By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller, Kathryn G. Menu & Penelope Hope
A rash of graffiti was reported last week to village police, the tags bearing an image most people associate with Sag Harbor — a whale.
According to Sag Harbor Village Police, the department has received a total of five reports of the friendly, smiling whale being tagged on buildings throughout the village.
On Sunday, September 2, the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) on Main Street was defaced with four whales — in neon shades of pink, blue, green and yellow — on plastic sheeting along the scaffolding above the front entrance of the historic library.
The library is in the process of a multi-million renovation and expansion and contractors just recently finished a laborious (and expensive) restoration of the brickwork, mortar and limestone cornice, according to JJML Director Catherine Creedon.
On September 5, a neon blue and green whale, smiling broadly, was discovered on the rear of Apple Bank’s Main Street building. The same day, a neon green whale was found painted beneath the now infamous Larry Rivers’ “Legs” sculpture on the side of Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s Madison Street home, although it was quickly painted over.
Not even religious institutions were safe, as the caretaker of the Sag Harbor Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church discovered on the morning of September 8. A more crudely drawn outline of a blue whale was discovered on the west side of the church building facing the Old Burying Ground.
The same day, a white and blue whale was found on the Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue — that building has been the subject of several tags over the years, according to Sag Harbor Village Police Sergeant Paul Fabiano. Along with that whale was the tag reported last week by police that reads “freedumb.”
All of the whales were painted between two-to-three feet in height with a length of five-to-six feet.
According to Creedon, whose library was the first victim of the graffiti spree, her first concern is for the safety of the artist who had to scale scaffolding and actually move it around in order to accomplish all four whales at JJML.
Creedon said in addition to a security system at the library, both contractors and police have agreed to increase patrols around the library.
“The community has entrusted us with restoring a building that is a symbol of Sag Harbor and its history,” added Creedon. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on restoring the exterior of the original building.”
Creedon said while the graffiti ultimately did not damage the building, if the paint had gotten through the plastic sheeting, the chemicals needed to clean spray paint off the historic brick would degrade that material, a costly and precious loss, she said.
According to Sergeant Fabiano, the department is looking at the tags of graffiti artists they have nabbed in the past, as well as tags found by police departments outside of Sag Harbor.
Sergeant Fabiano said most graffiti work does occur overnight and in this case he expects it could be more than one individual responsible for the unapproved art.
If someone is collared for the graffiti whales in Sag Harbor, Sergeant Fabiano said he or she could face a misdemeanor charge of making graffiti for each defacing. Graffiti made on private property can also carry a charge of trespassing and if someone enters a building there could even be charges of burglary, he said.
Sergeant Fabiano asked that anyone with information about the graffiti contact Sag Harbor Village Police at 725-0247. All calls will be kept confidential.
“And maybe we can put this person or these people to work in the village doing some decent artwork that is approved,” he said.