By Emily J Weitz
When you walk through the austere halls of the Museum of Modern Art and come upon a massive Pollock, it stops you dead in your tracks. But when you step out into Pollock’s back yard and soak in the striking blue of the water on a clear day, bright green stalks of grass shooting towards the sky, that’s when you really get it. The Pollock-Krasner House isn’t devoted directly to the paintings that its legendary inhabitants created. It is instead devoted to the people, and to the world that inspired them. And this month, this natural world celebrates a major victory. The final parcel of land within the viewing corridor of the Pollock-Krasner House has, after a two year struggle, been successfully preserved. What this means is that there is no risk that one day the view from Pollock’s writing shed — where egrets once nested — will offer McMansions and their obligatory yachts. What this means is that when an aspiring artist makes his long way to the house of his hero, he will see what his hero saw. The same blue of the water, the same stillness on a gray day.
And make no mistake: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were deeply inspired by the pristine environment that surrounded their Springs home. Helen Harrison, Director of the Pollock-Krasner House, called their move to the East End “decisive… Moving here was their breakthrough.” Before they moved to the area, they were living on East 8th Street in Manhattan. “They were both being influenced by many ideas that were whirling around New York,” says Harrison. Pollock’s work was “dark and congested.” And Lee Krasner said of her own work at the time that she felt like she was painting the same thing again and again, and it always ended up looking “like mud”. Harrison says authoritatively that within six months of moving out here, “Krasner was doing beautiful, bright, colorful work inspired by the night sky and by what she was experiencing.” Pollock’s work opened up as well. The first series he painted in the house was called “The Accabonac Creek Series”, and although you won’t find the creek or the landscape in his abstract work, you will see “brighter colors, open composition, and an upbeat mood,” says Harrison. “Almost the day they moved here, his work changed.”
Last Sunday supporters of the Pollock-Krasner House gathered together to celebrate this happy occasion. The donors, whose combined efforts made the purchase possible, included the Cape Branch Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the Helen and Claus Hoie Charitable Foundation, the Stony Brook Foundation, the Accabonac Protection Committee, the Town of East Hampton, and a number of generous individuals. On a perfect autumn day, they stood in Jackson and Lee’s back yard, drinking in the delicious environment: the trees, the water, the great blue herons. A deer bounded away from the crowd with so much space to run that she just got smaller and smaller as she made her way towards the sparkling blue water. Looking across the rolling yard towards the barn where Pollock created almost all of his masterpieces, one could really identify with the desire to take the overwhelming sensory experience of nature and translate it into something tangible. Both Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were gifted at doing so.
Marcia Gay Harden, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lee Krasner in the 2000 film “Pollock”, was the guest of honor on Sunday. She took the podium and looked out at the small, attentive crowd, and the backdrop of Accabonac Harbor behind them. “It’s wonderful to be back here,” she said. “When Ed [Harris] and I first came here, it was a magical time. We were able to see what Jackson and Lee saw. We were here, in their home, with the same trees that they were with… I laid in Lee’s bed and fingered the artifacts, and from that experience came a truth, a veracity [in the portrayal of Lee].”
And this deep understanding that Marcia Gay Harden got from lying in Lee’s bed is the same feeling visitors can get by looking through their record collection, noting the books on the shelves, the splattered paint on the floor of Jackson’s studio. And now, and always, it’s the kind of feeling visitors get by standing in their back yard in the waning light of day, in the shadow of the trees that shaded them, looking out at beautiful, timeless Accabonac Harbor.
A View From the Water
The two-and-a-half acres of woods, meadows, and wetlands that have been protected through this acquisition hug the shoreline of Accabonac Harbor. Before coming to the celebratory party, Nancy Nagel Kelly, Director of the Nature Conservancy on Long Island, spent her afternoon kayaking these waters, as she’s done many times before.
“The most striking thing you experience when you head out on a kayak on Accabonac Harbor is how much natural, undisturbed shoreline there is. You’re in an intimate setting with nature. All you see is blue and green.”
At this time of year you’ll notice Great Blue Herons and Great and Snowy Egrets perched in the tall green grasses while terns dart across sandy beaches and cormorants dry their feathers in the breeze. Mike Bottini, East End naturalist and writer, adds that, as we move further into autumn, the palette of the setting will deepen to include the marsh’s warm fall colors, like the crimson red of Salicornia, the purple flowers of sea lavender and salt marsh asters, and the golden browns of the Spartina grasses. Through these grasses you might find a lone clammer wading, spotted turtles swimming, or a young family catching minnows in a small net.
“Accabonac Harbor is one of my favorite places to paddle,” says Bottini, “with lots of small embayments, peninsulas, and an island to explore.” He points out that the town has done a great job over the past 25 to 30 years buying up vacant lots and protecting them, allowing the ecosystem to remain intact. “Those efforts have also been a key factor in making Accabonac a beautiful place to paddle, and an inspiring place for artists to paint and photograph. In fact, just yesterday I saw a local artist painting the autumn scene in East Harbor, a narrow embayment of Accabonac that runs along Louse Point Road.”
Whether you’re in a kayak, at an easel, or on foot, exploring this area will drop you right into the heart of nature. To be in East Hampton’s most densely populated hamlet and still feel like the only person on Earth is a testament to the tireless work of decades of people who have devoted themselves to preservation.