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The Heckscher Museum of Art

'The 2021 Press' by Ashley Park

The Heckscher Museum in Huntington has announced the top prizewinners for its student exhibition, Long Island’s Best: Young Artists. This edition marks 25 years of celebrating young artists across Suffolk and Nassau Counties. More than 300 student submissions, representing more than 50 schools across Long Island participated. Jurors chose 83 works of art for exhibition. The following students were awarded the top four prizes:  

‘Cultivating the Mustard’ by Keren Dial

Celebrate Achievement Best in Show

Keren Dial, Valley Stream South High School, Grade 11 for Cultivating the Mustard, colored pencil.

Second Place, Judith Sposato Memorial Prize

Ashley Park, Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills, Grade 10, for The 2021 Press, mixed media.

Third Place, The Hadley Prize

Aleena Abraham, Hicksville High School, Grade 12, for Storge, oil pastel.

Fourth Place, The Stan Brodsky Scholarship Award

Ariel Kim, Jericho Senior High School, Grade 12, for Personal Garden, oil pastel and colored pencil.

The exhibition’s anniversary milestone comes during a year where virtual visits and online classes were held in lieu of in-person programs. Despite challenges, art teachers and Museum educators worked together to give high school students meaningful experiences with exhibitions on view.  Museum educators involved students through in-depth study and discussion about works of art. Each student then selected a work of art as their inspiration piece. They went on to create an original artwork and write an artist’s statement explaining their creative process.

‘Storge’ by Aleena Abraham

Jurors for the 2021 exhibition are Karli Wurzelbacher, Curator, and artist Melissa Misla, guest juror. Misla is a New York artist who holds an MFA from Queens College and is represented by Praxis Art Gallery, New York City. 

“I was eager to see the students’ approaches to creating,” said Misla, adding, “Long Island’s Best can impact a young artist in a transformative way.”  

Long Island’s Best: Young Artists will be on view at The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington and online at www.heckscher.org through May 23. 

A virtual opening reception and awards ceremony will be held live on Instagram @heckschermuseum on May 1 from 7 to 8 p.m. For more information, call 631-380-3230.

‘Night Fishing’ by William Low of Huntington. Photo from Heckscher Museum

The 2020 Long Island Biennial, a juried exhibition featuring art from contemporary artists across Suffolk and Nassau Counties, opened at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington on Oct. 17 and will run through Jan. 10, 2021.

The museum received more than 800 artwork entries, with 100 works selected for exhibition. The final exhibition represents 52 artists living in Long Island communities stretching from Freeport to Port Washington to Shelter Island Heights. For the first time, most artists will show two or three artworks, presenting viewers with a fuller picture of their recent work.   

Inaugurated in 2010, the Long Island Biennial offers Long Island’s professional artists a singular opportunity to share their work through a prestigious exhibition, and provides a unique and exciting space for visitors to see a snapshot of contemporary art on Long Island.

“In the year of our centennial, it was serendipitous that the three jurors happened to select 100 artworks for exhibition,” said Karli Wurzelbacher, Curator. “The volume and quality of the submissions challenged the jurors, yet resulted in a remarkable exhibition that incorporates many media, genres, and styles.”

Wurzelbacher added, “I find the art in the Biennial to beautiful, inventive, and thought-provoking, particularly the work that engages with contemporary events and concerns, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 pandemic, human migration, and the environment.”

The jurors for the 2020 Biennial are Erin Kimmel, Art Writer and Ph.D. candidate in Art History at Stony Brook University; Heidi Lange, Director of DC Moore Gallery, New York City; and Paton Miller, Artist/Curator.

Participating artists in our neck of the woods include Chris Ann Ambery of Hauppauge; Denise Jones Adler, Wendy Curtis, Joyce Kubat, John Linnemeyer, William Low and Kristine Perelle of Huntington; Patricia Colombraro of Nesconset; Alisa Shea of Northport;  Sungsook  Setton of Setauket; Susan    Buroker of Smithtown, Han Qin of St. James and Doug Reina of Stony Brook.

