Tag Archive | "sag harbor whaling museum"

The Captains, Mates and Widows of Whaling Return to Sag Harbor

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Sabina Streeter with her portrait of Captain Thomas Roys in her Madison Street studio. Photo by Tanya Malott.

Sabina Streeter with her portraits of Captains Thomas Roys and David T. Vail. Photo by Tanya Malott.

By Tessa Raebeck

Some of the subjects of Sabina Streeter’s portraits visited her Madison Street studio over the winter, while others haven’t been in the building for nearly 200 years.

Captain David T. Vail, by Sabina Streeter.

Captain David T. Vail, by Sabina Streeter.

In “Captains, Mates, and Widows,” opening Friday at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, Ms. Streeter used contemporary village residents, historical records and her imagination to create a series of mixed media portraits of the village’s prominent and lesser known figures during the peak years of the whaling industry. Artist Dan Rizzie curated the show and Carlos Lama has created an accompanying sound installation that recreates the howling winds and crashing waves of whaling.

Between 1829 and 1847, Sag Harbor was a capital of the whaling industry. As local men headed out to sea as cabin boys and captains—some of them never to return—their families made do at home, peering out from widows’ watches in hopes of seeing a ship on the horizon.

The building that houses Ms. Streeter’s studio was built in 1820 from reclaimed ship’s timber by shipbuilder Abraham Vail. It is the original residence of his son, whaling captain David P. Vail, who captained the ship “Sabina.” Little did he know an artist of the same name would be recreating his likeness in his home more than a  century later.

The two-family building, which houses two apartments with identical layouts, was made so that whalers’ wives and children could keep each other company during the long months spent waiting for the men’s return from seas.

“It’s interesting, some of these characters were probably actually here in this building, because they must have socialized somehow,” Ms. Streeter said of her subjects.

One portrait features a young Captain Thomas Wickham Havens, drawn with a soft face and sensitive eyes, the ancestor of George Sterling, who wrote the poem, “The Ballad of the Swabs,” about his relative’s whaling past.

Mrs. Wickham Havens, by Sabina Streeter.

Sarah Darling Havens, by Sabina Streeter.

“The tale is of my grandsire and his good whaling-ship. Back to Sag Harbor faring from his eleventh trip,” starts the poem. It ends with the men “twice as hot as any there for home and wife and bed.”

Ms. Streeter portrayed Captain Wickham Havens in the same gray hues she used for his wife, Sarah Darling Havens. Captain Havens’ likeness is taken from a portrait in the whaling museum. Mrs. Havens’ comes from a small tintype.

Before oil tycoons, hedge fund barons and start-up tech financiers, there were whaling captains.

“These whalers were incredibly risk-willing,” said Ms. Streeter. “Most of these boats were like hedge funds—were venture capitalists, ’cause they had to be financed somehow, except they were hands-on.”

For cabin boys and other crewmembers, who came from across the world and on which there is little documentation, Ms. Streeter used her imagination to recreate their likenesses.

One portrait of an unknown cabin boy was done solely from imagination, but for a striking portrait of a harpooner done in bright orange hues, local restaurateur Dan Gasby posed for the artist. His wife and business partner, Barbara Smith, also sat for a portrait.

To recreate the likeness of Enoch Conklin, a privateer whose ship went down in 1814, his ancestor Ted Conklin, owner of The American Hotel, sat for Ms. Streeter.

Harpooner Gasby, by Sabina Streeter.

Harpooner Gasby, by Sabina Streeter.

Captain Jonas Winters, depicted by Ms. Streeter with a full, long beard and a hint of a smile, went on 11 voyages, during which he accumulated 24,500 barrels of oil and 244,000 pounds of bone.

According to an article by H.P. Horton that appeared in “Long Island Forum” in 1948, Sag Harbor Express Editor John H. Hunt asked the then-retired Captain Winters to write an autobiographical sketch covering his 25-year career as a whaler, which appeared in the newspaper on March 15, 1888.

Born in Sag Harbor, Mr. Winters ascended from a common sailor to a captain in a parallel rise to that of the village’s whaling industry. He sailed with men from Amagansett, East Hampton and Southampton, but his shipmates were mostly often from Sag Harbor.

“In these 11 voyages which comprise 22 years of active and ever changing life, occurrences transpired which would fill volumes with interesting and thrilling matter,” wrote Captain Winters. “Sunshine and storm, surprise and disappointment, joy and sadness, never found better illustrations than were obtained in the whale fishery which was Sag Harbor’s most important industry.”

“Captains, Mates and Widows,” will be on view at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum through September 25, with an opening reception on Friday, August 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit sabinastreeter.com.

