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Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

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From Angels to Werewolves: Animal-Human Hybrids in Myth and Art

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

St. James resident Philip F. Palmedo has produced a beautifully written and generously illustrated book on a subject that has intrigued, delighted, and frightened children and adults from ancient days to the present: therianthropy, the mythological ability of humans to metamorphose into animals or animal-human hybrids.  

“The concept of the therianthrope can catalyze the creative imagination,” writes Palmedo. 

The first that we know of is the Upper Paleolithic Lion-Man carved out of woolly mammoth ivory some 40,000 years ago. While we can only conjecture why it was created, we know that more recent animal-headed deities like the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis played important roles some 5000 years ago in weighing the worth of a person after death.

In the Hindu pantheon, elephant-headed, four-armed Ganesha is widely revered as a bringer of good luck; in Christian art winged angels abound, by turns avenging and comforting. In the 20th century, the ancient Greek legend of the fearsome Minotaur, a man with the head and tail of a bull, served as Pablo Picasso’s “allegorical alter-ego . . . with many of his etchings, paintings, and sculptures featuring this mythical bull-man.” 

Imaginative minds past and present have created talking animals, from the wicked snake in Genesis that tempted Eve in the Garden to the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and lovable Big Bird of Sesame Street. 

Shape-shifting, the ability to change from human to animal or to an inanimate object, abounds in Greek mythology. One rather improbable example is that of the god Zeus changing into a swan to seduce Leda. In another example, as retold by the ancient Roman poet Ovid, the beautiful river nymph Daphne was “shapeshifted” by her father, morphing into a laurel tree to defeat the unwelcome advances of Apollo, the Greek god of the arts. The sadder but wiser Apollo paid tribute to her by adopting the laurel wreath as his crown. 

In America, therianthropy is on display in The Wolf Man horror films, from Lon Chaney’s 1941 portrayal to Benicio del Toro’s in 2010. More recently, the widely consumed Harry Potter tales spun by prolific British writer J. K. Rowling charmed children and adults with a talking bird, Hedwig, and with Firenze, the centaur who rescued Harry from the villain Voldemort. 

Centaurs, mythic creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse, are the land complement to creatures with human upper torsos ending in huge fish tails — mermen and the alluring mermaids sighted by lonely mariners whose names derive from the French word for the sea, La mer. Palmedo’s chapter, Merpeople, is richly illustrated with examples in art from 6000 BC Serbia and 4th century BC Greece to 19th and 20th century India, Japan, Great Britain, and Denmark, including the bronze sculpture The Little Mermaid that overlooks the harbor in Copenhagen. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale published in 1837, that fable might bring tears to one’s eyes. 

On the other hand, Norman Rockwell’s 1955 Saturday Evening Post cover, The Mermaid, can only make us chuckle with its depiction of an elderly fisherman hauling a beautiful mermaid home, her long elegant tail protruding from the large wooden fish trap on his back. 

This elegant, art-illustrated book written with clarity, printed on glossy paper, will entertain and enlighten. It can be purchased from Amazon. 


A Ph. D. in Nuclear Engineering from M.I.T., Philip F. Palmedo, former head of the Energy Policy Analysis Division at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was for many years Chairman of the Washington-based International Resources Group, which he founded. A former Trustee of Williams College in Massachusetts, where he majored in Physics and Art History as an undergraduate, Palmedo formed and was President of the Long Island Research Institute. He also serves on the MIT Council for the Arts, and is a fellow of the Williams College Museum of Art. Palmedo’s previous book was Deep Affinities: Art and Science.

METRO photo
Post-pandemic thoughts for parents, teachers and administrators

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Huge sighs of relief can be anticipated when local public schools reopen their doors this September — exclamations of relief not only from children and teenagers eager to resume in-person learning full time alongside their friends, not only from teachers exhausted from long hours shaping lessons onto distance-learning platforms, not only from parents, weary from assisting struggling students glued to laptops, iPads  or iPhones at home while juggling or, worse yet, resigning from paid jobs, and also from business owners glad to have their employees back.  

But will pre-pandemic and post-pandemic classroom learning be the same, and should it be? Should “distance learning,” supported by expanded technological resources, be granted a larger role within the classroom, with less teacher-led instruction? Which medium of delivery ensures a greater payoff of maximum learning for the resources invested?

