By Rita J. Egan
Ward Hooper and his wife Dolly, who passed away in 2012, were a rare couple because both were exceptionally talented and accomplished. To celebrate decades of the couple’s creative contributions to the Village of Northport as well as their involvement in the community, the Northport Historical Society is currently running the exhibit, Sharing a Creative Life: Dolly and Ward Hooper.
Terry Reid, collection consultant and member of the exhibit committee at the historical society, said, “It’s sort of a retrospective celebration of Dolly and Ward’s creative life. It’s a thank you from Northport for all of their years of creativity and community service.”
The exhibit is what Reid calls a “full-circle moment” for her. When she started out at the historical society, she was fortunate to work with both Dolly and Ward, who were board members and curators for 35 years. She was happy once again to work with Ward on this show. “I learned from Ward and Dolly when I started 10 or 12 years ago. They taught me what I know now,” she said.
The exhibit displays the couple’s individual as well as joint achievements and demonstrates how they integrated their creativity into Northport, according to the consultant. On one side, the cabinets feature Ward’s achievements, which include graphic designs for many well-known brands, and features on the other side are Dolly’s dress designs and dolls she created. In the middle, the displays show what the couple accomplished together, including their work at the society.
The pieces on display come from the Hoopers’ personal collection, and the exhibit includes 24 of Ward’s watercolor paintings, too. In addition to being a former graphic designer, Ward is a watercolor painter who taught at the Art League of Long Island for 12 years. He is currently collaborating with photographer Holly Gordon on a new artistic venture called the Brush/Lens Project.
Also featured in the exhibit is the society’s dollhouse, which is a permanent fixture at the museum due to Dolly’s involvement in decorating the house with furnishings and miniature dolls.
Reid said Dolly, who began her career dressing store windows along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, loved designing and collecting dolls, even though growing up during the Depression she never had one of her own. Among her creations on display are ones she made out of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottles. The figures inspired the company to create a calendar featuring the dolls, which turned out to be one of their most successful advertising campaigns, according to the consultant.
Ward and Dolly were avid antique collectors, and the designer in the ‘70s opened the Trolley Tracks Antique Shop in Northport, according to Reid. She also created many one-of-a-kind bridal gowns and especially loved Victorian dresses. “She could really bring a dress to life,” the consultant said.
Reid said Ward and Dolly not only contributed culturally to the village but also were actively involved in the community. In addition to working with the historical society as curators from 1974 to 2009, they were also involved with the Northport Architectural Review Board as well as the village’s chamber of commerce. Ward even designed the chamber’s logo. In addition, Dolly helped make wreaths that were displayed along Main Street during the Christmas season and started the Miss Northport Pageant in the ‘80s.
Ward, who attended the exhibit’s opening reception on April 3, was appreciative of all his friends who attended the event. “This is really rewarding to see so many people turn out here today. Dolly passed away four years ago, and she would have truly loved it,” he said.
The artist was especially pleased to see Bill O’Brien, a former director of the Northport Historical Society, and Dick Simpson, also a former director as well as the museum’s founder. Ward said he not only worked with the two during his days on the board at the society but also with Dick in Manhattan early in their careers, and the two along with Dolly were curators together for many of the early exhibits at the society’s museum.
The artist said when Simpson told the couple “to come out to the North Shore” to visit him, they liked what they saw and in 1969 moved from the city and bought a converted barn in Northport. The couple, who had met in the early ‘50s at Willoughby’s Camera Store, was married since 1953.
Simpson, who traveled from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the opening reception, said he hopes that everyone who visits the museum will see “the creative power these two people had.
“If you are creative, you can go in all different directions. That’s what so wonderful about the creative person and these two were very creative,” Simpson said.
O’Brien remembered visiting the Hoopers at their home and said Dolly was always working on a project. “She was a very creative woman and she was always on the go,” he said.
The former director was pleased with how the exhibit turned out. “I think the exhibit was aptly named because even though they were married, they each pursued their own creative abilities on their own stage, and then they always supported each other,” O’Brien said.
Ward and Dolly’s daughter Laura Jean Wilson was also on hand for the reception and loved that both her mother’s designs and father’s artwork were on display together. “To see everything here is beautiful. It’s well done; a lot of good memories,” Wilson said.
When it comes to what she hopes exhibit goers will discover during a visit to the museum, Wilson said, “Just how creative they were, the talent, how they worked so well together, had a lot of similar interests, and how they loved Northport. Just to see the different collaborations between the two … they loved what they did.”
Sharing a Creative Life: Dolly and Ward Hooper will be on exhibit at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, Northport, through Aug. 31. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.northporthistorical.org or call 631-757-9859. To find out more about the Brush/Lens Project, visit www.brushlensproject.com.