By Annette Hinkle
Perhaps you’ve seen them around. They’re tall. They’re majestic. And they’re made entirely of driftwood.
They are the wooden horse sculptures of Lautaro Cuttica of East Hampton. There’s one living at the EECO Farm’s stand on Long Lane in East Hampton and some on the lawn of the Cuttica family house and studio on Newtown Lane. In Sag Harbor, Romany Kramoris Gallery currently boasts a mare and foul pairing. There are also any number of residents who have taken notice and bought them for their homes.
Lautaro, a 22 year old thesis student at Cooper Union, comes from an artistic family. Though he built the first horse sculpture as a romantic gesture, these days, his studies keep him so busy that making horses is now a family enterprise. Father, Eugenio, an accomplished painter also with work at Kramoris Gallery, creates the faces, while brother, Franco, 20, who is just starting at Cooper Union himself, focuses on building the bodies.
“He pretty much took over the whole thing this year,” says Lautaro of his brother. “I wanted to let him work on it so I could make some paintings in my studio.”
The Cutticas are originally from Argentina. The family moved to the U.S. when Lautaro was nine for political and economic reasons. While father Eugene discovered his artistic passion over the course of a lifetime, for Lautaro, art has been ingrained since day one.
“Art is in my blood. It’s part of my upbringing,” says Lautaro. “If it wasn’t, I don’t know who I would be.”
“Sometimes with artistic parents I feel it can be difficult,” he adds. “I was put into art very naturally, while my father found it through his own motivation as a safe haven from a volatile family. It’s my starting point, which he found. It’s so akin to me that sometimes I can lose track of my objectives.”
But Lautaro is very clear that he’s one of those people for whom art is a commodity. Though he likes the fact that people see value in art, it’s still important that his work come from an authentic place. That was certainly the case with the first driftwood horse which he made for his girlfriend when he was 15.
“I wanted to give her something to make her feel indebted to me and stay longer, but she broke up beforehand,” says Lautaro. “I was ready to burn the sculpture in effigy for her. But my father put it on the lawn instead and in three days it sold for $3,000. I thought maybe there’s something in this.”
“It was scheme. That’s what it was,” says Lautaro. “Now I’m the one laughing.”
He adds that the quality of sculptures has improved greatly in the years since. While he has been commissioned to create other animals, including a deer head suitable for mounting and a full size bull, the horse remains the focus.
“I think the horse is the most pleasant, beautiful animal probably,” he says.
But before the horse comes the driftwood, and the Cutticas spend a lot of time scavenging local beaches for material (last weekend’s storm provided a bonanza) and after organizing it by shape, color and potential body part, the building process begins.
“We build several horses at once,” explains Lautaro. “It’s similar to Henry Ford and the assembly line. If you’re building one horse and need a piece, you’re looking all over the yard for the piece that works. But if you see a neck piece that’s good and you’re building five horses, you can use it where it fits.”
Lautaro likes the way the driftwood gives form and brings life to the horses.
“It has time embedded in it,” he says. “You can see that. It has a round shape and this makes it easier to fit together with other pieces. It puts fluidity in the horse.”
Franco, a 2008 Ross School graduate, began helping with the sculptures two or three years ago, at first as a hobby. He feels that building the sculptures has helped shape his own artistic career, and is now starting his freshman year in architecture at Cooper Union.
“Recently, what has changed my artistic senses is mostly architecture,” says Franco. “I trained at Pratt for a year. Architecture is a lot of rigor, working hard and putting thought into your work. Now the driftwood horses are turning out better, my drawing and anything else I do is better. It’s very demanding to practice architecture, but that control is very useful.”
“There’s an engineering aspect to horse building,” adds Franco. “It’s like making models for architecture.”
For her part, Romany Kramoris is happy to have the horses in Sag Harbor. She feels the sculptures have brought a positive energy to her gallery. Passersby often come into the shop after catching a glimpse of them from outside, and several have sold. Kramoris will even tell you that one night after she dimmed the lights and was finishing up at her desk, she could have sworn the horse turned and winked at her.
It would seem this is turning out to be a beneficial relationship all around.
“We are very grateful to her,” Lautaro smiles.
Romany Kramoris Gallery is located at 41 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For information, call 725-2499.
Top: Franco and Lautaro Cuttica with a driftwood horse sculpture in progress at the Cuttica studio in East Hampton.