This year, a robust program of events will coincide with the exhibition. Long Island Biennial programming engages both artists and guests alike through in-person and virtual events.

Selected artists will be in the galleries on Fridays during the exhibition to discuss their work. Virtual studio tours through Zoom will give visitors a peak into artists’ workspaces and their work in progress. The Conversation Series, also through Zoom, will feature Curator Karli Wurzelbacher and panels of artists discussing various themes.  For a complete schedule of events, artists, and registration information, please visit www.Heckscher.org/libiennialevents.

The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Avenue in Huntington. For more information, call 631-380-3230.

The Long Island Biennial is sponsored by Pien and Hans Bosch.

'Us' by William King, 1996, brushed stainless steel. Image courtesy of Heckscher Museum

Some good news: The Heckscher Museum of Art will reopen on Aug. 1.

Visitors will finally be able to see the incredible artwork from Long Island’s Best: Young Artists at the Heckscher Museum and Amanda Valdez: Piecework in person (through Heckscher at Home, the museum had presented these exhibitions virtually) as well as a new installation titled Balancing Act: Three Sculptures by William King. The mini-exhibition features whimsical works by Long Island sculptor William King who was known for his ability to breathe life into static sculptures, especially these stainless steel pieces that at first glance look precariously balanced.

“This is the first time that all three of King’s sculptures from the museum collection are on view together,” noted curator Karli Wurzelbacher. “The themes they address are central to our shared human experience and strike me as especially timely. The need for social distancing means that the gatherings and activities that usually take place in the museum’s lobby are on pause. I’m thrilled that King’s freewheeling figures can populate the space and greet our visitors as they return!”

To ensure all visitors’ safety, admission will be by advance reservation and timed ticketing only. Frequent cleaning schedules are in place and the museum will be a touch-free experience. New modified hours, updated admission policies, and complete health and safety guidelines can be found at www.heckscher.org/reopening. For the time being, admission will be free. To reserve your ticket, visit www.heckscher.org or call 631-380-3230.

Hog Wild
A visual and virtual feast for the eyes opens in Huntington

By Melissa Arnold

As the Heckscher Museum of Art marks 100 years since its founding this year, they have taken time to explore both the past and future through art.

Over the next few months, the Huntington museum will exhibit the work of contemporary abstract artist Amanda Valdez, whose deep appreciation for art history, beauty and feminism have led her to a unique and interesting style. While Valdez has an extensive commercial exhibition history from coast to coast, this will be just the second time she’s exhibited a range of paintings from various points in her career.

log punch

“I came to art as a teenager by the grace of an amazing high school art teacher. I had the false assumption that artists were the kids who draw naturally and render everything they could see to everyone’s astonishment,” said Valdez, 37, of New York City. “My teacher exposed me to the concept that art could be learned — that I had a creative pulse — so if I worked hard I could make something with that pulse.”  

The exhibit, titled Amanda Valdez: Piecework, is aptly named for the way the artist creates complex works of art with a variety of techniques, including embroidery, sewing and painting.

“While we think of a painting as putting paint on a canvas, [Amanda] reminds us that canvas is, in fact, cloth. She hand-dyes other types of cloth and sews them to the canvas to create her works of art,” explained Karli Wurzelbacher, curator at the Heckscher Museum. “The different types of media she combines are very interesting. For example, embroidery is very feminine — she likes to celebrate feminine things. But while embroidered fabrics are usually delicate, she works with thick, heavy layers. She also hand-dyes her own fabric. She even lent the museum her dye notebook, where she keeps track of how she achieves certain colors.”

Amanda Valdez

Wurzelbacher said she’s been aware of Valdez for about 10 years — they both studied at CUNY’s Hunter College, albeit in different programs. Wurzelbacher always found Valdez’s work beautiful and interesting, and thought that she would be a good fit for this historic milestone at the museum.

“We’re dedicating a lot of time to looking back through our history and where the museum has been, as well as looking forward into the next 100 years,” the curator explained. “Amanda is a contemporary artist in the middle of her career. Part of her practice is looking back at art history and then making something new out of that. She also celebrates the traditional ways that women have made things — textiles, embroidery, sewing, dye, quilting — while also tapping into modernist history and ideas. She marries those two traditions and brings them into dialogue with each other.”

