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Rite of Spring For Arts and Flowers: LongHouse opens for its 20th season

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By Emily J. Weitz

The LongHouse Reserve is a quiet 16 acres in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton, where art and nature mingle in perfect harmony. This intersection of art and nature is epitomized by Dale Chihuly’s blown glass spears, which jut out of the tranquil water like reeds. Throughout the sprawling property, some areas are left completely wild and others have become exhibition spaces for among the most notable artists of our time, from Chihuly to Willem deKooning to Eric Fischl. This year, which marks the 20th Anniversary of this precious space, special new exhibits will stand beside the ones that have become destinations for loyal visitors.

The gates of LongHouse open this Saturday for the Rites of Spring, which honors this special year in LongHouse’s history.

When textile legend Jack Lenor Larsen acquired the property in 1975, he didn’t know that it would one day become public domain. He still lives in the 13,000 square foot house, which was inspired by a Japanese shrine. But he also opens the doors of both his gardens and his home to visitors throughout the year.

“We’ve had 10,000 visitors and over 2,000 of those are school children,” says Matko Tomicic, Executive Director of LongHouse Reserve for the past 15 years. “[The children are] one of the biggest assets LongHouse has seen.”

Through their educational outreach initiatives including docent-led tours for school groups, LongHouse demonstrates its commitment to the idea that art is essential to life. Tomicic’s favorite memory of his years working at LongHouse is not of a perfect summer evening under a tent in the garden, glass of champagne poured.

“My best memory is sitting at my desk after a class had visited,” he recalls, “and hearing a child pulling his mother back in through the gardens saying ‘come come come!’ He was so excited to show her this and that. That’s a real pleasure.”

In 1991, Larsen established the LongHouse Foundation, opening the property to the public. In 1996, LongHouse hosted its first Chihuly exhibit, in which there were 1200 glass objects throughout the gardens.

“Up until that point, Chihuly had mostly done interiors,” says Tomicic. “This was his first large scale exhibit outdoors. There were chandeliers in the trees, a boat in the garden… This was the first time the idea of taking glass on a large scale outdoors was achieved. Since then he’s gone on to do it all over the world.”

And since then, LongHouse has continued to welcome new artists and to evolve and change.

“We’ve grown and matured not only in our trees and horticulture, but also as an organization,” says Tomicic.

New features this year such as a gazebo in the northwest part of the property and a new water feature near the lap pool are projects particularly close to Larsen’s heart.

“We’ll have a new demonstration garden of pragmatic plants,” Tomicic says. “Pragmatic in the sense these are the plants we use for our daily function without ever thinking about them.”

Since Larsen made his name in textiles, it makes sense that plants like cotton and indigo will be growing here.

“Did you know that indigo is red?” Tomicic asks. “People don’t think about how textiles are made with dye and fibers… That’s why we’ll have this educational garden.”

Another major addition to LongHouse this year is Toshiko Takaezu: The Memorial Exhibition. Larsen has called Takaezu “an unequalled American potter” and considered her a close friend. As a tribute to her life, LongHouse has gathered a large sampling of her work from various private collections and it will be on display in the pavilion and installed throughout the grounds until July 11.

Other exciting new installations include 6-foot tall bronze flowers by Donald Baechler, a renowned painter who has recently gained recognition as a sculptor. Also, there is a new addition to a George Rickey series installed last year. Four L’s Excentric II, a stainless steel sculpture completed in 1987, will join five other Rickey sculptures to round out an impressive collection.

One of the most rewarding things about LongHouse is you have to explore it, and you have to take your time. Some of these new additions are hidden among flowering trees. Others are in secret-feeling gardens. That’s why LongHouse has extended the hours of this Saturday’s Rites of Spring opening day from 2 to 7 p.m., with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.longhouse.org.

Tomicic will speak about the LongHouse Preserve at a Hot Topics luncheon sponsored by the League of Women Voters today, Thursday, April 29, at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor.