Tag Archive | "Eastville"

Quilts Reflect Warmth in Many Ways

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Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society's quilts.

Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society’s quilts. Photo by Steve Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The bare walls of the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House were being covered in splashes of bright colors and cozy comfort on Friday afternoon as a small group gathered to select and hang the 15 quilts chosen for the society’s annual exhibit, “Warmth,” which opens this Saturday.

The opening reception will be from 2 to 5 p.m. and the show will be on display through July.

As was the case in 2009, when the society also sponsored an exhibit on quilts, this year’s show is being curated by Dr. Patricia Turner, a Sag Harbor native, who is the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA, an expert on African-American folklore, and the author, with Kyra E. Hicks, of “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters.”

“Everyday life has always interested me,” said Dr. Turner. “Folklore is the perfect field for someone who wants to document things from ordinary life that can be extraordinary.”

“The diversity of African-American people can be shown in the type of quilts they make,” she continued, noting that the show hopes to showcase works by everyone from “the poor little woman from the south” to highly regarded textile artists.

Dr. Turner said her interest in the art was kindled when she interned at the Smithsonian Institution when she was a graduate student. “There was a group of quilters who were making a quilt there and I realized how much they were willing to talk about their families as they did their work,” she said. “It revealed bigger stories.”

On Friday, Dr. Turner was facing something of a dilemma as she sorted through an assortment of extraordinary quilts, some from her own collection, others that she had borrowed from their makers, as she tried to make the final selections for the show.

“One of the challenges of the Eastville house is it is small, and the quilts are big,” she said. She, Georgette Grier-Keye, the society’s executive director, and Michael Butler, a member of its board of directors, had spent much of the morning trying to figure out where to put which quilt in the small house-turned gallery.

The quilts chosen all reflect the theme of the exhibit, but in different ways. Some are “more functional,” said Dr. Turner. “Those were created solely for warmth. They were made for drafty houses.”

Others are representational and express the feelings of warmth and affection family members have for one another.

“About five of these quilts were made by members of the same family,” said Dr. Turner. “They were made in response to a quilting exhibit challenge to make quilts that were inspired by your personal legacy.”

An example among them is one made by members of the Presley family of Oakland, California, to honor their grandmother and great grandmother, “Grandma’s Apron.” Various squares on the quilt depict attributes of their grandmother that family members remembered fondly, from her sewing clothing for the girls in the family, to her love of gardening, her skill as a cook, to her monthly gambling junkets via bus to Reno. Each of the squares includes a small cutout apron.

Another quilt, “Jimmie,” with squares showing various tropical fish and images of a charter boat captain and his customers, honors another family member who once ran a sportfishing boat out of Berkley, California.

Yet another batch of quilts were made by Riché Richardson, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University and are decorative in nature. A native of Alabama, Dr. Richardson uses folk art techniques to depict the heroes she feels warmly about, according to Dr. Turner. For this exhibit, she has submitted quilts of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Frederick Douglass, and Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet. Yet another, “Ties that Bind,” is a reproduction of a photo collage of portraits once commonplace in African-American homes, of President John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, in front of an American flag.

“Waiting for the Freedom Train,” by Marion Coleman, shows an African-American family in a log cabin. It was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Ms. Grier-Keye said she thought it might be the star of the show because of the expertise Ms. Coleman showed in using layers of material to give the piece a sense of depth.

The exhibit is being sponsored by the Huntington Arts Council, which gave the historical society a $4,000 grant for the show. As part of the exhibit, the society plans to work with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center during its summer camp. Children will create their own square for a group quilt that will then be put on display, Ms. Grier-Keyes said.

Dr. Turner, who grew up in Sag Harbor Hills and attended Pierson High School before, embarking on her career as a college professor and administrator, still owns a home in Bridgehampton and will return for a lecture and book signing in July.

She added that quilting is gaining new popularity as a “reclaimed enterprise” in the lives of many Americans. Asked if she quilts herself, she replied with a smile, “very poorly.”

“Warmth,” an exhibit of quilts, will open this Saturday, with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House on Route 114 at Liberty Street. Hours are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. Regular Saturday hours will be offered during the summer months. Admission is $3. For more information, call 725-4711.

Highlighting Historic Eastville

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By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller

The Eastville Community Historical Society would like to see the Sag Harbor community become a larger part of conversations about the village’s history. To that end, this past weekend it brought together community members in an effort to help re-define the role of the historical society and expand the kind of programming that highlights the history of a community once believed to be a part of the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movements.

