The curator of “My Dear Long Island Home,” an exhibit at the Sag Harbor Historical Society’s Annie Cooper Boyd house that highlights the paintings, poetry and writings of some of the most intriguing figures from Sag Harbor’s past.
What inspired you to organize this show?
“I had done research on quite a few of the people separately, and I thought why not put them together? There were so many talented Sag Harbor residents and we found we had plenty of material.”
There’s a lot of research in this exhibit. Have you always been a history buff?
“No, not really. I needed something to do when I moved out here and I discovered the historical society. [Historian] Sue Smyth and the library let me snoop around the history room and write down files. History was not made interesting to me as a young person – it’s the people who were involved in the history who were so interesting and once I got to know the people, I made the connection to the history.”
Would you consider many of the subjects in the exhibit forgotten figures?
“[Artists] Orlando Hand Bears and Hubbard Latham Fordham, and [writers] Prentice Mulford and William Wallace Tooker, these are names people know. But there are also people like Russella Hazard. She was such a good librarian, but so shy. A lot of people didn’t know her.”
What made Russella Hazard special?
“Among other things, she wrote a pamphlet on the history of the fire fighters and another on 150 years of newspapers in Sag Harbor. But the enormous thing she did was go through all the old newspapers, there was no microfilm in her day, and put together a huge compilation on the whaling fleet. It’s in a big notebook that belongs to the library. I helped put it in better order, but it never got published because it needed a lot of editing. It had all the details of the ships that went out, the dates they came back and what happened to the captains.”
When did she do this work at the library?
“Mostly in the 1940s and ‘50s. She retired in 1969 after 43 years. That was her first and only job. She lived with her aunt, she wasn’t married. She was a typical librarian, with no make-up, who did nothing with her hair. She just rode her bike back and forth and pretty much everyone knew ‘Babs.’ She was simply devoted to the job.”
What makes her whaling fleet compendium so important?
“The Whaling Museum has logs and separate information on ships, but nothing like that. She was dedicated to getting it down. She had the stories of the ships, and then she had stuff about the captains — she was really into the details. She had the number of barrels of oil each ship came back with.”
While assembling this exhibit did you come across anything that really impressed you?
“There are two rare miniatures [paintings] that have never been seen by the public. One is by Orlando Hand Bears and is of his mother, Miranda Gibbs Bears. Another is by Hubbard Latham Fordham and is of William Huntting Cooper, Annie Cooper Boyd’s father. These are both on loan from Joy Lewis and Mildred Dickinson — friends of mine. I knew they had them. If anyone else knows of other miniatures in Sag Harbor, I’d love to know about it.”
There are a lot more historical figures we could talk about in this exhibit who penned poetry, composed music, created art or wrote books inspired by Sag Harbor. Do you think it was typical back in the day for a small town to have such a large number of notable people?
“There’s always talk about the artists and writers now in Sag Harbor. But these were special people — people who loved Sag Harbor and who were devoted to their town. I think the beauty of the town had a lot to do with it, and the proximity to New York. In earlier days you could take a packet boat from Sag Harbor and go into the city. I sure wish you could do that now.”