Two Three Village residents, educators at the top of their profession — Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, professor emerita of Teaching, Learning and Technology, Hofstra University, and her spouse Martin Brooks, executive director of Tri-State Consortium, an association of over 40 school districts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — agree that the key to whether or not learning takes place is not how information is delivered but if knowledge is constructed. Whether it is a teacher or a book or a computer that provides a formal lesson, the students must connect the lesson to what they already know or have experienced for true learning to occur.

“Content alone is insufficient as a motivator for student learning: It must be combined with purpose … seen as meaningful by learners. Students learn best when engaged in learning experiences rather than passively receiving information,” according to the authors.

That theory of learning, called “constructivism,” suggests that you cannot directly impart knowledge, but you can facilitate experiences in which students construct knowledge. Jacqueline and Martin Brooks agree that the job of the teacher is to create meaningful experiences that enable the learner to do just that.

“There are kids who struggle to learn if what is being taught is not offered in a way that is particularly relevant to them. In order to figure out ways for them to have ownership of their learning, skilled teachers, interacting in person with these students, focus not only on content but concentrate on approaches that lead to critical and creative thinking.” 

What many parents and children learned during the pandemic is that at-home distance learning in front of a laptop, iPad, or iPhone cannot replace in-person classroom experiences created by skillful teachers. Virtual classrooms also denied children the opportunity to develop social skills through interaction with their peers. When schools reopen in September, students, parents and teachers will welcome the opportunity for true learning to begin again. 

Further reading: “Schools Reimagined: Unifying the Science of Learning with the Art of Teaching,” by Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Martin G. Brooks (Teachers College Press, 2021).

Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.

The cover of the book depicts split images of a 13th century window at Notre Dame de Paris, and the Compacy Moon Solenoid of the Large Hedron Collider, 2004

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

St. James resident Philip Palmedo’s latest book, Deep Affinities: Art and Science, skillfully develops the premise that close observation and representation of the natural world, driven by “careful curiosity,” was the starting point of both art and science in the far distant past, and that their deep relationship — affinity — continues to the present.  

Ironstone hand ax, 600,000 BP

A fascinating early chapter includes a reference to a work of sculpture dating from at least 50,000 BP (Before the Present), before Homo sapiens came to Europe. “A small stone that resembled a bird was collected by a Neanderthal and then modified to be more realistic. A hole was drilled for the eye, and the shape of the beak and tail was smoothed.”  Palmedo offers evidence that this object and other stone carvings, as well as cave drawings created by our earliest ancestors, indicate that the origins of science and the starting point of art began with careful curiosity leading to observation of the natural world — the same influences that inspire the work of scientists and artists today. 

As far back as 600,000 BP an aesthetic sensibility and a scientific instinct appeared in an ironstone hand ax found in South Africa; the early human who shaped it was concerned with form as well as function — with symmetry and balance, fundamental to both art and science. 

Palmedo expands upon symmetry and balance as essential qualities in nature and in art. He calls attention to nature’s fractals — similar patterns that recur at progressively smaller scales. An example in nature is the branch of a fern with same-shaped pairs of leaves becoming progressively smaller as they progress up the stem. An example in art is a Japanese woodblock print known as The Great Wave, in which the artist, Katsushika Hokosai, incorporated the concept of fractals, painting smaller yet otherwise identical waves with identical yet smaller and smaller boats upon them. “Fractal patterns are broadly appealing” in their balance and symmetry. 

The mathematically defined geometric shapes of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) abound in nature as well as art. A cutaway of a nautilus shell reveals a logarithmic spiral; Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in Utah echoes the Whirlpool Galaxy in outer space. 

‘The Great Wave’ by Katsushika Hokosai, 1830-32

The commonality of the circle in science and its aesthetic significance is spotlighted in the book’s cover art: a split image of the 13th century circular window in the north transept of Notre Dame de Paris is juxtaposed with a split image of the 21st century circular particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), near Geneva — the largest, most costly machine in the world, the most powerful particle accelerator, consisting of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way. 