The Lure is the Thing

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Lures will be on display at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum in "The Lure of Striped Bass," opening Friday, August 8.

Lures will be on display at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum in “The Lure of Striped Bass,” opening Friday, August 8.

By Stephen J. Kotz

To the casual observer, the scene at Montauk Point during the fall striped bass run is chaotic. Fishermen, standing shoulder to shoulder, cast all manner of fishlike devices into the surf, hoping to entice a trophy bass to clamp down on the one at the end of their line.

But if one takes a closer look into the tackle bag of a seasoned angler, one will soon learn there are lures made of metal, lures made of wood, and lures made of plastic, all coming in an array of colors. Some drop to the bottom, some dive and dart, and some float on the surface. Their designs have evolved over decades, and all serve a purpose in different fishing conditions that can change on a dime.

“The Lure of the Striped Bass,” a new exhibit opening this week at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, will celebrate the history of the innovative lure designs that have played a key role in making surfcasting the sport it is today and helped give rise to the East End as a fisherman’s paradise.

Besides literally hundreds of vintage lures, many from the collection of one of the show’s curators, Stephen Lobosco, the show will feature other fishing equipment, magazines, books, carvings and artwork related to the topic.

“I’ve been collecting fishing lures since I was about 15 years old,” said Mr. Lobosco this week. “My uncle, Frank Pintauro, was the leading authority on the subject.” Mr. Pintauro, in turn, had been initiated into the art of collecting by none other than the painter Cappy Amundsen, who, Mr. Lobosco said, traded lures from his own collection for fish.

Mr. Lobosco was hooked, pardon the pun, when his uncle gave him a pair of lures autographed by Stan Gibbs, an early designer. It would be like giving a young Yankees fan a ball signed by Mickey Mantle.

“My friends don’t know what’s wrong with me,” said Mr. Lobosco of the collecting bug that has become his obsession. Mr. Lobosco is also an avid fisherman, a hobby his co-curator, Richard Doctorow, the museum’s collections manager, doesn’t share.

“I don’t know this world,” Mr. Doctorow said. “But once you begin to look at these objects they really are beautiful, miniature works of art., so this is not a show about fishing lures per se, but about these objects as art.”

Surfcasting for striped bass has been popular since the late 1880s, but early anglers were limited in their choice of lures to heavy, metal ones with bucktails that were called “tin squids.” They worked fine when the bass were feeding on the bottom, but when the bass worked the surface, they were useless.

In 1944, at the Cape Code Canal, Bob Pond saw a fellow fisherman catching fish left and right while using a floating lure he did not recognize. The next day, Mr. Pond found one of the stranger’s lures. He tied it on his line, caught 14 fish in a row with it, and knew he was on to something.

“He found this exact lure floating in the Cape Cod Canal,” said Mr. Lobosco, displaying one of the prizes of his collection. The lure was a Creek Chubb Pike, used for catching freshwater game fish.

Mr. Pond set about duplicating the lure—Forget about it, collectors, Mr. Lobosco owns that one too. At first, he made lures for family and friends, but soon enough he was convinced to sell them, so he loaded up his truck and made the rounds to various fishing destinations up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, demonstrating his lures’ prowess and selling them to fishermen looking for an edge. He named his company Atom Lures after the atom bomb that had put an end to World War II. The company’s Striper Swiper is still in wide use today.

Returning veterans, who could not find work, helped revolutionize the industry even more, with many taking the designs they made for their own personal use and putting them on the market. Over the period of about seven years, Mr. Lobosco said, a design revolution had taken place that would change the world of fishing.

Among the other lures from his own collection, Mr. Lobosco will display a darter, circa 1949, that was made by his hero, Stan Gibbs. It is one of about five remaining in the world and was made “specifically for Montauk to handle the pounding rips,” he said.

He will also display models from the Snook Bait Company, a short-lived company based in the Bowery in New York City that gave wise guy names to lures like the Big Weasel, the Big Snook, and the Surf King. “For the collecting world, these are the Cadillac of lures,” said Mr. Lobosco.

Other lures made by Charlie Russo, whose work was “very ornate, the paint schemes at their best,” to Donny Musso, who invented the Super Strike in his Babylon shop in the mid 1960s, will be included in the show.

The show will include information on fish preservation efforts, and other, related gear as well as illustrations by Lynn Bogue Hunt, Harry Discole, and Goadby Lawrence, carvings by Aage Bjerring, and paintings by the artists Paton Miller, Barbara Thomas, Anna Demauro, Nathan Joseph and David Pintauro.

“What makes this special is Stephen’s connection to the fishing community,” said Mr. Doctorow. “Once we put out the word, all these offers of help came in.”

