valentine” portrays British Colonel John Graves Simcoe giving Sally Townsend the first known American valentine. In “The Culper Spy,” Sally’s brother, Robert Townsend, a key member of George Washington’s Setauket-based spy ring who gathered information in Manhattan, is portrayed in a candle-lit room, magnifying glass in hand reading an encrypted letter.

Mort Künstler at work in his studio. Photo by Liz Kaplan
Mort Künstler at work in his studio. Photo by Liz Kaplan

“Teddy’s Fourth of July: Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay” was commissioned by Künstler’s neighbor Roger Bahnik to honor the president, whose home was in nearby Sagamore Hill. Künstler surprised Bahnik by painting him as the driver of the president’s car and his wife and children as part of the crowd. Künstler also painted Oyster Bay residents who’d won a prize offered by him to the highest bidders at an auction to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay. The building in the background still stands at the corner of East Main and South Streets.

“I love the research. It’s like being a detective. What was the roof made of? How were the streets paved? What sort of hats would be correct?”

‘Sally’s Valentine’ © 2013 by Mort Künstler
‘Sally’s Valentine’ © 2013 by Mort Künstler

On the third floor of Künstler’s home is a costume room with a variety of hats, coats, gowns and accessories. Künstler designed a rotating platform for his workspace to allow his easel to be moved into the changing light streaming through a large skylight.

Another Long Islander commissioned “Washington’s Crossing.” Thomas R. Suozzi, the former Executive of Nassau County,  urged Künstler to undertake his version of that pivotal event of the American Revolution. The painting is a result of Künstler’s determination to provide a historically accurate representation of the subject of Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” “That was not the kind of boat used for officers. You could not get horses and cannons in those boats; ferries were used, and the officers traveled with their horses,” said Künstler, who nonetheless considers the 1851 painting “one of the great iconic images of all time.”

‘Respect of an Army’ © 2014 by Mort Künstler
‘Respect of an Army’ © 2014 by Mort Künstler

James I. Robertson Jr., the dean of Civil War historians, has said of Künstler’s work, “To study his paintings is to simply see history alive.” Proof of this is seen in “Respect of an Army,” painted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Known for his Civil War battle scenes, for this occasion nonetheless Kunstler chose to depict that moment when peace had finally come to the divided and wounded nation. Soldiers of the victorious Union Army stand respectfully and with a certain sadness as Confederate General Robert E. Lee passes by after having surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant inside the McLean House. It is not a scene of triumph, nor is glory given to the victors. Rather, attention is paid to the leader of the losing side that had fought with courage and tenacity but, in the end, had succumbed to a greater power.

‘The Culper Spy’ © 2013 by Mort Künstler
‘The Culper Spy’ © 2013 by Mort Künstler

“The New Nation: The History of the United States in Paintings and Eyewitness Accounts” is the latest of Künstler’s 20 books of paintings, with texts by noted historians. A series of children’s books featuring Künstler’s art, titled “See American History,” will be released this spring by Abbeville Kids. The first two will be on the American Revolution and the Civil War, followed by World War II and the Wild West in the fall. 

The name “Künstler,” which means “artist” in German, seems a validation of Mort Künstler’s choice of profession. The exhibit of over 80 of his works is a major retrospective of Kunstler’s paintings starting with childhood art through to his most recent paintings. It is not to be missed.

Mort Künstler: The Art of Adventure will be on view at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook, from Feb. 26 through May 30. The community is invited to meet the artist and view the exhibit on Friday, March 18, at 5 p.m. as part of the museum’s Alive@5 series. Tickets are $15, $10 members at the door. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org or call 631-751-0066.

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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What if we told you that you could travel to Paris this summer? What if you could finally achieve your dream of becoming an astronaut? What if you had the opportunity to travel back in time to the 1890s or 1960s? Well, you can. Just pick up a book.

Some of our school districts already require students to read one or multiple books over the summer. We commend those districts and think others should follow suit and implement their own summer reading programs in the future.

Summer learning loss, or the summer slide, is real — but we can prevent it. This is more important than ever before as students are being held to a higher standard.

We’ve heard the argument from parents that summer break should be just that — a break — and mandating a child to read a book defeats that purpose. We disagree.

Instilling the value of reading into our lives and those of our children is important. Reading stirs the imagination, helps you think critically and makes you a lifelong learner.

While reading may be difficult for some kids and others may just not like it, there is a book for everybody — or at least an educational magazine — and there are so many places to find them.

Visit your local library to find summer reading programs for kids and adults. Go online and download an eBook. At the bare minimum, try out Audible and listen to an audiobook.

We urge everyone to turn off the video games, get off the computer and escape for a few minutes in the pages of a book. Relax — you will be OK and you may even find it fun.

In the time-honored tradition of required reading, we end with a quote from Betty Smith’s 1943 classic, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

“The world was hers for the reading.”

May the world be yours this summer.