Pairing images of the stained-glass window and this powerful machine is a brilliant visible support of Palmedo’s theme. Scientist and mathematician Albert Einstein was developing his breakthrough theory of the relativity of space and time during the same decades that Picasso and Georges Braque were developing their major breakthrough in art — Cubism — while Marcel Duchamp was illustrating movement through space in his Nude Descending A Staircase (1912). 

Einstein said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well:” one might well say that “The greatest artists are scientists as well,” and cite only two of many:  Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of anatomy, or Johannes Vermeer’s experiments with the camera obscura. 

The cover of the book depicts split images of a 13th century window at Notre Dame de Paris, and the Compacy Moon Solenoid of the Large Hedron Collider, 2004

In recent decades, two New York art museums spotlighted works of art linked directly to science. In 2004, The Museum of Modern Art displayed the world’s largest jet-engine fan blade, manufactured by General Electric, “rising from a narrow black base, twisting and expanding into a fan shape while undulating slightly into a lean S-curve. In its clear abstraction it could have been inspired by Constantin Brancusi, connecting mathematics, efficiency, and art.” 

Then, in 2019, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit, “Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe,” spotlighted, among many other magnificent objects, a rotating mechanical celestial globe of partially gilded silver perched atop a silver horse, created by Gerhard Emmoser for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in 1579. Writes Palmedo, “The intersection of art, technology, outpouring of creativity and learning, gave rise to exquisite objects that were at once beautiful works of art and technological wonders.” 

Palmedo’s undergraduate studies of Art History and Physics and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering, followed by a lifetime of professional and personal activism in both fields, support this current work — a logical progression following the author’s beautifully written and illustrated earlier books. 

The Experience of Modern Sculpture: A Guide to Enjoying Works of the Past 100 Years (2015) followed four books about the lives and work of noted contemporary American sculptors — Richard McDermott Miller (1998); Bill Barrett (2003); Joel Perlman (2006) and Lin Emery (2012.) In Deep Affinities: Art and Science, Palmedo has expanded his range, from the contemporary art scene back to the distant past.  

Like Palmedo’s previous books, Deep Affinities is printed on thick glossy stock enriched by more than 100 color illustrations. Palmedo leaps into his subject, proves his thesis with definitive clarity, and expands our thinking about artists and scientists as equal partners in their achievements. It is also, with its carefully chosen and extensive bibliography, a worthy addition to the bookshelves of both. 

The book is available at Amazon.com and from the publisher, Abbeville Press.  


Members of the bus trip pose for a photo between the statues of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr with dueling pistols.

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Twenty-seven enthusiastic day trippers boarded a chartered bus at the headquarters of the Three Village Historical Society at dawn on Nov. 3. Led by TVHS historian Bev Tyler, they arrived in comfort before 10 a.m. at Philadelphia’s newest tribute to the founding of our nation, the Museum of the American Revolution. There, the drama of the American Revolution and the ideas that inspired it came to life through the personal stories of the people who were there, from the early stirrings of unrest in Boston to the opening shots of the War of Independence and beyond, to the creation of the American Republic.

A must see was the recently opened exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, on display through March 17, 2019. While New York City, our nation’s first capital, is the focus of attention in the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” it was in Philadelphia, the second national capital, that many of the major events in the life and work of Alexander Hamilton took place.

Museum visitors prepare to load and fire a cannon

The exhibition highlights different aspects of Hamilton’s contributions: his role as an artillery officer in Washington’s army and, later, as adviser to President Washington; his writings that persuaded states to accept the United States Constitution; creator of the U.S. Coast Guard; and first Secretary of the Treasury who envisioned the financial future of the nation.

Through interactive displays, hands-on activities and wall texts, the museum presents the struggles by Hamilton, who favored a strong central government, with Jefferson and Madison, who believed that power should lie with each state. These are questions that we still struggle with today: How do we achieve a proper balance between the rights of each state to act independently and  the need for federal oversight?

Other permanent exhibits are exceptional as well. The museum proudly displays Washington’s war tent, in which he worked and slept alongside Continental Army battlefields. Another remarkably stirring exhibit is housed in a small amphitheater containing life-size, three-dimensional representations of members of the Oneida Indian Nation. Each one “speaks” in turn, presenting arguments for and against sending their warriors to take part in the Saratoga Campaign in the autumn of 1777. Should they support the Patriot cause and fight alongside the Americans, or should they side with the British Army? The Oneidas wrestle with their decision and decide to fight with the Continental Army. The Saratoga Campaign became a turning point of the war.  