Valdez said she enjoys abstract art for its ability to portray aspects of humanity without having to assign elements of age, gender or nationality in a painting. “Human history is endlessly inspiring to me. I find moments of interest, such as Islamic patterning, women’s history as told through fiber objects, or pagan iconography in Renaissance art, and I spend time researching these moments and movements, and slowly let it seep into my work. I love thinking about all the things all the humans have made with their hands over time,” she said.  

Nine Patch Tanit

The exhibit features a total of 19 paintings chronicling Valdez’s career from 2013 through 2019. She has also included one pencil sketch to show a bit of the preparation and brainstorming behind her artistic process.

The included paintings show an evolution in style over time, Wurzelbacher said. “Diamond Pressure,” a piece from 2013, has minimal embroidery and features bleeding, blending acrylic paints. Later pieces include more complex embroidery or the use of oil sticks, which can be handheld like pastels for a more immediate mark.

The unique exhibit will be on display at the same time as the Long Island’s Best exhibit, a juried collection of art from 100 high school students from Nassau and Suffolk Counties with impressive artistic talent. Wurzelbacher said she believes the young artists and their loved ones will appreciate sharing space with Valdez as a relatable contemporary and possible inspiration.

“This is the first time Amanda’s work is being made accessible right here in our community, and while it’s beautiful to see in print and online, it’s even more impressive viewed in person,” Wurzelbacher said. “You’ll get to see the incredible detail, colors, layers and textures in each piece. It’s special.”

Fourth place winner 'Check Mate' by Bridget Buckmaster

The Heckscher Museum in Huntington has announced the top prize winners for its 2020 Long Island’s Best: Young Artists show.

Now in its 24th year, Long Island’s Best is the only juried exhibition for Long Island high school students that provides the opportunity to exhibit in a museum. Students are encouraged to think outside the box as they work in a broad range of media, styles, and subjects.

This year there were more than 388 student submissions, representing 58 participating high schools. Jurors selected 100 as finalists. The following students were awarded the top four prizes. 

Best in Show: ‘Prismatic Bubble’ by Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez, an 11th grader at Hicksville High School, captured the Celebrate Achievement Best in Show for her acrylic painting titled “Prismatic Bubble.” 

Matthew Diesing, Grade 11, John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore won second place, the Judith Sposato Memorial Prize, for his oil pastel, “A Seat at the Table.”

Micarlys Ramirez, a senior at Brentwood High School, was awarded third place, The Hadley Prize, for her acrylic on canvas piece, “Ydelim in a Green Chair.”

Northport High School junior Bridget Buckmaster garnered Fourth Place, The Stan Brodsky Scholarship Award, for her digital photograph titled “Check Mate.” 

Bridget is the first to receive a Long Island’s Best Stan Brodsky Scholarship Award. Stan Brodsky (1924-2019) was a Long Island artist, teacher and friend to the Museum. Generous donations from members, friends, and former students, endowed the scholarship, to be given every year in memory of the artist.

The Firefly Artist Gallery, Northport, has also donated a new award for a deserving Long Island’s Best student. Voting for the Virtual Visitors Choice Award will be open on Heckscher.org beginning April 24. 

The Long Island’s Best experience begins with students visiting the Museum where they see and discuss works on view. Each student then chooses a work of art as an inspiration piece. They go on to create an original artwork and write an Artist’s Statement explaining their creative process.  

Jurors for the 2020 exhibition were Karli Wurzelbacher, Curator, The Heckscher Museum of Art; and guest juror Nancy Richner, Director (retired), Hofstra University Museum of Art. “[As a juror], I hoped to gain a sense of the high school artist’s curiosity and response to this challenge set before them,” said Richner. “I can’t imagine a better feeling of affirmation and support for students. Long Island’s Best fosters students’ sense of curiosity and daringness to engage and try – and everyone wins – students, community, the art world – and of course, the Museum!”

To see all 100 images and all of this year’s award winners, visit www.Heckscher.org.