On November 17, the historical society held its first ever “charrette” at its headquarters, the Eastville Heritage House on Hampton Street. Roughly 30 community members gathered to discuss the current operations of the society, brainstorm ideas for expansion and take a walking tour of the neighborhood.

As explained by the historical society’s director, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, holding a charrette was a crucial step in formulating a long-term plan for the historical society. Creating a long-term vision, she said, is crucial as the organization seeks grants for repairing historical sites and funding educational and artistic programs, among other endeavors meant to highlight Eastville.

“Our number one priority is institutional sustainability over time — for the very near future and for the far future, for generations that are coming after us,” said Dr. Grier-Key. “The importance of this institution is so much bigger than any person or cohort of administrators.”

The Eastville neighborhood, which sits off Hampton Street/Route 114 in Sag Harbor, was a veritable melting pot in the 19th and 20th centuries. A uniquely integrated community, Eastville was home to African Americans, Native Americans and European immigrants.

One of the neighborhood’s greatest draws is the historic St. David AME Zion Church and cemetery, which some believe to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Yet, many feel that Eastville’s stories are not often told when discussing local history.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s true about most African American histories, and particularly, this community happens to be a multi-ethnic group,” said Dr. Grier-Key.

“It’s to the advantage of all people of Sag Harbor, and all Americans, to have a great depiction of the real history,” she said. “The real history is that we have been here dating back to the 1800s.”

The Eastville Community Historical Society was founded in 1980, and in 1996, the organization began operating out of the Heritage House, a restored 1925 Sears-Roebuck Mail Order home.

But in an era of fiscal austerity, the society is facing financial challenges similar to other non-profit organizations. While it has received small grants in the past, the organization relies mostly on private donations. Currently, they are in the process of applying for grants that will enable them to move forward with some of the ideas discussed at the charrette.

“We learned a lot about what we can do with the building and how to best serve the community, because that’s what we were really interested in,” said past president and current treasurer Joanne Carter.

One of the ideas discussed at the charrette included the possibility of using the basement of the Heritage House as a meeting room, since the upstairs cannot accommodate many visitors. Others suggested marking historic houses in the neighborhood so that visitors could go on self-guided walking tours.

Renovating and modernizing parts of the Heritage House, as well as the landscape, were also discussed.

Particular attention was paid to Eastville’s historic cemetery, which is the final resting place of a number of celebrated African American and Native American local figures, as well as some of Sag Harbor’s original whalers. However, the graveyard has fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years. At the charrette, participants suggested building a fence, repairing and replacing tombstones and other ways of renovating the cemetery.

“If we had a number one priority that we’re focusing on, it’s the cemetery. And it’s a big priority, on many levels,” said Dr. Grier-Key.

“We want to try to make the cemetery as pristine as possible, because we actually own the cemetery,” Carter agreed.

In addition to renovating and expanding facilities, the society also discussed ways of educating the wider community, particularly its schools.

“The [Sag Harbor] school district has grown significantly and we could be a resource for them, and provide more of the diverse cultural activities on a daily basis,” suggested Dr. Grier-Key.

But as Carter noted, “We’ve been in business for 30 years and we’ve been doing programs for 30 years. Doing programs isn’t a new thing — we’re just going to do more, more often, and larger.”

Both Dr. Grier-Key and Carter noted that this is just the beginning phase of the Eastville Community Historical Society’s expansion plans. An ongoing project, it will be years in the making.

“The overall support of the institution and the actual holdings of the institution are there,” said Dr. Grier-Key. “But I think what we’re doing now is taking it to the next level, where we are requiring more — from everybody — from ourselves, from the greater community and from public monies.”

“The historical society and museum is starting to carry forward the culture of the community,” Carter added. “And if they don’t tell the story, who is going to tell it?”

Bell Tower Restoration Planned in Eastville by Local Scout

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Pierson High School senior Dana Harvey plans to raise over $30,000 for the restoration of the bell tower at the St. David African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in the historic Eastville neighborhood of Sag Harbor. For both Harvey, and Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Pastor Tom MacLeod, the hope is this community-based project will shine a light on the historic church, built in 1839 and believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad and a center of the abolitionist movement.

Harvey is a member of Boy Scout Troop 455 of Sag Harbor and hopes to attain the highest level of the Boy Scouts by earning an Eagle Scout badge. On Thursday, November 8, 17-year-old Harvey, whose parents are the owners of D & D Harvey Architects, earned approval from the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) for a building permit, which will allow him to restore the cupola bell tower as his Eagle Scout project.

The project will also entail replacement of the church’s roof, which according to Harvey will be redone with a new foundation and a layer of cedar shingles.