A scene from the Oneida Indian Nation exhibit at the museum.

Is this an appropriate museum for children? Yes, bring a child to see Washington’s war tent, or follow the 10 steps it takes to load and fire a cannon, or design a coin or paper currency for the new nation, or dress up in reproduction 1790s clothing to attend one of Martha Washington’s “levees.” All can sit in comfort to see excellent, informative short films.

That said, the museum’s exhibits appear to be designed primarily for high school and college students and adults. They pose serious questions — questions that the nation still struggles to answer. At the end of the day I asked one of the knowledgeable participants among the group to share his impression. “It was good,” he said, “but not great.”  When asked why the lower rating, he said, “Too politically correct.”

Hmm. Yes, the museum has expanded upon the history many of us learned about our country’s origins, mostly told from the perspective of affluent white Protestant males. Little was said in most textbooks or high school class discussions about the impact of the American Revolution on Native Americans, enslaved Africans, women, Catholics and other religious minorities and French and Spanish occupants of the land. For them, the revolution offered promise and peril. Some chose the cause of independence and others sided with the British.

Storybook touch screens called Finding Freedom introduce the African-American London Pleasants, who ran away from slavery in Virginia in 1781 and joined the British Army as a trumpeter. We hear about Eve, owned by the Randolph family of Williamsburg, Virginia, who fled to the British when they occupied the city. She and her son George enjoyed a period of freedom, working under the British, until she was recaptured at Yorktown in 1781. We learn of Elizabeth Freeman, who sued her owner for freedom based on the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution — and won.

The museum focuses attention on the most revolutionary legacies — personal liberty, citizenship, the right to vote and social equality. Is the museum “Politically Correct,” or simply “Correct”?

On the bus ride back to Setauket, the participants from the Three Village Historical Society were treated to a screening of the TBR News Media film about Nathan Hale, “One Life to Give.” They also had time to think about what they’d learned at the Museum of the American Revolution. If that was the goal of its designers, they accomplished their purpose.

The author is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.

All photos by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

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The cover of Philip F. Palmedo's latest book, a tribute to his late father

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

“Roland Palmedo: A Life of Adventure and Enterprise” looks behind the extraordinary achievements of a 20th-century pioneer in the development of skiing in this country.

Author Philip F. Palmedo

Several previous books by the author, St. James resident Philip F. Palmedo, delved into the relationship between sculptors’ lives and their work. Turning now to a subject closer to his heart, in this biography Philip explores and illuminates the traits that propelled his father to be “an exemplar of an uncommon adventurous life that has become all too rare.” 

Written 40 years after Roland’s death, Philip provides more than details about his father’s adventures and accomplishments. 

He reveals his father’s deeply held values and the philosophy that propelled him to create lasting institutions of benefit to many. 

Born April 5, 1895, in Brooklyn, Roland was encouraged by his mother to explore Europe after high school. Visiting cousins in the German Alpines, he experienced a life in forests and mountains for the first time. Love of nature underpinned much of what he did afterward and formed a fundamental part of his character. He fell in love with skiing. Upon his return, he chose Williams College in the Berkshires, which had a ski team. He founded the Outing Club to share his love of sports with fellow student enthusiasts. This was a pattern he would follow; organizing clubs as the best way for an amateur to engage in his sport with others. 

Roland was an advocate of amateurism, with separate races for amateurs and professionals in domestic and international competitions. He believed that the structure of amateur sport should give maximum encouragement to participation. College students, business people, doctors and other professionals ought to be able to enter state and national championships. A participant sport offers a great public benefit, rather than an entertainment for spectators. All the sports he loved — skiing, bicycling, kayak racing, mountain climbing — he looked upon as character building.

In the 1920s New England had no plowed roads and few accommodations in winter. Roland led friends from New York City on skiing expeditions to snowy trails and logging roads in the Berkshires and Vermont. Recreational skiing was little known. 