'Untitled' by Bill Shillalies

By Heidi Sutton

“Conjoined” by Elizabeth Heaton of Amityville

The Long Island Biennial returns to The Heckscher Museum of Art with fervor this year as the fifth edition of the exhibition offers Long Island’s top artists the opportunity to share their artwork with the Huntington community and beyond. The juried exhibit opened on Aug. 4 and will run through Nov. 11. 

Contemporary artists who live in Suffolk and Nassau counties and who have specialized training in art were invited to submit artwork created within the past two years. The result is twofold: providing artists the opportunity to showcase their work to a broad audience in a unique and exciting space and allowing art lovers to see snapshots of what is happening artistically on Long Island.

The brainchild of former curator Kenneth Wayne, the first biennial opened in 2010 in conjunction with the museum’s 90th anniversary. Now, eight years later, the juried exhibit has grown in popularity, receiving a record 351 submissions this year, with 52 works representing communities from New Hyde Park to Montauk selected for the show. Of those selections, 38 of the artists were first-time exhibitors.

‘Wafting Bubinga; by John Dino

This year’s judges — Christine Berry of Berry Campbell Gallery in New York City; Robert Carter, professor of art at Nassau Community College in Garden City; and Bobbi Coller, an independent art historian and curator — were tasked with selecting six winners, which were announced on Aug. 8. 

“The art world needs as many venues as possible for new artists; this is so important and very much appreciated,” said Carter, who was impressed with this year’s submissions. “The artist entries were surprising in how they varied in media use and subject matter — touching on nature, social issues and more.”

Mediums included oil, acrylic, pastel, woodcut, watercolor, sculpture, mixed media, ceramic, bronze, embroidery, tempura, sculptures, photographs, prints and more.

“Buttermilk Falls,” woodcut on paper, by Beth Atkinson of Northport; “Abrasha in Port-au-Prince,” oil on canvas, by Peter Beston of East Quogue; “Wafting Bubinga #2,” carved wood, by John Cino of Patchogue; “Conjoined,” pastel and water on paper, by Elizabeth Heaton of Amityville; ‘Untitled,” ceramic/bronze, by Bill Shillalies of Massapequa; and “Slight Disturbance,” acrylic on clay surface, by Frank Wimberley of Sag Harbor rose above the competition to receive Awards of Merit.

According to museum’s curator, Lisa Chalif, the Long Island Biennial “is about the creativity that surrounds us on Long Island. The show is extremely diverse in terms of medium and subject and style. It is just very appealing — there is something for everyone here.”

‘Abrasha in Port au Prince’ by Peter Beston

The exhibit spans two of the four galleries at the museum. The adjoining exhibits include The Tile Club: Camaraderie and American Plein-Air Painting (through Nov. 4) and Surface Tension: Pictorial Space in 20th Century Art (through May 5, 2019).

“Long Island is teaming with talented artists and the museum is pleased to bring this fact to the public’s attention,” said Executive Director and CEO at The Heckscher Michael W. Schantz in a recent email, adding, “A high quality juried exhibition, such as the Heckscher Museum’s Biennial, remains one of the best ways of doing so.”

The Heckscher Museum of Art, located at 2 Prime Ave., Huntington is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.

In conjunction with the Long Island Biennial, several related programs are scheduled at the museum:
‘Slight Disturbance’ by Frank Kimberly

Exploring Art … Making Memories

A guided tour and activity for those living with dementia and their care partners will be held on Monday, Aug. 20 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Members pay $8; nonmembers $10; care partners are free.

Gallery Talk

Meet Long Island Biennial artists John Cino, Rachelle Krieger and Alisa Shea at a gallery talk on Sunday, Sept.16 from 1 to 3 p.m. Members are free, nonmembers pay $5.

DRAW OUT! With Biennial Artists

Join The Heckscher Museum and its 2018 Cultural Partners for this free Community Arts event on Sunday, Sept. 23 from noon to 4 p.m.  (rain date Sept. 30). See demonstrations and meet Biennial artists Mario Bakalov, E. Craig Marcin and Inna Pashina. Hear live music, sketch a model, paint en plein air and much more.  

