By Candace Sindelman
High art and gardening go trough in hand this Sunday, July 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. when the Sag Harbor Tree Fund holds its third annual benefit on the back porch of Cormaria Retreat House in Sag Harbor. The tree fund has planted more than 300 trees around Sag Harbor Village since December of 1993, 26 of them right in the heart of the business district, including the blue spruce which is decorated during the holidays.
Money raised from the benefit will help the tree fund continue their work which Shana Conron, a member of the organization, notes is important because it ensures Sag Harbor maintains a healthy tree-scape.
“Imagine what the streets would look like if the trees weren’t there,” said Conron.
“The atmosphere changes,” added tree fund member Alexandra Eames, who helped organize the event, “It’s like having a huge air-conditioner.”
At Sunday’s fundraiser, the focus will be on 24 artists and the terra cotta pots they have transfromed into works of art for use as display pieces or in the garden. The pieces will be offered for sale in a silent auction at the event. For those looking for a little something to put in their pot, raffle tickets will also be sold for a Phalaenopsis orchid from Bridgehampton Florist.
“It’s enormous and spectacular,” said Conron. “They bloom every year and are lovely quality. They were popular last year and we sold about 50 tickets.”
So why terra cotta pots? Tree fund event organizers note that, in keeping with past benefit tradition, the theme of this year’s fundraiser had to be garden or tree related. Past fundraisers have included sales of elm trees, and artistically painted watering cans.
“In the gardening world, there are just so many surfaces to work on,” Eames explained. “One of the reasons people come is they are not just getting a flower pot, but a signed work; a real piece of art.”
“These are artists that don’t ordinarily work with terra cotta pots, and that brings a sense of whimsy,” Conron added. “It’s amazing what the imagination of man is able to come up with.”
James McMullan, the illustrator well-known for his Lincoln Center Theater posters, contributed a pot that is based on his memoir about “Leaving Cheefoo.”
The artwork serves as a visual excerpt from his life. He was born in China, where his grandparents had settled after leaving Ireland. The piece depicts the seven-year-old boy during the onset of World War II, just before he and his mother moved to Canada.
Another pot was created by Sag Harbor artist Karin Strong and shows a dachshund chasing its own tail. Strong has been an oil painter for 20 years and was given the idea from her husband. A long-time dog lover, Strong has always been interested in animal behavior and thought it was such a funny concept.
“I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Strong said. “I became a slave to the idea. Originally I wanted to do it in mosaic tile, but it’s a busy time of year and it needed to be done fast, so I did it in oil.”
“You walk around and you start to realize what’s happening, it’s like watching a story unfolding,” Conron said commenting on Strong’s piece. “There is a sense of motion and focus amongst daisies,”
Strong is proud to be a part of the benefit and said, “It’s a wonderful charity and a great thing to plant new trees in our precious town. It’s a great organization.”
Gahan Wilson, a cartoonist whose macabre work has appeared in New Yorker, Playboy and other magazines, had painted garrulous birds in oil on his pot while artist Dan Rizzie’s offering showcases stenciled flowers and leaves along with his signature bird imagery.
“All the artists are highly respected,” Conron said. “These are not amateur paintings. These are all professional painters with galleries. We’re very lucky that they are very generous and supportive. All the pots are extraordinary.”
Nicolette Jelen uses mixed media in her “Pot with Window to Mirrored Trees” where an intricate etching can be found.
Somewhat off the beaten track are pots which have objects inside them, such as the pot created by Marders Landscaping and Nursery with rabbit and frog puppets amid succulents.
Last year about 160 guests came to the event, and Eames and Conron expect an even stronger turnout this year.
“The entrance price doesn’t knock your socks off,” said Eames. “We wanted to make it affordable so the community will feel like they are able to come and take part in it.”
“It’s a beautiful spot,” Eames added of the Cormaria venue. “We’re having it rain or shine. It’s so peaceful, all the bustle is up to the left.”
And it’s all for a good cause. One of the biggest expenses for the tree fund are the green watering bags that are placed at the base of new trees to help them become well-established. Money raised from the benefit will help offset the cost of the watering program.
After a three year period the trees are handed over to the village for care. However, the Tree Fund is always willing to help out a tree in trouble, that is vulnerable or in need.
“We kind of babysit,” Conron said.
“Our founder’s statement is to restore, preserve, and supplement the public trees and shrubs without adding to the taxed cost for the village,” Conron said.
Eames said The Sag Harbor Tree Fund tries to diversify the “urban landscape” and to make up for all the unexpected mass removal of trees.
And when it comes to tree placement, it’s all about location.
“A lot of people want their tree to be planted at The American Hotel,” Eames said.
Tickets for the Sag Harbor Tree Fund benefit, which is Sunday, July 29, from 4 to 6 p.m., will be $20 at the door. Wine, tea, mango lemonade, sandwiches and sweets will be served. Cormaria Retreat House is at 67 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Bring cash or checks for auction and raffle.