Roland Palmedo on a kayaking trip. Photo from Philip F. Palmedo

Arguing that it could best be encouraged in clubs, he formed the Amateur Ski Club of New York in 1931. Its members supported Roland in organizing and sponsoring the first U.S. Women’s Ski Team at the 1936 Winter Olympics.  The club was behind him in developing two ski areas in Vermont — Stowe during the 1930s, on Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain; and Mad River Glen in the late 1940s.  Roland initiated the Mount Mansfield Ski Lift Company at Stowe to build and operate a single-chair lift that served skiers for half a century after its opening in 1940.

Stowe became the number one ski resort in the East. When the crowds and hotels and night clubs followed, Roland sought virgin terrain in the Mad River Valley of the Green Mountains. With others he created Mad River Glen. He led a trail design team designing interesting, narrow trails that guided a skier to “experience nature’s particularities.” The nature-respecting trails were the reason for Mad River’s reputation as an expert’s mountain; bumper stickers declared, “Ski It If You Can.” Roland was determined to retain the love and joy of the sport. At his insistence, Mad River Glen was designed to keep all but serious skiers away: “No hotels; just a few homey inns; no nightlife, except of the most home-spun country sort.” It is still a favorite of amateur skiers attracted by the untouched nature of the area.  

Without his financial expertise, neither Stowe nor Mad River Glen would have come to be. Similarly, he used his business organizational skills at Lehman Brothers in the 1920s to create aviation companies. Roland served on several aviation company boards, including Pan Am. He remained with Lehman Brothers until the 1960s.

The cover of Philip F. Palmedo’s latest book, a tribute to his late father

The U.S. Naval Air Force was in its infancy when Roland became a member of the first air squadron, in 1917. He flew air patrols with the RAF. Returning to civilian life, he continued flying out of the now-defunct Long Island Aviation Country Club in Hicksville. He compared flying with skiing, for in both you interacted directly with and controlled the forces of nature. He flew open-cockpit planes, including a Stearman biplane, from Manchester, Vermont, to New York in 1939. Four months after Pearl Harbor, he re-enlisted in the U.S. Naval Airforce. Lt. Commander Roland Palmedo served on the aircraft carrier Yorktown near the coast of Japan.

Many sons and daughters of men with distinguished careers and all-consuming personal passions have felt the loss of a warm companion and a strong guiding hand. Not so with Roland Palmedo. He taught his sons to ski and play tennis and provided adventures from white-water kayaking trips to expeditions to Europe and to Chile.

Philip appreciated Roland as a patient and loving grandfather. Roland’s granddaughter, Philip’s niece Bethlin “Scout” Proft, lives in the mountainside house that Roland rebuilt in the 1930s as “the first ski chalet in Vermont.” She created and runs a working farm there, in East Dorset. Scout quotes her granddad when she says, “Leave the world a better place.”

Roland died just before his 82 birthday on March 15, 1977. Philip regrets that he did not ask his father what it was like to fly rickety biplanes, to explore Mount Mansfield before there were lifts and to create aviation companies in the 1920s.

 Perhaps those of us still lucky to have a father with whom we can celebrate this coming Father’s Day may wish to ask a few important, revealing questions. Both of you will profit.

“Roland Palmedo: A Life of Adventure and Entreprise,” Peter E. Randall Publisher, is available online at Amazon.com or from its distributor at www.enfielddistribution.com. For more information on the author, visit his website at www.philippalmedo.com.

Elizabeth Monroe

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

History came alive on the distaff side last Monday night, as Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan talked about the nine first ladies born in New York State. Kaplan, a longtime resident of this area, author and prominent member of the Three Village Historical Society, combined her appreciation for history and art with delicious details from the lives of the nine women to make a delightful and informative evening at the Setauket Neighborhood House.

So who are those women?

Some of them we can tick off readily: Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. Others are shrouded in more distant history. They are the wives of Presidents Monroe, Van Buren, Tyler, Cleveland and Fillmore.

Here is an example of one of Kaplan’s anecdotes about these women. Elizabeth Monroe, born of an aristocratic Loyalist family in 1768, who disregarded the disapproval of her father to go ahead and marry the patriot James Monroe, is generally credited with saving the life of Madame de Lafayette. The wife of the French hero of the American Revolution was incarcerated as a result of her aristocratic heritage during the Reign of Terror and about to be guillotined, as had been her grandmother, mother and sister before her. At the time, Monroe was the ambassador to France, but was unable to officially intercede. Elizabeth Monroe, not bound by diplomatic constraints, acted on her own and publicly went to visit Mme. Lafayette in prison, promising to return each day. Not wanting an appearance of conflict with America, the French authorities released Mme. Lafayette the next day.