The Heckscher Museum of Art was founded in 1920 by philanthropist August Heckscher and is listed on the National and New York State Register of Historic Places. The museum’s permanent collection comprises more than 2,500 works from the 16th to the 21st centuries. 

Council members Mark Cuthbertson, Joan Cergol and Ed Smyth, center, pose with art students and their teachers in front of the Heckscher Museum on May 4. Photo from Town of Huntington

In conjunction with the Town of Huntington’s 18th annual Tulip Festival, intermediate and middle school students within the Huntington Township were invited once again to enter the annual Tulip Festival School Art Contest. 

The event was sponsored by the Town of Huntington, NEFCU, Huntington Arts Council and the Heckscher Museum of Art.

By Laurel Bonn of Finley Middle School

This year’s theme was Huntington in Bloom. Students were encouraged to independently interpret the theme and create personal reflections of springtime in Huntington. The winning artwork was selected by a jury comprised of artists and art professionals and was displayed at the Chapin Rainbow Stage in Heckscher Park during the Tulip Festival last Sunday. 

Laurel Bonn of Finley Middle School was awarded the Carolyn Fostel Best in Show award, given in honor of the late Ms. Fostel. Fostel was instrumental in planning and securing sponsorship support of the initial Huntington Tulip Festival in 2001 and continued to be active in these capacities on the Festival Committee until she passed away in 2011.

By Shivaangi Salhotra of the Long Island School for the Gifted

Shivaangi Salhotra of the Long Island School for the Gifted received a Showwide Honorable Mention. 

Three winners from each grade level were honored at the event, with the first-prize winner receiving a $50 gift card courtesy of NEFCU.

Third-grade winners: First Place — Isla McAlister, Second Place — Alexa Blumo, Third Place — Sophia Marino.

Fourth-grade winners: First Place — Nina Corbett, Second Place — Lily Kramer, Third Place — Grace Lu, Honorable Mention — Megan LaMena, Honorable Mention — Avery Veter Walsh.

Fifth-grade winners: First Place — Grace Schoonmaker, Second Place — Sameera Chaudhry, Third Place — Andrew Vitale.

Sixth-grade winners: First Place — Caterina Dottino, Second Place — Hannah Stark, Third Place — Gabriella Messing.

Seventh-grade winners: First Place — Emily Gershuny, Second Place — Elisa Kong, Third Place — Stephanie Wickey.

Eighth-grade winners: First Place — Si Yue Jiang, Second Place — Jennifer Zhu, Third Place — Lily Chai.

Art teachers also received $50 for each student whose art was chosen as the best of the grade for use in purchasing art supplies, also courtesy of NEFCU.

To see images of all the entries, visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

Jan Staller, ‘Water Purification Plant,’ Hempstead, Long Island, 1991, Heckscher Museum of Art

By Kevin Redding

Heavy metal is coming to Huntington’s Heckscher Museum of Art this month. Not in the form of head-banging music but the photography of Jan Staller — a Long Island native whose large-scale shots of industrial landscapes, urban infrastructure, neglected buildings and construction materials have been subjects of beauty and acclaim for almost 40 years. 

From April 21 through July 29, nearly two decades of Staller’s career will be on display at Heckscher’s Heavy Metal: Photographs by Jan Staller exhibition, which will feature more than a dozen of his “monumental photographs,” a three-channel video of his work and an in-depth discussion with the artist himself on May 10 at 7 p.m. 

Jan Staller, ‘Pile of Rebar,’ Flushing, Queens, 2007, on loan by the artist

Staller, who moved to Manhattan in 1976 after gathering up degrees at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts and Maryland Institute, rejected the trend among photographers at the time to journey across the country in search of subjects and instead began capturing his immediate surroundings. A deteriorated highway along the Hudson River. Buildings in ruin. Unfamiliar architecture. All with a focus on pattern, geometry, line color and light — both natural and artificial. 

Staller has said of his unique work that he “looks for the sculptural, formal and lyrical qualities of objects that are not always thought to warrant contemplation.”