“It’s an Eagle Scout project and we will try to make the community aware of this church because it is kind of dilapidated, but a huge part of the African American history of this village,” said Harvey’s father, David, during last Thursday’s ARB meeting.

The project was unanimously approved.

On Monday, the younger Harvey — who at this point plans to pursue a degree in engineering after high school — said he was introduced to this project by Pastor MacLeod, whose church found a temporary home at St. David’s AME Zion Church before it opened the doors of its own new church on Carroll Street in October of 2010.

D & D Harvey Architects designed the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church’s new building — which was how Pastor MacLeod became familiar with the Harvey family and one of the reasons he believed this project would be a perfect fit for Dana.

“I didn’t really know much about the church, but once I started working on this, I feel like I have learned a lot,” said Harvey.

Harvey, Pastor MacLeod and Harvey’s parents went to St. David’s earlier this year to scope out the dimensions of the cupola and also find out if the original church bell, long obscured and believed to have been sold, was still within the boarded up cupola. Unable to access the space from the inside, Harvey said they were able to open the cupola through a louver from the roof and discovered the original bell was in fact still there.

Now that the scout has village approval to move forward with the project, a remaining critical piece is the funding side of the equation. While the cupola bell tower itself will not be cost prohibitive, coupled with the replacement of the roof — critical for the long term stability of the bell tower and church — Harvey estimates he will need to raise about $30,600.

“We have sent letters to a bunch of churches that might be able to help with the donations and now we need to see how much funding we can raise through the community,” he said.

For Pastor MacLeod, whose congregation occupied St. David’s AME Zion Church after selling its historic Madison Street home in favor of building a new church on Carroll Street, any work that can shine a light on the church’s past and the Eastville community is important work.

“That bell tower has literally not rung in 25 years,” said Pastor MacLeod on Tuesday. “I am really hoping this can highlight some of the history of the church. This would also be a great way to unite the community around fundraising for this bell tower.”

Currently the home of Pastor Michael Jackson’s Triune Baptist Church, the building is owned by the Oyster Bay-based AME Zion Church, which approved this project in September. Originally constructed in 1839 by African Americans and Native Americans on Eastville Avenue off Route 114, it is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. According to the Eastville Community Historical Society, the founding Pastor, Reverend P. Thompson was a noted Abolitionist and colleague of Frederick Douglas.

While the Eastville Community Historical Society, the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church and the Triune Baptist Church have all funded repairs on the site, Pastor MacLeod noted that because the building was empty for several years it did deteriorate rather rapidly, making a project like this critical to preserving Sag Harbor history.

“We have opened up the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Mission and Outreach account of our church for people to donate to this project as a tax deductible contribution,” said Pastor MacLeod. “One hundred percent of the proceeds will go towards this restoration.”

Community members interested in donating to the project can send funding to The Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Mission and Outreach Account, P.O. Box 1146, Sag Harbor, NY 11963 with the subject line specifying the monies should go directly towards the St. David’s AME Zion Church bell tower cupola project.

Eastville Honors Harlem Doctor

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web Holder

By Andrew Rudansky

Oliver Holder, M.D. has been around for a long time and he has seen the changes of two different communities. This weekend, he will be honored by the Eastville community at their annual Harlem in the Hamptons II celebration.

“It’s a nice gesture, I guess some of the things that occurred in my life bear repeating,” said Holder.

Born in Harlem on 133rd Street, Holder was one of five kids. He was educated in public schools and grew up in a working class family. “We were not in good shape financially,” he said. In his time growing up in Harlem he saw the construction of the Eighth Avenue subway and the tunnels from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

After spending most of his childhood in Harlem his family moved to the Bronx where Holder attended Clinton High School. Upon graduating, Holder received a scholarship from Clark Atlanta University. He attended the historic Howard University Medical School where he eventually became board certified in obstetrics and gynecology.   

He first moved to Sag Harbor in 1948 and has been living at the same house part time, and now more recently full time. “[When I first came here] this whole area was underdeveloped,” recalled Holder. 

“We have always been an integrated community in Sag Harbor,” said Holder. He notes that many African Americans were deeply involved with Sag Harbor’s whaling history.

Despite moving out to the East End Holder insists that he “never left Harlem… Harlem was a wonderful place for mental development, cultural development for its residents.” Holder remembers the Harlem of the 1920s and 30s as a place of relative opulence. His memories are of an exclusive neighborhood with minority populations just moving in. “When I was a boy I remember seeing, inside some of the houses, doormen and maids,” said Holder.

“I love the topography of [Harlem], the grand avenues and the streets, I love the many parades and demonstrations, I love the churches and the cathedrals and I love that everything that happens, happens in New York City,” he added. 