When Monroe became president, did the American public appreciate his wife? They did not, as Kaplan reported. She was far too elegant and aristocratic for American tastes.

Tyler’s wife, Julia Gardiner, born on Gardiner’s Island, was known a bit infamously as the “rose of Long Island” and was called “madam presidentress,” the term “first lady” not having been coined until much later. Gardiner was Tyler’s second wife, and she attracted a lot of attention by being the first to marry a sitting president and for being 30 years younger than him. Tyler’s eldest daughter was five years older than her stepmother.

And so the stories unfolded, Kaplan keeping her audience totally engaged for well over an hour. Martin Van Buren, the first president to be born after American independence, and the only president to speak English as a second language, married his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes. She spoke Dutch at home with her husband and was his first cousin once removed. Millard Fillmore married Abigail Powers, a schoolteacher. Both were upstate New Yorkers.

Grover Cleveland, who served two terms, but not consecutively, married Frances Folsom, a woman 22 years younger. A bachelor when he entered office, he married the daughter of a close friend. He had looked after her as executor of his friend, Oscar Folsom’s, estate and simply waited until she was old enough before they married. At 21, Frances was the youngest first lady, and she was well-liked. She is appreciated for having started kindergarten in schools.

The other first ladies are well known to us. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited as the most influential and active first lady in our history. The longest-serving first lady, as wife of four-term president Franklin Roosevelt, she went on to a public life of her own. Jackie Kennedy became an American idol and is known for her cultural efforts and redecorating the White House. Barbara Bush, with her forthright style, her constant loyalty and support of her family, and refusal to dye her hair when her husband became president, was always a more popular figure than he. And Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s second wife, was a diminutive and elegant first lady whose life was dedicated to protecting her husband after the assassination attempt that wounded him and his press secretary.

They are fascinating women and we can claim them as our own.

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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.

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‘Woman and Dog’ by Marisol, 1964 Image from Philip F. Palmedo

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Just a few weeks ago, the Museum of Modern Art opened its exhibit, Picasso Sculpture, to critical acclaim. The exhibit is so chock full of fascinating objects that it can be daunting to take them all in properly, and so it is fortunate that Philip F. Palmedo’s latest book has appeared, just in time to guide us. The book can help even a newbie to understand, appreciate and delight in modern sculpture, not only by Pablo Picasso but by 93 other sculptors who expanded the boundaries of what is considered great art.

Enriched by 155 illustrations, and satisfactorily printed on thick glossy stock, ‘The Experience of Modern Sculpture: A Guide to Enjoying Works of the Past 100 Years’ makes a joyous introduction to the subject, with informative, user-friendly notes. It is also, with its carefully chosen bibliography, a worthy addition to the bookshelves of art historians.

Palmedo, a resident of Head of the Harbor, seamlessly achieves his objective, which is to enrich the experience of modern sculpture, “particularly for those who have found it uninteresting, mute, or simply baffling.” He guides a willing learner to experience a work’s power, originality, and, often, humor, by absorbing the artist’s purpose in its creation. We are encouraged to dismiss previously held intellectual distinctions of what is art. Palmedo believes, “The appreciation of sculpture is first of all a visual and sensuous affair. It is the encounter and the experience that are important.”

The-Experience-of-Modern-Sculpture-jacket-wConstantin Brancusi’s graceful “Bird in Space “(“L’Oiseau dans l’espace”), 1932–1940, is a case in point. A commanding presence of polished brass, almost 5 feet tall, it evokes the thrill we experience when a bird celebrates its freedom in flight; we need no artist to sculpt its wings or beak to confirm its identity.

As the 20th century progressed, sculptors began to appropriate materials that were either previously unavailable or simply not considered for use in the past. In 1909, when Picasso first transitioned within cubism from painting to sculpture, he chose bronze for the head of his mistress and muse, “Woman’s Head (Fernande).” “Contrast this with his 1942 ‘Bull’s Head’ — an assemblage of the leather seat and metal handles of a bicycle.