This ability to zero in on the unseen and passed-by in the urban setting, and capture the gradual development of Manhattan over time, has brought Staller’s work to the pages of Time and Life Magazine, Forbes and The New York Times and inside the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Since the 1970s, he has taken his camera across the country and world and was chosen to photograph on the sets of such films as “12 Monkeys” and “Fargo.” The latter’s snowbound setting was a natural fit for Staller, whose snapshots of blizzards in empty New York City in the ’70s and ’80s are among his most famous. He has also had two monographs of his photographs published — “Frontier New York” and “On Planet Earth.”

“Jan’s photographs show us our ordinary, everyday surroundings in a way that many of us do not perceive them,” said Lisa Chalif, the museum’s curator, who first met Staller during an exhibition in 2009 titled Long Island Moderns, highlighting local artists from painters to photographers to architects. “He makes me stop and see things differently. You see the beauty there and most of us are not able to look and isolate the formal structures necessarily in those sights. You can see all the color in the rusted steel. I didn’t always see that but he helps me see that.”

She continued, “Staller perceives in existing manufactured forms, seen in random industrial settings, a serene beauty that he isolates with his camera, discerning order in chaos, beauty in decay and a sense of mystery within the ordinary.”

In a recent interview, Staller, who grew up primarily in Sag Harbor, said he became infatuated with photography at an early age as his father pursued the art as a hobby, dark room in the house and all. By the time he was 13, he had his own 35mm camera and was snapping pictures of the garden and nature. A couple of years later, at 15, he started developing his own prints with the aid of a dark room he built at school. 

Looking back at his long career, Staller said the common thread in all his work is an “ephemeral” subject matter.

“Things in transition are, for at least in the moment that I’m there, of particular interest,” he said. “I think that’s something I’ve always been captivated by. But if you look at my work over the years, you can see there’s a gradual [inclination] to get closer in on the subject matter, a lessening of the contextual details and a greater emphasis on the thing itself. Until the thing itself is the only issue being explored, such as these photographs made of construction materials … ” 

The photographer, who still resides in Manhattan, said he was looking forward to the exhibition and gauging the public’s response to his work. “I think that being an artist, we’re exploring some ideas and are hoping to impart those to others,” he said. “So when people understand that in a very clear way, that’s probably the most gratifying thing.” 

Staller continued, “I often quip that we artists are all wannabe cult leaders, in the sense that we think that we have this vision of the world and art is something that is affirmed by a consensus or not. So it all depends on who or how many people are affirming the work. A show at The Heckscher Museum is an affirmation and one that I’m very satisfied with.”

The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington will present Heavy Metal: Photographs of Jan Staller from April 21 to July 29. The community is invited to a Gallery Talk on Thursday, May 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. $5 per person, members free. For more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.Heckscher.org.

Photos courtesy of The Heckscher Museum

‘Rush’s Lancers’ by Winslow Homer, 1886; Courtesy of the Mort Kunstler Collection. Image from The Heckscher Museum of Art

By Ellen Barcel

Two related exhibits have opened at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington: Normal Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations from the Mort Künstler Collection (through March 5, 2017) and Mort Künstler: The New Nation (through April 2, 2017). Related in theme (American artists and subjects), related in exhibit time and related through American artist Mort Künstler himself, the duel exhibits complement each other perfectly.

Norman Rockwell and Friends

Norman Rockwell’s ‘A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!’ (aka ‘World of Charles Dickens’), 1937; Mort Künstler Collection. Courtesy Norman Rockwell Family Agency. Image from The Heckscher Museum of Art
Norman Rockwell’s ‘A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!’ (aka ‘World of Charles Dickens’), 1937; Mort Künstler Collection. Courtesy Norman Rockwell Family Agency. Image from The Heckscher Museum of Art

Mort Künstler, an American artist himself, has long collected the works of late 19th century and early 20th century artists/illustrators. The current exhibit at the Heckscher (Norman Rockwell and Friends) highlights Künstler’s collection and is unique because this is the first time these works are being shown to the public. The 75 pieces on display, such a broad variety of artists, represent 39 artists including Edwin Austin Abbey, Howard Chandler Christy, Dean Cornwell, Charles Dana Gibson, George Gross, Winslow Homer, J.C. Leyendecker, Thomas Lovell, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle and, of course, Norman Rockwell.