An opening reception for “The Lure of Striped Bass” will take place at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, August 8. The exhibit will be on display until August 25. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Call 631-725-0770 for more information.

A Mural for Masons in Sag Harbor

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John Capello working on a mural in the Masonic Temple in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

Aesthetes, historians and wanderers drop into the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum to learn about the village’s history and admire art shows curated by well-known East Enders. The majority of them are unaware that as they absorb the exhibits on the first floor, artist John Capello is just one story above them, balancing on a chair on top of scaffolding, listening to opera and painting Sag Harbor’s own Sistine ceiling.

“I just cannot abide a blank wall,” said Mr. Capello, a mural artist from Brooklyn who has lived in Sag Harbor for the past 25 years. Six years ago he joined the Wamponamon Lodge, Sag Harbor’s Freemasons. Since his first meeting in the Masonic Temple—located on the second floor of the Whaling Museum—Mr. Capello has been “pestering” the other masons in the organization to allow him to create a mural for the blank wall and curved ceiling in the back of the meeting room.

After presenting the group with a basic pencil-drawn sketch, he got the okay to get started and in June he began creating a surreal water- and skyscape sprinkled with traditional Masonic symbols.

“I started on Friday, June 13,” he said. “And I did that on purpose.” The number 13 has traditionally been associated with bad luck in many cultures. Scholars of the masonic tradition (and the occasional conspiracy theorist) have referred to the number 13 as a masonic “signature,” noting that it appears in some way or another in strange and mysterious places, including on the $1 bill: 13 leaves in the olive branches, 13 arrows and 13 stars in the crest above the eagle, among many other “mysterious” uses of the number.

One of the main focal features of Mr. Capello’s work in progress also appears on the $1 bill: the all-seeing eye atop a pyramid, which is featured on the left side of the mural. “One of the most amazing achievements of early man was the pyramids, it’s perfect,” he said. The all-seeing eye dates back thousands of years, since the creation of a “sky god,” the artist explained. On the opposite wall is the square and compass, perhaps the most identifiable emblem of the Freemasons.

The painted pyramid and the square and compass both sit upon a checkered floor in Mr. Capello’s mural, reminiscent of a chessboard. “Supposedly, this room represents a replica of the bottom floor of Solomon’s Temple,” Mr. Capello said of the masonic meeting room. As legend goes, before Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the building during the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, it featured a checkered floor in one of the many rooms.

“Also, I’ve always been a surrealist,” he said. “And in surrealism, the chessboard is always the game of life.” His background in surrealism allows for interesting and unusual combinations of symbols throughout his mural. A six-pointed star hovers over the sea that bridges the two sides of the mural as a Bible floats over the water and a man canoes nearby—a nod to the Native American name of the Sag Harbor Lodge.

The sky spanning over the mural moves from night to day as you look across the piece of art. Mr. Capello explained that he wanted to represent the entire day, and that his decision to include many stars and certain planets is a nod to the importance of astronomy.

He almost lost his footing for a second on Tuesday, as he shaded in Mars while consulting a volume of “Hubble’s Universe,” about 15 feet off the ground.

“When I was 19, I was doing this 60 feet up in churches,” the artist said. “I guess there’s a big difference between being 19 and 60.” When he was 16 years old, Mr. Capello began a summer apprenticeship doing ecclesiastical restoration, which was his first venture into the art world. A few years later he joined the Navy.

He told a story of when he was stationed in Greece, and how he observed an old man sketching pictures of visiting sailors for spare change. While watching this, a uniformed Mr. Capello found himself sketching pictures on napkins with the only drawing tools he had—burnt matches. The older Greek man came over, he said, looked at his handiwork and said to him “No, no, don’t be an artist, you make no money. Be a photographer, you can make a few dollars.”

But Mr. Capello did not heed that advice and eventually became a mural painter based out of Brooklyn. “I did a lot of work with the Brooklyn Arts Council, and we would work with Brooklyn College and art students,” he said. As graffiti took over New York City, “we would approach people with walls.”

“I said ‘Look, we’ll paint the wall, you just pay for the materials.’” It’s a payment plan that Mr. Capello is recycling for his current project, his first ever mural in Sag Harbor. Mr. Capello expects to finish the Masonic mural in the next month. Until then, he will spend four hours of every day balancing on a chair, touching up waves in the sea and adding stars to the sky.