“No matter that the bull has an unusually pointy snout; we recognize it immediately because of its gently curved, symmetrical horns,” Palmedo writes. “The two aspects of the sculpture — the simple, familiar objects, and the form of the bull — seem to first oscillate in our consciousness and then coexist. A simple and captivating magic trick is performed before our eyes.

“You often wonder, looking at a piece of abstract sculpture, whether you are feeling what the artist intended you to feel, whether you are getting it. When you get the joke . . . in Picasso’s ‘Bull’s Head,’ you have the pleasure of knowing you are indeed connecting with the artist’s intent. You are getting it — as long as you don’t think that the joke is everything.” Both of these works are included in Picasso Sculpture at MoMA.

Another work that incorporates unusual materials along with a dose of humor was created in 1964 by Marisol — one of 15 women artists whose work is recognized in this book. Her life-size “Women and Dog,” in which the four women are said to be self-portraits, is on exhibit at the new home of the Whitney Museum of Art, and incorporates wood, plaster, synthetic polymer, a taxidermic dog head and miscellaneous items.

Palmedo likens a perfectly balanced abstract sculpture to a great musical composition. In Anthony Caro’s complex construction of bright yellow-painted steel “Fanshoal,” 1971–1972, Palmedo senses that any alteration of the relationship between the disparate parts would lessen the perfection of the whole. He likens it to a Bach partita that contains no superfluous note.

Another work, created in homage to a master of musical composition, is Kenneth Snelson’s “Mozart I,” in stainless steel, 1981–1982. Palmedo sees Snelson’s act of creating a work of art as very similar to composing music, in its clarity, lyricism and rigor of composition.

"Swing Dance," fabricated bronze, 2005 by Bill Barrett
“Swing Dance,” fabricated bronze, 2005 by Bill Barrett

The movement of dance and music has inspired many sculptors past and present. Bill Barrett’s “Swing Dance,” 2005, of fabricated bronze, captures the vitality of a couple swept up in the music and rhythm of a boogie beat. “Capturing evanescent movement in bronze is no mean feat,” writes Palmedo, who pays tribute to Barrett’s distilled, subconscious sense of grace and melodic line.

Lin Emery’s sculpture, “Sunflower of 2009,” photographed here in motion, underscores her fascination with movement. Early in her career she used flowing water as the motive force for kinetic metal sculptures. In later works such as this, ball bearings create delicately balanced works moved by the wind. Polished aluminum surfaces resembling parts of the flower reflect the changing colors of clouds and sky, and we respond as we do to the beauties of nature. The skill of an engineer is required to achieve a kinetic work, a balancing act between beauty and the machine.

The pleasure that Palmedo derives from art in all its manifestations is a defining characteristic of his persona. He writes, “There are times looking at a sculpture when I am profoundly struck by the absolute perfection of the relationship between all of its elements and for a brief moment I experience something as close to joy that a physical object can grant.” This magnificent book brings the willing reader into that delightful state.

Palmedo will be speaking and signing copies of his book at The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook on Friday, Nov. 20, at 5 p.m. The book may also be purchased from the publisher, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., the gift shop of The Long Island Museum, and at Amazon.com.

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By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

It’s been quite a journey since sea captain Edward Reginald Rhodes and others launched the Three Village Historical Society in the mid-1960s — a time when this community was undergoing rapid change and expansion. “It was important to the founders that the area’s rich history be recognized, honored and preserved,” said Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, and for 50 years the Society, with its hundreds of volunteers, has done just that.

“The Society has, from its beginning, regarded the Three Village area as its museum; the homes, people and natural environment as its collection; and the home owners as its curators. One of the primary goals of the Society has been to actively work together with other community organizations to preserve and maintain the historic fabric of our Three Village community,” added Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the TVHS.

Annual events that pay tribute to our rich history include the Long Island Apple Festival each September at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in Setauket, in cooperation with Homestead Arts and the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities; the Spirits Tour during the third weekend in October, and the Candlelight House Tour during the first weekend of December.

The Society’s educational programs include frequent walking tours conducted by trained volunteers, in-school educational programs and Sunday afternoon docent-led tours at the Society’s headquarters — the c. 1800 Bayles-Swezey House at 93 North Country Road, Setauket — that was funded in large part by a state grant obtained by Assemblyman Steve Englebright in 1998.

