Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum"

Descendants of Whaling Pioneer Pay a Visit to Sag Harbor

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Members of the Huntting family, descendants of Benjamin Huntting I, visited the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum on Thursday. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

It was not as spectacular an entrance as the Kardashians made to Sen restaurant on Tuesday night, but when members of the Huntting family arrived at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum earlier in the day, people took notice.

Fifteen members of the family, descendants either by blood or marriage, of Benjamin Huntting I, the father of the Sag Harbor whaling industry, paid a visit to learn more about the family business from which Mr. Huntting made his fortune.

Unlike the Khardashians, who arrived with a film crew and a phalanx of well-muscled bodyguards in tow, and were immediately surrounded by a horde of photographers, the Hunttings, many of whom arrived by bicycle, received a more subdued greeting from Gregg Therriault, the museum’s site manager, and Richard Doctorow, its collections manager.

It was Benjamin Hunting I, who with his partner, Stephen Howell, came up with the novel idea of sending out whaling ships that were equipped with try-pots on board, so that whale blubber could be rendered into valuable oil at sea. Prior to that, Mr. Doctorow said, the blubber was stored in barrels on board and brought back to port for processing.

“You could only catch so many whales before you had to return to port or your boat would start to smell pretty bad,” he said.

In 1785, Mr. Huntting and Mr. Howell underwrote the voyage of the Lucy and the America. The ships returned to Sag Harbor later that year with between 300 and 500 barrels of oil on board each of them. In later years that would have been considered a measly cargo, but the two businessmen were able to make enough of a profit that they were encouraged to expand their operations and in doing so, they established whaling as an industry in the small port village, Mr. Doctorow said.

Mr. Huntting’s son, Benjamin Huntting II, continued the family business and hired Minard LaFever, the same architect who designed the Old Whalers’ Church, to build him a grand, home on Main Street, which was completed in 1845 at a cost of $7,000.

Huntting family members, who came from as far away as San Francisco, “oohed and ahhed,” as they took in the intricate woodwork, the plaster moldings, and the circular staircase in the house that later passed into the hands of Mrs. Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, Sag Harbor’s benefactress, before eventually being turned over to the whaling museum.

“This is what you would do if you had the money and the labor was cheap,” Mr. Doctorow said, pointing out the various whaling motifs in the building’s decoration.

The Huntting clan was led by James Huntting, who now lives in retirement in Naples, Florida. For many years, he lived in Austin, Minnesota, where he ran a grain business that was established by his great grandfather, William Huntting, who also sailed the world before settling down on terra firma in the American heartland.

“I don’t know if it was as profitable,” said Mr. Huntting of his great grandfather’s line of work,  “but it was safer.”

For years, family members have taken group vacations, said Lisa Huntting, Mr. Huntting’s daughter, who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, but who lived in New York City during the 1980s and occasionally visited the East End.

“At first, when the kids were little, we went to a resort in Minnesota,” she said, “but for my parents’ 50th anniversary, we took a cruise to Alaska.”

“Mom died unexpectedly in January,” she continued. “And she was the one who usually planned the trips.”

Ms. Huntting said she thought it would appropriate to visit the family’s roots, so she organized this year’s trip, with family members renting an East Hampton house for a week-long stay.

The excitement over seeing the family’s place in local history turned more somber when Mr. Doctorow showed them the sharp harpoons used to slay the whales, with some family members cringing as they viewed paintings of mortally wounded  whales, spouting blood.

“They were called right whales for a reason,” Mr. Doctorow said. “They were slow, they were good for oil, and they rarely sank, so they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt.”

Outside, family members gathered around the museum’s 35-foot whaling boat, which Mr. Doctorow said had been restored but is the oldest surviving such boat that he knows of.

“It was a pleasure and a honor to meet you,” he told the family as they completed their tour and headed into the village for lunch with a single reporter in tow.

East End Weekend: Top Picks for What To Do

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Andrew Wyeth, Sail Loft, 1983, Watercolor on paper, 22 x 29 ½ inches.

Andrew Wyeth, Sail Loft, 1983, Watercolor on paper, 22 x 29 ½ inches.

