By Tara Mae
Art is an expression of personal inspiration, and the Smithtown Township Art Council’s latest exhibit at the Mills Pond Gallery, A Sense of Place, examines how Long Island acts as a muse to local artists. The show opens Feb. 20.
The beautiful exhibit fills four gallery rooms and the center hall gallery on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion in St. James. A mixed media display, it includes book art, sculptures, acrylic, oil, and watercolor paintings. With 62 works by 48 artists from 32 communities across Long Island, the exhibit is a cross-section of local culture and influences, capturing scenes of nature and community.
“Long Islanders will see art about Long Island … places they see daily or places of their memories. We think the exhibit will help people reconnect with this place where they make and live their lives and hopefully inspire them toward ongoing care and interpretation of these places,” said Executive Director Allison Cruz.
Increasing awareness about the environment was a goal for both Cruz and a number of the artists. Galvanized by the natural world and forged by remembrance, the art encompasses genres including realistic landscape vistas and abstract or surrealist renderings. How nature and memory intertwine is a recurring theme of the show, expressed through individual perspectives.
“People will see beautiful forms of art and how artists felt in that time and that space and maybe it will get them to appreciate those places. Maybe this will make them want to venture out. It’s the little places that have been preserved … and the county parks, little gems that need more appreciation. The more that they are highlighted in exhibits, the more people will get to see them” said artist Loretta Oberheim, of Ronkonkoma.
Her abstract expressionist piece, Walks Through Avalon, is a sculpture mounted on canvas and made of alcohol inks on yupo paper. It is Oberheim’s homage to Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook, which she cites as one of her “happy places.”
The exhibit explores the myriad ways Long Island informs artistic development and depiction.
“I’m always on the lookout for an interesting or beautiful scene and feel fortunate to live in an area with such picturesque beaches, farms and woodlands,” said artist Robert Roehrig of East Setauket. His two landscape oil paintings, Facing the Sun and Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park, are tributes to local vistas: Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach and Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket, respectively.
More than just imagery, the show incorporates the artists’ descriptions of their art and what inspired them, details that add insight into the impact of the installation, according to Cruz. “Artists couldn’t just submit the art; they also had to explain the connection they have to Long Island. [I asked them to] tell me what gives you a connection to this island that we live on,” she explained.
It is the second exhibit for which Cruz utilized this process. She previously included written testimonials of the artists’ motivations for the Celebrating Creativity exhibit back in November and was encouraged to do it for this installation after the positive response from visitors.
During the era of COVID-19, the gallery has striven to remain a respite for individuals seeking an escape into artistic beauty. The effort is a continuation of the gallery’s ongoing commitment to engaging the public and providing an escape from the doldrums and despair of the pandemic for both the artists and audience.
Nesconset artist Catherine Rezin’s piece, a watercolor and gouache painting, Along Great River, is a rendering of a photograph her husband took of the bank of the Connetquot River at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River.
“From the perspective of an artist, it is important to be seen, to allow other artists to see my work and to be inspired by their work. For the rest of the public, it is important to be able to go somewhere and retreat from reality, to connect with nature through art and to connect with Long Island through art,” said Rezin.
Participating artists include:
Marsha Abrams (Stony Brook), Lucia Alberti (Smithtown), Tina Anthony (Northport), Shain Bard (Huntington Station), Ron Becker (Deer Park), Joyce Bressler (Commack), Jean Marie Bucich (River Vale NJ), Carol Ceraso (Hauppauge), Rocco Citeno (Sayville), Donna Corvi (Montauk), Gráinne de Buitléar (Belle Terre), Lou Deutsch (Stony Brook), Michael Drakopoulos (Port Jefferson), Karin Dutra (Port Jefferson), Paul Jay Edelson (Poquott), Ellen Ferrigno (Port Jefferson), Dorothy Fortuna (Smithtown), Donna Gabusi (Smithtown), Jan Guarino (East Northport), Margaret Henning (Sayville), Libby Coker Hintz (Blue Point), Irene Ruddock (Stony Brook), James Kelson (Stony Brook), Lynn Kinsella (Brookhaven), John Koch (Port Jefferson Sta.), Lee Ann Lindgren (Breezy Point), Olivia Mathon (Smithtown), Eileen P. McGann (Island Park), Carissa Millett (Setauket), Hillary Serota Needle (Dix Hills), Loretta Oberheim (Ronkonkoma), Eileen W. Palmer (St. James), Catherine Rezin (Nesconset), Robert Roehrig (East Setauket), Lori Scarlatos (Saint James), Gia Schifano (New Hyde Park), Anita Schnirman (Kings Park), Faith Skelos (Smithtown), Paul Speh (Ronkonkoma), Mike Stanko (Valley Stream), Madeline Stare (Smithtown), Barbara Stein (Port Washington), Nicholas Valentino (North Babylon), M. Ellen Winter (Northport), Mary Jane van Zeijts (Stony Brook), Mary Waka (Ronkonkoma), Patty Yantz (Setauket) and Theodora Zavala (East Meadow)
The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present A Sense of Place from Feb. 20 to March 20. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Mask wearing is mandatory and social distancing protocols are strictly observed. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.