By Francesca Normile
This summer, there has been a widely undiscovered art exhibit tucked away in the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Archives Building. Located just east of the Nathaniel Rogers House, which appears abandoned and debatably haunted, the Archives Building is not in the natural line of vision from downtown Bridgehampton.
“No sidewalks connect us [to the town] and people don’t know that there is a show going on in here. They don’t know to make the extra effort; they don’t know us as a destination,” explains Anna Franklin, an acrylic and watercolor artist whose work has taken residence in the Archives Building this summer as part of the Bell’Arte group.
Comprised of six East End artists who range dramatically in medium, subject and style, the Bell’Arte group, alongside Sag Harbor artist Mary Gardner, have been the Archives Building’s artists in residence since June.
Franklin, who is originally from Italy but now resides year-round in East Hampton, conceived of the creation of Bell’Arte in early spring of this year.
“I thought, if you like each other’s work, then why not get together and show it to the public? There is diversity in the show and we like each other, which is good,” she says, eliciting laughter from some of her fellow Bell’Arte members, who are standing in a circle in the Archives Building.
In addition to Franklin, the group includes curator and seascape painter, Cynthia Loewen, glass artist Mary Milne, impressionist oil painter Lynn Martell, surrealist decorative painter Georjâna Macri and a ‘neo-constructivist,’ metal and fishing-line sculptor, Bob Schwarz.
Loewen describes her job as curator, explaining that every two weeks, the show rotates its guest artist. Currently on display is the work of artists Jim, Jana and Dylan Hayden. Following the Haydens, with an opening reception on Saturday, August 28, will be Bonac Tonic, a group of artists primarily from Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Bridgehampton.
“[They are] a collective of ten young people who are just full of life and love of art and I’m so happy I could get them,” says Loewen. “[They make] everything you could think of; from puffy little puppets in little frames to absolute fantasy realism and everything in between. They are very talented young people and they’re full of hell! Full of hell and life and not afraid to show it.”
The diversity of the permanent collection itself allows for the introduction of a group like Bonac Tonic to the exhibit without creating a sense of haphazardness.
Take, for instance, Mary Gardner’s 13-piece watercolor series, “Stones,” that is on display. While separate from the rest of the exhibit, as Gardner is affiliated with the Bridgehampton Historical Society and not a member of Bell’Arte, her work speaks to a similarly imaginative and involved subject as the rest of the exhibit.
“[The collection] is interpretative,” Gardner explains. “It is an imaginative series of what I saw in the rocks and stones as I walked along the beach in Montauk. I would just walk, take some photographs, and when I got home and put my music on really loud, I would see what happened.”
Of the series, which Gardner created over the past year, her favorite individual piece is titled “Blue.” Within the entirely blue spectrum of color, the rocks and stones morph into creatures, given a hidden life from Gardner’s imagination.
For a number of the artists in residence, this show is the first time they have been able to present their art to the public, as their income has had to come from other forms of work. Loewes, who is married to a commercial fisherman, was a nurse, a hairdresser, and a cook, among a number of other occupations; Franklin was a teacher of the Romance languages; Macri works in real estate; Martell was a New York University law professor; Milne studied interior design; Schwarz was a soap opera director of shows such as ‘As the World Turns,’ and Gardner is the secretary of the Bridgehampton Historical Society.
“The great thing about this show,” explains Loewes, “is that we [the artists] aren’t charged anything to exhibit and sell our work. Twenty-percent of whatever sells goes to the Bridgehampton Historical Society.”
When asked how the experience has been over-all, from the creation of Bell’Arte to the installation of their exhibit this summer, all members present in the Archives building begin to talk at once, with quick, lively additions to one another’s thoughts making it hard to differentiate between what is being said and who is saying it.
“It has really been fun,” they collectively agreed. “I think a lot of people have not found the site yet, but when some have found it, they have loved the variety of the exhibit. It takes a while to build, to get recognized, to develop a reputation.”
Looking forward to next summer, the group expresses their enthusiasm at the idea of continuing the show, featuring more guest artists and gaining more momentum from the beginning. As for this summer, the show in the Archives Building, 2539-A Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton, will continue until September 7, with Bonac Tonic arriving on August 28 for an opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. The exhibit is open on Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. After the show in the Archives Building, Bell’Arte will move to the Studio East Gallery in Greenport, where they will exhibit their work from October 9 to November 1.