Two current exhibits are: Spies! How A Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution, and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, for which the Society received an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

A primary objective since the Society’s founding was the collection and preservation of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be lost. Housed in the Society’s Rhodes Collection in a separate area at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, they are shared with researchers and overseen by the Society’s professional archivist.

Fifty years of distinguished contributions to this community is cause for celebration and what better way than at the Three Village Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary Spy Gala at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, 134 Lower Sheep Pasture Road, in E. Setauket this Saturday evening, Sept. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. You are invited to the party; come join the fun. Delicious tapas, an open bar, music and a champagne toast await. Come dressed as your favorite spy if you wish.

Celebrate the contributions of 17 past presidents and Boards of Trustees — dedicated men and women determined to preserve Three Village history while expanding the Society’s offerings, from its origins in 1964 to the present day. It’s time to recognize the Society’s achievements and contributions to our community. Tickets are $125 per person and may be purchased in advance by calling 631-751-3730, online at www.tvhs.org or at the door.

‘Short Beach Lifeguard Station,’ oil on wood by Christian White

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

The versatility as well as the talent of artist Christian White can be seen in his paintings and works on paper at Gallery North’s current solo exhibit. White comes by his talent naturally and, through training, hard work and self-discipline, has created a body of work over the past 50 years.

His paternal great-grandfather, Stanford White, designed the triumphal arch at Washington Square in Manhattan, among many notable architectural achievements. His paternal grandfather, Lawrence White, was a prominent architect and president of the National Academy of Design. His maternal grandfather, the Dutch artist Joep Nicolas, fostered White’s talent during his early years in Holland, where the young artist studied welding, stained glass and mosaics. He learned the sculptor’s skills while assisting his father, noted sculptor Robert White. His mother, the poet Claire Nicolas White, encouraged his ability to see beauty in the ordinary.

‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on wood by Christian White
‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on wood by Christian White

The title of the current exhibit at Gallery North, “Christian White: Fifty Years of Art,” may be misleading to those expecting to see a retrospective of works produced during the artist’s long and productive career. This is not a retrospective exhibit. Rather, White terms it as “introspective” in that it includes personal pieces — portraits of himself and his family and landscapes of places close to him. It includes paintings, drawings and prints, many of them figurative. In the words of the artist, “Many of the clientele at Gallery North identify me as a landscape painter, not a figure painter, but I’ve been a figurative artist throughout my entire career.”

The works are not hung chronologically, this not being a retrospective exhibition. With but a few exceptions, they were created during the past 15 years. A master of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) painting, White’s “Alcove,” still life (2001), tempts one to reach out and touch the three-dimensional-appearing brightly painted objects inside the frame of painted pine. In White’s compelling “Self-Portrait” (2003), we meet his rather questioning direct gaze.

But as interesting and attention demanding as these two works are, what we may recall most clearly are paintings that reveal White’s great talent for capturing light and atmosphere — specifically, bright sunlight beating down on a hot summer day. We feel the summer midday heat in the bright blue sky that dominates more than half the canvas above the stretch of sand in “Ocean Beach” (2008). It is devoid of people and, therefore, of shadows, as low whitecaps meet the shore.

“Road/River #9” (2011) is uninhabited, too, and no wonder; the brilliant light, caused by a blazing sun beating down on the unforgiving macadam road, hints at a temperature above 90 degrees. The blues of sky and water and the yellow sand in “Short Beach Lifeguard Station” (2012) take second place to the sun-drenched bright white lifeguard chair, with its occupant painted loosely in attention-getting red as she watches a man — a mere dab of white paint ­— in a motor boat in the distance. Loosely painted small figures of a couple crowd the shade under a bright red and white umbrella, taking cover from the blazing sun.

In “Clematis #2” (2015) White provides closeups of brilliant white and vivid pink flowers as they cast shadows on a bright green lawn sparkling in the noonday sun. Light is a vital element in each of these landscapes.

Christian White: Fifty Years of Art will be on view at Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket, through July 10. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Don’t miss it. If you go this Sunday afternoon, June 28, you can also catch an ArTalk by the artist, with Franklin Perrell, an art expert and former curator at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn. Registration is required for the ArTalk by calling 631-751-2676. For more information, visit www.gallerynorth.org.