By Tessa Raebeck

The weather’s supposed to be perfect this weekend, why not end a long day at the beach with a great evening out? Here are some entertainment ideas for this weekend on the East End:


Rosé Week at the Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Running Friday, June 20 through Thursday, June 26, the Wölffer Estate Vineyard is celebrating its specialty: Rosé, or “summer in a bottle,” as the vineyard calls it.

Wölffer No. 139 dry rosé hard cider.

Wölffer No. 139 dry rosé hard cider.

On Friday at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, the winery’s famed vintage will be available before the Rufus Wainwright concert. For tickets, visit whbpac.org.

The rosé travels Saturday to the Group for the East End’s “Here Comes the Sun!” benefit, at the vineyard from 6 to 11 p.m. The fairly new and equally delicious No. 139 Rosé Cider will be poured for gala guests. For information and tickets, visit groupfortheeastend.org.

Rounding out the weekend—but not the rosé week, which goes till Wednesday—on Sunday on the lawn of the Wölffer residence, “A Taste of Provence” lunch from 1 to 4 p.m. will give guests not just a taste of rosé, but also of a grand meal prepared by Chef Christian Mir of the Stone Creek Inn. The event is reserved for Wölffer Wine Club Members.

For more information on rosé week, visit wolffer.com.


“Under the Influence” at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum

Pairing contemporary artists’ works with those of the artists who have inspired them, “Under the Influence” offers a collection of masters and mentees at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum.

Curated by local gallery owner Peter J. Marcelle, the exhibition explores the relationship between nine contemporary artists and the greats whose influence got them started.

The pairs, with the contemporary artist first, are: Terry Elkins with Andrew Wyeth, Eric Ernst with William Baziotes, Cornelia Foss with Larry Rivers, Steve Miller with Andy Warhol, Dan Rizzie with Donald Sultan, Stephen Schaub with Alfred Stieglitz, Mike Viera with Eric Fischl and Gavin Zeigler with William Scharf.

An opening reception is Friday, June 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, located at 200 Main Street in Sag Harbor. All sales benefit the museum. For more information, call (631) 613-6170.


Artists Against Abuse to Benefit The Retreat

To benefit The Retreat, the domestic violence services agency in East Hampton, Artists Against Abuse will be held in Bridgehampton Saturday, June 21.

The event, with the theme of Midsummer Night Fever, brings artists, philanthropists and residents from across the East End together in support of The Retreat, eastern Long Island’s only comprehensive domestic violence services organization.

The event will feature Congressman Tim Bishop and actress and social advocate Rachel Grant.

“The World Health Organization reports that in some countries, up to 70 percent of women report having been victims of domestic violence at some stage in their lives,” said Congressman Tim Bishop in a press release. “I have always been a strong advocate for the needs and rights of women. Women play integral roles in the global community and they deserve to be treated with respect by their male counterparts.

The benefit begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Ross School Lower Campus Field House on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton. For more information, visit artistsagainstabuse.com.


Shop Til You Drop for Katy’s Courage

Looking for a good reason to shop? Katy’s Courage, a not-for-profit in honor of Katy Stewart, a beloved Sag Harbor resident who passed away at age 12 from a rare form of liver cancer, invites you to shop ‘til you drop for a good cause.

On Saturday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sequin in Southampton will be serving cocktails while shoppers browse through designer Gabby Sabharwal’s new swimsuit line, Giejo, and create their own necklaces.

Sequin is located at 20 Jobs Lane in Southampton. For more information, call (631) 353-3137.

Walking with Women in Sag Harbor

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Mrs. Russell Sage is responsible for building Mashashimuet Park, Pierson Middle-High School and John Jermain Memorial Library. 


By Mara Certic

As you walk down the streets of Sag Harbor, its history is palpable. Treading in the footsteps of sea captains, authors and artists past, you pass buildings on Main Street that date to the 1770s. The histories of Mashashimuet Park, Pierson High School and the John Jermain Memorial Library share one thing in common: they were all funded and built in the first 10 years of the 20th century, by a woman.

