By Francesca Normile
Last summer, The Custom House presented an opportunity to the children of Sag Harbor (and those of the greater East End): a chance to tour the town they strolled around in everyday, but had perhaps not yet really seen. Led by New York City architectural educator and part-time Sag Harbor resident, Janet Sygar, the tour began at 10 a.m. at the Custom House, where each child participating was given a crash-course in architecture.
“Janet started by exploring different architectural styles with the kids, teaching them to look for certain things in a structure, like lintels and dormers and these sorts of things,” re-calls Custom House administrator, Ann Lieber.
From this starting point, Sygar carried the tour through historic Sag Harbor, providing architectural history, fun facts about different buildings and locations, clipboards, papers and pencils, and an opportunity to draw and enjoy what surrounds them.
“What I do with the kids is many-fold,” Sygar explains. “First, I am showing them how to observe through sketching and am teaching them a little of the history, which really makes these buildings come alive for them. And then, in a sketching lesson, I am showing them what to look for, like what to do with the big spaces and what certain pieces are called or what they do. I am linking the history to the village on the tour, using fun facts to make it real for them.”
Sygar gave a few examples of the ‘fun facts’ she has collected about various Sag Harbor buildings. For instance, how the former Methodist Church was originally built on a hill, but that in the bad weather during the winter season, people were unable to make it up the hill in order to attend services. So, they moved the church to Madison Street where it is now, and leveled the hill, using the land they removed to fortify the area down at the docks.
Another point of interest that Sygar points out to the kids is the place where, years ago in the 1800s, a woman etched the name of her lover into her upstairs bedroom window, where it remains to this day.
“I talk about the monuments from the Revolutionary War and about the guys coming over from Connecticut in lots of little rowboats to fight,” says Sygar. “I just try to make the history interesting and not so dry for them. [The tour] is a mix of history and getting children to be aware of their surroundings; to recognize patterns of design and understand the movement from the salt box to the Greek Revival style; to look around and see wonderful details and beauty everywhere. Sketching does that; it makes you be aware.”
Lieber explains that in past years the Custom House offered a few other events for children, but that none were as successful or as rewarding as the “Walk, Talk and Sketch” event was.
“At first, some of the kids were saying, you know, ‘oh, I can’t draw,’ but then they see that nobody is grading it, that there is no competition going on, and they really felt very proud of themselves I think,” re-calls Lieber.
Lieber affirms that the tour is a refreshing change of pace for the generation which may be too reliant on the Internet and television.
“They really liked it,” she says. “It is an interesting activity for them. They get to learn about history and art. There are no mechanical or technical things involved, just the kids drawing and learning about the different styles and stories of the houses.”
And the opportunity goes beyond the day of the event itself, as the drawings from last year’s tour were mounted and put on display in the John Jermain Memorial Library, before being sent back to the young artists.
“And in today’s world,” says Lieber, “you want to make it reasonable for everybody, so that lots of kids can afford to come. It is only $10 and we supply everything they need.”
This year’s Walk, Talk and Sketch tour will take place on Monday, August 30, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is open to children ages 8 to 12, though Lieber says that those ages are not set in stone, as last year’s group included a 6-year-old and a 13-year-old. Participants are to meet at the Custom House, located at the corner of Main Street and Garden Street. In case of rain, the event will be moved to Tuesday, August 31. For more information, call 725-3229.