Holder is a living encyclopedia of Sag Harbor and Harlem, shooting off historical facts and lessons. He gets a little bit more vague when asked about his precise age, “I’m in my 90’s,” he said. “I want keep my age a secret so 100 can take people by surprise.”

For his contribution to the communities and church groups in both Harlem and Sag Harbor, Holder will be the special honoree at the “Harlem in the Hamptons II” event this Saturday, August 22, from 1 to 5 pm at the Eastville Heritage house.

The Heritage house is a restored one-story building that houses the society’s collection of artifacts, including letters, journals, photographs and furniture. A collection that dates back to the 1800’s and tells the rich history of Eastville.

Holder jokes that he is only getting honored because, like the items in the heritage house, he is getting older. “All I think is that if you live long enough you become history,” he quipped.

The Eastville Heritage House is located on 139 Hampton Street, Sag Harbor. Harlem in the Hamptons II will feature entertainment for the whole family, including displays, a food court, vendors, book sales and live music. The event will celebrate the vibrant culture of Harlem.

A Quilting Sampler: Functional and Fancy

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The act of quilting represents a unique form of American folk art. As a purely utilitarian object, a quilt provides warmth and comfort to those for whom it is made. But a quilt is also an album of sorts, a form of storytelling that is often passed down to successive generations to commemorate monumental events or individuals in the life of a family or a culture.

This weekend, the Eastville Community Historical Society opens “From Functional to Fancy: An Eastville Quilt Sampler” a show curated by Patricia A. Turner, Ph.D. of University of California Davis, a former Eastville resident, and a 1973 graduate of Pierson High School. On view will be 14 quilts that illustrate the diversity of the African American quilting community.

“What I’m trying hard to do in the context of the Eastville House, which is a small space, is give the patrons a real view of the range of quilts,” explains Turner. “There are some that are completely utilitarian, and the quilters only used repurposed materials — leftover fabrics. They needed to be warm and are not as aesthetically appealing. Then there’s the middle category, these are quilters with a little more flexibility in their lives. They could purchase some materials, but didn’t consider themselves artists. These are nice quilts for company or a baby shower. ‘Company quilts’ I call them.”

The third category, notes Turner, encompasses quilts made by those who identify themselves as quilting artists. Among the work that will be on view in this show are quilts by established artists including Kyra Hick, Marion Coleman and Julia Vitero. A quilt by Dolores Vitero Presley of Oakland, California pays tribute to President Barack Obama and another by Riché Richardson, an Alabama native, was made in honor of the legendary entertainer and philanthropist Josephine Baker. That quilt comes complete with a three dimensional banana skirt and was exhibited this past winter in Paris as part of a traveling quilt exhibition.

When asked about the origins of African American portrait quilts – those that honor important cultural or historic figures — Turner says she has traced them back as far as the 1950s.

“There was an integrated study group in northern California,” she says. “Before Black History was commonly taught in schools, this group got together to teach themselves. They would assign readings every week. There was an artist in the group who said they should create a quilt for Frederick Douglas, the great abolitionist.”

That quilt ended up winning second place at the California State Fair that year. Important events and people have continued to capture the imagination of many African American quilters, and Turner is now on the lookout for quilts made in response to Hurricane Katrina.

“I saw one in Paris in January that was made by someone out of what she found in her house, which was water damaged,” explains Turner. “It was soiled and stained and showed the things that happened there.”

Turner is a folklorist who specializes in pieces made by African American artists. In her book “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters” Turner profiles nine different African American quilt makers from around the country and also offers an academic study of issues surrounding quilting and what can be learned by studying quilters. While it’s generally assumed that most quilters have learned the skill from mothers and grandmothers, in fact, Turner says, that’s not always the case.

“I tried to pick quilters who maybe came to it from a different route — one woman in Alaska had a family who worked on the pipeline. She learned quilting from an integrated sewing group there, not her mom,” says Turner. “A lot of mothers didn’t pass it down. That was something I found — the notion of it skipping a generation. Our mother never taught us more than the basics of sewing or getting a button on. My sister who made a quilt to raffle at the Eastville exhibit didn’t quilt until she retired. She said ‘This is neat, I can do it.’”

“I did find a lot of women and men as well who learned the basics as a child,” adds Turner. “They may have grown up in the south and were part of the migration during and after W.W.II to urban areas in the north where they took different kinds of jobs. When they retired, they went back to certain things like quilting.”

Turner notes that quilt artist Kyra Hicks, an authority on the statistics, estimates there are 1.9 million African American quilters — that makes for a huge range in the age, influence and experience of those engaged in the craft.