“It was so unusual then for a private, independent benefactress to pay for those municipal buildings,” said Tony Garro, who along with Annette Hinkle, hosts a women’s history walking tour of Sag Harbor on Thursday, May 22, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Mr. Garro moved to Sag Harbor shortly after retiring from his teaching job of over 30 years in the Massapequa School District. His love of history quickly had him enamored of Sag Harbor. “A little town with this much history is just incredible,” he said. A combination of research, curiosity and long walks led him to start leading historic walking tours in the village. “I thought to myself, instead of putting together a walk in the woods, it would be great to start a walk in Sag Harbor.”

When Mr. Garro first began his tours, they tended to be more generic. The tour would begin at Mashashimuet Park and would continue down Main Street, pausing to look at and learn about some of the historic houses along the street. Continued research prompted Mr. Garro to look into doing themed walks.

A maritime tour during HarborFest one year was his first venture into the world of specialized historical tours.

“But I had an idea for a woman’s tour, and a man leading a woman’s tour doesn’t have too much credibility,” he said. So Mr. Garro brought on writer, Annette Hinkle. Since then, the two have formed “Sag Harbor Sidewalks” and plan to offer tours through the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum this summer.

This Thursday’s tour will explore the homes of four women who played major roles in history, both local and on the larger stage.

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who even today is still most often referred to as Mrs. Russell Sage, did not live in Sag Harbor, or own a home in the village, until she was 74 years old. When her reportedly tight-fisted husband died in 1906, she inherited a fortune estimated at over $50 million to be used at her own discretion.

Mrs. Sage spent the rest of her life spending that money, supporting education, programs for women and also several “pet projects,” including Sag Harbor. As a descendant of both Abraham Pierson and Major John Jermain, she named the school and library that she built after them, respectively.

“She didn’t grow up here, she grew up in Syracuse, but she almost had an unrealistic romanticism about Sag Harbor because her grandmother had grown up here, and I guess she had regaled her with stories of Sag Harbor when she was younger,” Ms. Hinkle said.

In 1912 Mrs. Sage left Sag Harbor never to return. From 1908 until she left, she lived in the Huntting House, where the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum is now located, and where this tour of Sag Harbor begins.

Another stop on the tour is the former home of the feminist pioneer Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” whose family still owns the house.

“But it’s not just the Betty Friedans that we look at,” said Mr. Garro, mentioning the lesser-known women whose lives are explored on the Sag Harbor Sidewalks tour.

One of the houses the tour will visit was home to Annie Cooper Boyd. At the age of 15, she began keeping a diary, which has since been published. Her writings offer an intimate look into what it was like for a “wild child” to grow up in Sag Harbor in the end of the 19th century.

“She was really trying to be a free spirit in a society that didn’t reward women for being free spirits. On her 17th birthday she talks about not being able to climb trees—at least in her front yard—anymore.”

Annie Cooper Boyd was an artist as well, painting wherever she could—including on the walls of her Sag Harbor home, now home to the Sag Harbor Historical Society and open to the public.

In her artwork, “you can see some really cool views of Sag Harbor that don’t exist anymore,” said Ms. Hinkle. Mr. Garro added “She, in essence, became a historian of Sag Harbor through her art.”

Also included on the tour is the former home of Nelson Algren. “I mean obviously not to talk about Nelson, really.” Mr. Garro said. The tour stops at the Glover Street house because of a torrid love affair the writer had with one of the most celebrated feminists and philosophers of the 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir.

Just a few yards away, on the corner of Glover and Green Streets, is what Mr. Garro refers to as an old “Sag Harbor B&B—a bar and brothel.”

“In the end, it all comes back to the economics, women doing what they had to do to survive,” Ms. Hinkle said.

 Sag Harbor Sidewalks will be putting on themed tours throughout the summer, including maritime tours, cemetery tours and their popular haunted house tours. For more information call the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum at (631) 725-0770.

A Whale of a Show Comes Back to Sag Harbor

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Edward Holland

“Sag Harbor Sleigh Ride”, Graphite, colored pencil, acrylic and collage on canvas by Edward Holland of New York City.


By Mara Certic

Sag Harbor residents Peter Marcelle and Dan Rizzie proposed a challenge to 17 local artists: Create a piece of art inspired by Sag Harbor’s favorite sea creature and mascot, the whale.

Returning for its second summer, A Whale of a Show, featuring paintings and sculptures, kicks off the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum’s “Salt Air Exhibition II” series with an opening on Friday evening.