In a recent phone interview, Künstler remarked that of the many artists he collected, he knew several personally. Thomas Lovell was “almost like a mentor” to him and George Gross “really was my mentor,” adding, “I did have the pleasure of talking to Norman Rockwell on the phone.”

Künstler’s collecting goes back to at least 1972 “or earlier,” he commented, over four decades of seeking out the best illustrators of the early 20th century. Why these particular artists? “I liked the work,” he said, from when he was in art school. Künstler stated that many of the artists were members of the Society of Illustrators, a professional organization founded in 1901. Gibson was one of its early presidents. Included in the nine founding artists were N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, both in the current exhibit. The heyday of the society’s art shows was during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression of the 1930s.

“All were illustrators,” said Künstler. “There was no TV (back when they were working). The only visuals that people got were out of magazines and newspapers. Visually, they were the ones who created the fashions. Charles Dana Gibson was the creator of the Gibson girl.” She was recognized as the personification of feminine beauty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “The illustrators were idolized like movie stars. They reached out to thousands of people. They were the superstars of that era.”

Why the exhibit now? “I got to know Michael Schantz, executive director at the Heckscher Museum, well. He came to lunch, visited, loved the collection. … It was time to let it go out,” said Künstler.

“One of the extraordinary things about this is that both the Künstlers allowed us to take everything off their walls, from the house. It was just an extraordinary gesture. It speaks so well of the relationship between this museum and the Küntslers,” said Schantz. “I met with him quite a few times. I recorded him for hours and hours — a record of the interesting stories, the hunt for the works, where he found them and how he found them.” He added that some of these stories are related in the information cards in the exhibit.

Mort Künstler: The New Nation

The museum also has a related exhibit, Mort Künstler: The New Nation, featuring Küntsler’s most recent work including his paintings of the early years of the United States. Künstler, who is particularly known for his Civil War paintings, reflected that his interest in American history came about because “almost all of my work was commissioned,” and frequently those commissions related to American history.

Above, ‘Washington’s Crossing: McKonkey’s Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776,’ 2011; oil on canvas, 33 × 50 in., from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Suozzi. Image courtesy of The Heckscher Museum
Above, ‘Washington’s Crossing: McKonkey’s Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776,’ by Mort Künstler, 2011; oil on canvas, 33 × 50 in., from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Suozzi. Image courtesy of The Heckscher Museum

“My book, ‘The New Nation’ [‘The New Nation, The Creation of the United States in Paintings and Eyewitness Accounts’] will act as the catalogue of the show,” said Künstler. “I did some of the work for the bicentennial in 1976,” then did additional paintings, he said. The book, with text by American military historian Edward G. Lengel and David H. Fischer, will be available at the museum. Künstler, who has published 10 books of his art work, now also has a children’s book series as well, “based on my paintings.” Themes of the four books include the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Wild West and World War II. The works are written by well-known historians (particularly James “Bud” Robertson) for children ages 10 to 15.

Howard Shaw, president and director of the Hammer Galleries in Manhattan, has known and worked with Künstler for more than 25 years. “Mort is considered the country’s leading historical artist,” said Shaw. “Not only has he incredible technique but he does enormous research so that even the smallest detail is accurate.” Shaw went on to relate an incident where Künstler was researching information with a number of historians for a painting he was doing. Only one was able to get back to him “one or two hours before the opening of the show. With the painting on the gallery wall, Mort repainted that particular part of an insignia,” so that it would be historically correct.

Shaw observed the joy that goes into Künstler’s work. “He told me if it ever feels like work, ‘I’ll stop doing it.’ Over 70 years he hasn’t felt he’s had a job.”

A gallery tour and talk with Mort Künstler will be held on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the museum (inclement weather date is Jan. 19). Members are invited to attend free, for nonmembers there is a $5 charge.

The Heckscher Museum of Art, is located at 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day). For further information, visit www.heckscher.org or call 631-351-3250.