By Emily J Weitz
The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum tackles a great deal more than the history of Sag Harbor as a whaling community. The museum also hopes to capture the current vibrant culture of this town through its increasing number of art shows and musical offerings. The exhibition that opened this week ties in to Sag Harbor’s identity in a whole different way – by looking through the lenses of a dozen different artists who happen to have a thing for birds.
“For the Birds” is an exhibition curated by Peter Marcelle of the Peter Marcelle Gallery, in collaboration with new president of the Whaling Museum’s board of directors Barbara Pintauro-Lobosco and artist Dan Rizzie. Birds have been a source of inspiration for all the artists involved, and this theme also opens the conversation to environmentalists and preservationists.
“The Whaling Museum is about giving back to the community and the environment,” says Lobosco. “We wanted to do something focused on the coastal area of the Hamptons.”
Part of this engagement with the community includes connecting to other local non-profits. For this exhibit, the Whaling Museum hooked up with the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.
“The Greenbelt is known as the string of pearls,” says Lobosco. “It offers these preserved habitats which serve as nesting places for birds.”
By establishing the theme of birds, Lobosco feels they were able to weave together rich artwork and environmental awareness.
“I’ve always loved Dan Rizzie’s artwork,” she says, “like his blackbirds and his red robins.”
That became a jumping-off point to go deeper.
“It’s an awareness of trying to connect the Greenbelt to the museum,” says Lobosco, “and what preservation gives to us.”
“For the Birds” features 12 different artists, from the renowned Wyeth brothers Andrew and Jamie to the work of Joseph Stella. And of course, Dan Rizzie’s work will be on display.
“As I discussed it with Peter and Barbara,” says Rizzie, “we live in a really fantastic area where the wildlife, the flora and fauna, is a big part of being here. I was driving along the other day and saw a sign for turtle crossing, and was just thinking about how people care about the creatures out here. This is a great place to watch birds. I have friends who come here from Europe and go crazy for the birds. Birds are a show in themselves. The significance of having a show like this at the museum is an extension of the function of the museum in the community.”
The idea of having this show at the Whaling Museum was born out of casual conversation.
“It started out as a conversation between Barbara Pintauro Lobosco, Peter Marcelle, and myself,” says Rizzie. “The thing that’s amazing about Peter is that he’s always receptive to ideas, he’s always curating shows, working with local artists.”
But Marcelle has a cache of artwork that goes far beyond local.
“That’s another thing about working with Peter,” says Rizzie. “When you do a show like this, he’ll pull out an Andrew Wyeth, a Jamie Wyeth and a Stella. So the interesting thing about this show is Peter has drawn on his collection to get important works and put them in the Whaling Museum. It’s what we’re supposed to do as artists and as dealers, so we don’t end up just doing the same show over and over again.”
The idea of exhibiting art at the Whaling Museum is not new – there have been art shows since 1999, when the first Cappy Amundsen show went up as both a tribute to the whaling identity of Sag Harbor and to his art. The show went up again last year.
“That was a sort of transition,” says Zachary Studenroth, who was the director of the museum for ten years before relinquishing his position to serve as a board member, “because Cappy was a living artist for many decades in Sag Harbor, and his work incorporated imagined whaling scenes as well as local landscapes.”
As Studenroth and Lobosco discussed the direction the museum needed to take in the future, they agreed that art and music needed to find their way into the fold.
“The museum needs to expand its audience and increase membership,” says Studenroth. “Without abandoning its wonderful collections and a continued commitment to preserving the maritime heritage of the East End, it needs to become more relevant to a diverse community. The contemporary art scene is vibrant here, and by offering exhibitions that appeal to this audience, we will fulfill their interests and potentially introduce them to the historical background of the region as well.”