Mr. Rizzie approached Mr. Marcelle about curating last year’s show in an effort to raise money for the museum, which was badly in need of restoration.

“I think I came up with the whale of a show and Dan came up with the title,” Mr. Marcelle said. The aim, he explained, was to both raise money to renovate the museum building and give local artists an opportunity to showcase their work.

Money earned through the proceeds from the art sales last year went toward repainting the old building.

“I get a huge smile on my face every time I drive by it and see it painted. I mean it got more than a facelift. It really looks magnificent,” said Mr. Rizzie.

The show returns this year with six new artists in an effort to fund further restoration at the museum.

The artists “all have something to do with the town: they either live here or have a home here—that’s sort of the basic requirement” said Mr. Rizzie, who, for this year’s show, created “North Haven Whale,” which he described as being something between a painting and a sculpture.

“We’re so lucky to be as rich as we are with artists in Sag Harbor; curating a show like this is such a thrill,” he said.

Returning artists Eric Fischl and Donald Sultan both coincidentally painted orcas on paper this year. “They both did killer whales, and they’re both killer artists,” said Mr. Rizzie. Mr. Sultan’s whale has also been made into a t-shirt which will be available for purchase at the museum.

Award-winning cartoonist Gahan Wilson has created a work on paper for the show, which Mr. Rizzie said is sure to feature his trademark humor.

Co-founder of Push Pin Studios, Reynold Ruffins will also offer his interpretation of a whale again this year.  Veteran artists Paul Davis and James McMullan—who has designed more than 40 posters for Lincoln Center—have also returned to support the whaling museum.

“What we really do is try and bring new people in; it’s really exciting when you get new blood,” said Mr. Rizzie of the six new artists participating this year.

Abstract artist Edward Holland said he jumped at the chance. “When Peter approached me and asked me to be involved I absolutely said yes,” he said.

The New York City-based artist, whose paintings all feature heavy collage elements, has been coming to the East End for over a decade. “I’ve always enjoyed Sag Harbor and the area,” he said.

Recognizing a whale in Mr. Holland’s work might be difficult: a collage on canvas with acrylic, colored pencil and graphite, “Sag Harbor Sleigh Ride” is a “very loose” deconstructed map of the town, according to the artist. “I was reading and doing research about Sag Harbor, and what kept coming up was community involvement and how linked the industry was to the town,” he said. “I thought about doing a whale, but I figured that territory would be mined by different people. I wanted to focus on the town and the geographical location a little bit more.”

Mr. Holland’s piece is steeped in historical details and accents. The artist chose media specifically to evoke ideas of whaling and the sea, including an entry on Herman Melville from a 1913 Encyclopedia Britannica. The dominant white and gray hues in the center of the painting are an allusion to the thrashing of water after a whale is harpooned.

The title of his work makes reference to this as well: Mr. Holland explained that whalers referred to the violent aftermath of freshly harpooned whale trying to break free of the whaling boat as a “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.”

“I repurposed it here for Sag Harbor,” Mr. Holland said. “No doubt whalers of this town experienced the same violent drag.”

The opening reception for A Whale of a Show will take place Friday, May 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition will be on view at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum until Wednesday, June 18. For more information visit sagharborwhalingmuseum.org. or call (631) 725-0770.

Costs Rise for Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum Restoration Projects

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By Tessa Raebeck

With the first phase of a three-part plan to renovate and restore the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum nearly complete, necessary additional repairs — and fundraising efforts — are on the rise.

Following complaints about the museum’s exterior appearance voiced to building inspector Tim Platt last May, restoration of the historic 1845 building, also the home of the Waponamon Lodge No. 437 Free Masons, began September 15.

“We can certainly say the scope of the project has grown,” Barbara Lobosco, president of the museum board, said Tuesday. “Like most planned undertakings, things crop up during the course of the project.”

The first phase of the plan covers the repairs and painting of the building exterior, including removal of 10 layers of paint — the last being lead.

The contractor, Ince Painting Professional of Westhampton Beach, which has worked on historic buildings like the Hannibal French House in Sag Harbor and the Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, originally estimated the first phase of the project would cost $180,000.

More product removal was required than was originally allotted for and, at this point, the estimated cost for the first phase is closer to $260,000.