“Part of what I wanted to show,” says Turner, “was how diverse they are.”

“From Functional to Fancy: A Eastville Quilt Sampler” opens with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 18 at the Eastville Heritage House, 139 Hampton Street (Route 114) at Liberty Street in Sag Harbor. The exhibit will be on view Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. through August 9. In addition to the 14 quilts on display, a quilt created by Patricia Turner’s sister, Ruth Turner Carroll of Texas, will be raffled during the Eastville Community Historical Society’s annual fish fry on July 25 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Heritage House. On Friday, July 24 at 6 p.m., Patricia Turner will be at Canio’s Book (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor) to talk about “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters.” For more information, call 725-4711.

Struggling Together: Exhibit Looks at Blacks and Whites Fighting for Civil Rights

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By Marianna Levine


In honor of Black History month, the Eastville Heritage House on Hampton Road in Sag Harbor will feature an exhibition called “Partners in Progress” open every weekend in February. The exhibit highlights the cooperation between blacks and whites in the abolitionists and civil rights movements.  In light of the recent election and inauguration of America’s first African-American President, the exhibition’s curators, Beryl Banks and Kathy Tucker, wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the interracial collaborations that made Barack Obama’s Presidency possible.

Ms. Tucker explained, “Every year we put up an exhibit for Black History month and this year we wanted to show blacks and whites working together.  We wanted to show whites supporting our efforts, or struggle. We actually called it a struggle. So much of this is what we’ve lived through, we’re seniors, we remember the civil rights movement. We wanted to share this (information) with the community.”

The exhibit itself is rather humble although its message of personal struggle and sacrifice is not. The Eastville Historical Society is housed in what was a Sears & Roebuck mail order house, and therefore the exhibit has a cozy quality as one wanders from one small room to another while listening to songs from the civil rights movement playing over the house’s sound system. In a back room, one can hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech while looking at pictures of Barack Obama’s recent inauguration. There are pictures and newspaper articles displayed on black cloth boards of and about individuals who took a stand against racial oppression, sometimes losing their life in the pursuit of equality.


Of course there are recognizable names such as Rosa Parks that are featured, but there are also less well-known people honored, such as Viola Gregg Liuggo. She drove down to Selma to help with the Civil Rights Movement after being moved by news of the struggle on TV, only to be shot and killed by the KKK for her good intensions. Joanne Carter, a founding member of the historical society, specifies, “The purpose of most exhibits we do here is to bring to the public something that wasn’t necessarily known before.”

It is quite appropriate that Sag Harbor, and specifically the Eastville community Historical Society host such an exhibit since, according to Ms. Carter, it was, “one of the first fully integrated neighborhoods in the country.”

Ms Carter believes African-Americans arrived in the area either to work as freemen on the whaling ships or to escape on them to Canada as part of the Underground Railway.

There isn’t much historical documentation of Sag Harbor’s connection with the Underground Railway, however lack of documentation is a common challenge when studying the histories of minorities, the underprivileged, and women. Yet there are a few things that point to the plausibility of this commonly held belief within the Eastville community. For example, Sag Harbor and Shelter Island were home to a large Quaker population, and the Quakers started the Abolitionist movement in the 1830s. Ms Carter also points to the discovery of trap doors and hiding spaces underneath the altar and back pews of St. David’s church, Sag Harbor’s oldest church in its original site and a historically African-American church. 

In support of this exhibit, Civil Rights Activist, Bob Zellner will give a talk focusing on Obama’s politics of non-violence, and his mobilization of a new youth movement at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 22 at 2 p.m. Mr. Zellner, a Southampton resident, was a white southern college student in Montgomery, Alabama when the Civil Rights Movement started up around him. He was so moved and inspired by the young black students who were willing to take a stand and get beaten up for their belief in equality that he ended up becoming one of the founding staff members of SNCC. That was quite a departure for the son and grandson of KKK members.

Mr. Zellner recalls, “The leadership of SNCC was mostly young African American men and women from the south, but blacks and whites from the North and South worked together. I was unusual since I was a white southern. However all us southern had more in common than we had differences. We were culturally the same (regardless of race).”

Mr. Zellner comments, “What we did in the civil rights movement is now bearing fruit with the election of President Obama.”

And he noted that during the inauguration President Obama asked John Lewis, an early comrade of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stand up and be honored during his inaugural speech. 

Despite all the progress that has been made in terms of racial equality, Mr. Zellner stresses that younger generations still need to be taught the importance of critical thinking. Exhibits such as this one may help younger generations to remember the struggles of the past and continue to uphold interracial respect and equality for the future.