“With any project,” Lobosco said Tuesday, “what happens is you underestimate budgets and so on and so forth, other things open up that need to be fixed as well. When you work with an historic building of this age, new doors open up to new repairs.”

The actual application of the new paint is almost entirely completed. The museum is now in the midst of repairs to the porches and gutters, as well as partial repairs to the capital tops of the building columns.

The finials on the roof, which resemble blubber spades and whale teeth, are also undergoing restoration.

The building’s interior is covered by the second phase of the restoration project, which is not expected to begin for a year or so. Several issues have already materialized that necessitate projects the museum had planned to address in the future to be confronted within the next few months.

“We’d rather replace the pipes before they burst,” said Lobosco, referring to deteriorating, galvanized pipes in the basement that need to be restored.

Additionally, the entire basement must be cleaned.

“As we get inside the building,” said Lobosco. “We’ll need more [repairs] as well.”

The third phase of the capital campaign addresses repairs to the building grounds and will likely be implemented prior to the second phase of interior renovations.

“We want to finish the outside first so that it’s cohesive,” said Lobosco.

The museum plans to landscape the property before the summer, fix the front and back porches and repair the exterior fencing.

“The fence is going to be another big issue,” said Lobosco. “We’ve cleaned it up now, but it’s going to cost at least $60,000 just to repair.”

With continuous costs and essential repairs yet to be determined, the museum’s fundraising for the capital campaign is ongoing. Close to $180,000 in funding has been raised so far. The total cost is at present around $260,000, which will only cover the cost of painting. More funding is essential for the museum to move forward with the rest of the restoration process.

Last March, the museum’s fundraising efforts for the capital campaign kicked off with a $50,000 matching grant from the Century Arts Foundation earmarked towards the repair work. The Whaling Museum plans to host three fundraising events this holiday season, exhibit several beneficiary shows this spring and continually solicit private donations throughout the course of the project, according to Lobosco.

This Friday, the museum is hosting an auction at the Peter Marcelle Gallery in Bridgehampton. Available items include a 200-year-old woven basket, gift certificates to a variety of restaurants in Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, donations from In Home and other local stores, and framed film posters from the 1960s and 1970s donated by the notable filmmaking couple Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, who live down the street from the Whaling Museum. Value of auction items range from $50 to $1,000.

“We’ve been getting local donations which have been great,” said Lobosco. “The community’s been terrific, especially with the auction items. The merchants in town have been very supportive of the museum and our efforts to move forward.”

On December 23, the museum will raffle off a brand new 2013 Fiat 500 Cabrio Pop from Brown’s Fiat in Patchogue. The sleek, black convertible has red and ivory seats and an ivory and black interior. Just 350 tickets are for sale at $100 a piece.

To further aid with fundraising, BookHampton is sponsoring a holiday book sale on the museum’s front lawn on weekends throughout the holiday season. The store will match money raised “dollar for dollar,” said Lobosco.

With its interior closed for the winter, the museum plans to reopen for the season on Earth Day with a show by local artist and Pierson Middle/High School art teacher Peter Solow, with sales from his work also earmarked for the capital campaign.

At the official opening on Memorial Day, “a whale show” is going to be on display. Proceeds from the paintings will be split 50/50 between the artists and the restoration project. Funds raised via three additional shows during Summer 2014 will also go towards the restoration efforts. The exact content of the shows is unannounced at this point, but Lobosco said one show will consist of only Sag Harbor artists.

In addition to special events, the museum continues to raise funds through its mail drive and individual donations. Lobosco is also hopeful for another matching grant.

“It will be ongoing for years,” she said of the restoration projects, “so the fundraising efforts will continue.”

John Jermain Memorial Library Eyes Cultural District

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By Kathryn G. Menu

The John Jermain Memorial Library has its eye on a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant for creative placemaking that could lead to the creation of cultural district in the village. The idea would be to connect a group of not-for-profit entities that would be charged with promoting the arts and culture that makes Sag Harbor a special place.

According to Eric Cohen, the library’s technology and multi-media coordinator who is spearheading this initiative, the library intends to apply for the grant in 2014. In order to be successful, the library – which intends to be the lead agent in the application process – needs the support of the Village of Sag Harbor, which must partner with JJML in this endeavor.

During Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting, Cohen gave a presentation on the grant proposal. He said the library will make formal application to the village later next year as it moves closer to filing its request with the NEA.

While the proposal is still in the conceptual phase and something Cohen said village residents will be asked to weigh in on in a substantive way, at its core is the creation of a Sag Harbor Village Cultural District encompassing geography around five entities – Canio’s Books, JJML, the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, the Sag Harbor Custom House and the Sag Harbor Historical Society.

“The point of the cultural district is an acknowledgement of what already exists in Sag Harbor,” said Cohen Tuesday night. “It is also a mechanism for Sag Harbor’s cultural institutions to work together for the benefit of ourselves and community.”

Cohen said ultimately the idea is to strengthen the community and make it a more desirable place to live, but also the district would serve as an economic engine, attracting more visitors to Sag Harbor specifically because of its arts and culture.

While ideas have yet to be solidified, Cohen said over the course of the next year, joint programming between these not-for-profit organizations will be devised as a first step towards making the cultural district a reality.

The NEA grant, which JJML Director Catherine Creedon discovered while looking at different grant opportunities for the library, is for creative placemaking – a personal passion of Cohen’s.

According to the NEA, in creative placemaking “partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city or region and arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire and be inspired.”

Grant funding ranges from $25,000 to $200,0000, depending on the project. Cohen said projects within the grant could be as simple as creating a needed dance studio space or sponsoring a series of outdoor art exhibits. Creating a cultural district is also one of the initiatives supported by the grant.

“We want the community to help us plan this together,” said Cohen.

Police Debate Continues

While the Village of Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA) have made little headway in negotiations for a new police contract, on Tuesday night resident Robert Turner urged the board to find some way to agree to a contract with the PBA and discouraged any discussion about using an outside agency to police Sag Harbor Village.

Turner said one of the reasons he and his wife moved to Sag Harbor was because it had everything they were looking for in a village — including a local police force.

He also suggested that figures detailing salaries of officers and the original 4.5 percent request for a salary increase made by the PBA did not go far enough in showing residents what the actual impact on their taxes would be if that contract was approved.

“What is the assessed value cost in this contract as opposed to the old contract,” he asked.

Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said the last contract was for five years and gave officers over that period a 26 percent increase in pay, with even larger increases for night differentials and longevity.

According to Mayor Gilbride, he expects the contract dispute will likely move to binding arbitration.

In other village news, the board accepted the formal resignation of Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Gayle Pickering, with regrets, and appointed board member Anton Hagen as the board’s new chairman effective immediately.

The board also accepted the resignation of Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board member Michael Mensch.

In a letter to the village board, Mensch cited personal and professional reasons for his resignation.

“I have enjoyed the position and my fellow members immensely, and hope in the future I can be recommended again,” said Mensch.

Striking Oil On Main Street


Twenty years after Edwin L. Drake, or “Colonel Drake” first struck oil almost 150 years ago, The American Agriculturist produced a section of its paper devoted to the petroleum boom and the Titusville, Pennsylvania community where the black gold was, for the first time, commercially and successfully unearthed in the United States. The unknown author wrote, in May of 1871, “There is a principle of Nature’s economy that when a demand is created, a supply is ready … and the wealth which for so many years had lain dormant was roused to life just at a time when the needs of this great country and the world demanded it.”

And to many, including the minds behind the new exhibit, “Oil! Whales, Wells … What’s Next,” at the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum, it appears another shift in supply and demand is on the horizon. Much like the whale oil that made Sag Harbor a major port and resource in the 1800s – the Golden Age of American whaling, as the museum notes in the exhibit – the rising cost of the precious petroleum that heats many of our homes and fuels our cars is becoming too burdensome for many to bear.

As cleverly noted in its title, the exhibit not only shines light on the history of our national and international dependence on oil – whether whale oil, petroleum or other illuminants – and how primarily market forces, not innovation, created shifts in supply and demand, the exhibit also asks what future resource will sustain our energy consumption.

The original concept — which has evolved into an exhibit coupled with an Energy Fair and plans to possibly travel the exhibit to other venues — was conceived by the museum’s board committee on exhibits and its members’ own curiosity.

 “There has always been a question about what was the true end of whale oil. How did it actually happen,” asked Whaling Museum Executive Director and exhibit curator Zach Studenroth. “And it occurred to someone that with the oil crisis – which I think we are living in right now with the high price of fuel – there is a connection to the pricing of oil, which was also the end for whale oil.”

At the same time this discussion was taking shape, explained Studenroth, he referenced colleague Eric J. Dolan’s work on American whaling, which is detailed in his book, “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.” He learned the end of the American Whaling industry truly was connected to economic pressures as demand rose, supply dwindled and new illuminants or oils found their way onto the market at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

While nationally whale oil was recognized as the best form of oil to burn, in the 1840s and 1850s, explained Studenroth, as the cost of the illuminant continued to rise, the population continued to grow and the Age of Industrialism created demands for oils that could affordably provide not only lighting, but lubricants for machinery. Whale oil suddenly became obsolete as other oils, namely petroleum, became the more affordable solution to the demands of the population.

“There was greater and greater demand, and less and less supply,” said Studenroth. “So the price kept going up. It was that point in the history of whale oil that we realized we are exactly at right now.

“It’s really like déjá vu,” continued Studenroth. “It gets to that point where an alternative has to be found; and it is not because a group of smart people, environmentalists or scientists say it is a good idea. It has to be that the market is such where, by popular demand, people will buy that alternative resource.”

The exhibit details the shift from whale oil to other resources, including other animal and plant oils for lighting, but it was not until Drake found success in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859 that someone was able to strike oil commercially, creating a frenzy similar to the gold rush a decade earlier in California.

John D. Rockerfeller would found the first iconic oil company shortly thereafter – Standard Oil – and the economic goldmine which would be known as Big Oil was born.

But, cautions the exhibit, man should take a lesson from history, which often repeats itself, and begin to seek an alternative to petroleum before the wells dry up completely. As the exhibit notes, there are a number of non-renewable and renewable energy resources available – whether they be solar energy, wind or waterpower or biomasses like ethanol or bio-diesel, which can run combustion engines, or more controversial non-renewable energy resources like nuclear power.

“What we say here is we have reached that point again where all these alternatives are being explored and though not one has really clinched it, we are at a point where something has to work and science and the marketplace are going to have to get together and figure that out,” said Studenroth.

Conservation, he added is its own new resource.

“Using less overall, from a cultural standpoint – not just as individuals, but a culture of using less – is alone a major part of the solution,” he said. “That’s a whole other resource, but we will have to change the, ‘I can afford it, so I will use it’ attitude.”

The exhibit “certainly raises the bar” for the Whaling Museum, notes Studenroth, and was largely possible through not only the museum’s vast resources on whaling history, but also through grants provided by the New York Humanities Counsel, the New York Council for the Arts and Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s office. Dolan, Paul Forestelle who is about to take on the position of new provost and chief operating officer at Long Island University’s CW Post campus and is a well-known marine scientist added their expertise on the whaling industry and whale oil. The museum also was aided from an 19th Century lighting expert, as well as restoration experts, the East Hampton Historical Society and the Drake Well Museum, which donated a salesman’s sample case of oil from the 1940s to the exhibit.

The design of the exhibit also blew Studenroth away, after he was able to enlist the help of Selina Hunt of C & G Partners in Manhattan – a firm well known for working with the Smithsonian or the Met.  Working with Hunt, said Studenroth, enabled the exhibit to be one that is accessible and interesting to everyone, rather than just history buffs.

And while the exhibit just debuted a little over a month ago – on May 24 – and will run through the end of October, Studenroth says the success of the exhibit has already inspired the museum to continue a second viewing next summer, as well as travel opportunities to other museums in the New York area. “Oil! Whales, Wells … What’s Next,” may also make its way to the Drake Well Musuem in Titusville next year as that institution and community celebrates the 150th anniversary of Drake’s first oil strike. Studenroth also foresees educational opportunities, for all school districts on the East End, as he will seek to develop a curriculum around the exhibit.

“Oil! Whales, Wells … What’s Next,” will be on view through October at the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum at 200 Main Street, Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor Energy Fair, inspired by the exhibit, will be held July 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on July 13 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. A luau will be held Friday night beginning at 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 725-0770.