Under the Influence

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Andrew Wyeth’s “Sail Loft,” 1983, courtesy of the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum

The exhibit, which was curated by Peter J. Marcelle, explores the relationship between nine contemporary artists and the artists who have influenced them. The exhibit features Terry Elkins with Andrew Wyeth, Eric Ernst with William Baziotes, Cornelia Foss with Larry Rivers, Steve Miller with Andy Warhol, Michelle Murphy with Jamie Wyeth, Dan Rizzie with Donald Sultan, Stephen Schaub with Alfred Stieglitz, Mike Viera with Eric Fischl and Gavin Ziegler with William Scharf.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $6, $5 for senior citizens and students, and $2 for children 11 and under.

For more information, call (631) 725-0770 or e-mail visit www.sagharborwhalingmuseum.org.


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.”

New Direction Taking Flight

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Work by Terry Elkins

By Emily J Weitz


The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum tackles a great deal more than the history of Sag Harbor as a whaling community. The museum also hopes to capture the current vibrant culture of this town through its increasing number of art shows and musical offerings. The exhibition that opened this week ties in to Sag Harbor’s identity in a whole different way – by looking through the lenses of a dozen different artists who happen to have a thing for birds.

“For the Birds” is an exhibition curated by Peter Marcelle of the Peter Marcelle Gallery, in collaboration with new president of the Whaling Museum’s board of directors Barbara Pintauro-Lobosco and artist Dan Rizzie. Birds have been a source of inspiration for all the artists involved, and this theme also opens the conversation to environmentalists and preservationists.

“The Whaling Museum is about giving back to the community and the environment,” says Lobosco. “We wanted to do something focused on the coastal area of the Hamptons.”

Part of this engagement with the community includes connecting to other local non-profits. For this exhibit, the Whaling Museum hooked up with the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.

“The Greenbelt is known as the string of pearls,” says Lobosco. “It offers these preserved habitats which serve as nesting places for birds.”

By establishing the theme of birds, Lobosco feels they were able to weave together rich artwork and environmental awareness.

“I’ve always loved Dan Rizzie’s artwork,” she says, “like his blackbirds and his red robins.”

Work by Dan Rizzie

That became a jumping-off point to go deeper.

“It’s an awareness of trying to connect the Greenbelt to the museum,” says Lobosco, “and what preservation gives to us.”

“For the Birds” features 12 different artists, from the renowned Wyeth brothers Andrew and Jamie to the work of Joseph Stella. And of course, Dan Rizzie’s work will be on display.

“As I discussed it with Peter and Barbara,” says Rizzie, “we live in a really fantastic area where the wildlife, the flora and fauna, is a big part of being here. I was driving along the other day and saw a sign for turtle crossing, and was just thinking about how people care about the creatures out here. This is a great place to watch birds. I have friends who come here from Europe and go crazy for the birds. Birds are a show in themselves. The significance of having a show like this at the museum is an extension of the function of the museum in the community.”

The idea of having this show at the Whaling Museum was born out of casual conversation.

“It started out as a conversation between Barbara Pintauro Lobosco, Peter Marcelle, and myself,” says Rizzie. “The thing that’s amazing about Peter is that he’s always receptive to ideas, he’s always curating shows, working with local artists.”

But Marcelle has a cache of artwork that goes far beyond local.

“That’s another thing about working with Peter,” says Rizzie. “When you do a show like this, he’ll pull out an Andrew Wyeth, a Jamie Wyeth and a Stella. So the interesting thing about this show is Peter has drawn on his collection to get important works and put them in the Whaling Museum. It’s what we’re supposed to do as artists and as dealers, so we don’t end up just doing the same show over and over again.”

The idea of exhibiting art at the Whaling Museum is not new – there have been art shows since 1999, when the first Cappy Amundsen show went up as both a tribute to the whaling identity of Sag Harbor and to his art. The show went up again last year.

“That was a sort of transition,” says Zachary Studenroth, who was the director of the museum for ten years before relinquishing his position to serve as a board member, “because Cappy was a living artist for many decades in Sag Harbor, and his work incorporated imagined whaling scenes as well as local landscapes.”

As Studenroth and Lobosco discussed the direction the museum needed to take in the future, they agreed that art and music needed to find their way into the fold.

“The museum needs to expand its audience and increase membership,” says Studenroth. “Without abandoning its wonderful collections and a continued commitment to preserving the maritime heritage of the East End, it needs to become more relevant to a diverse community. The contemporary art scene is vibrant here, and by offering exhibitions that appeal to this audience, we will fulfill their interests and potentially introduce them to the historical background of the region as well.”


A Partnership of Painting and Conservation

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Sag Harbor Jetty by Anita Kusick

Sag Harbor Jetty by Anita Kusick

By Joan Baum

Light By the Water: Coastal Landscapes of the Sag Harbor Area by Plein Air Peconic, opening Memorial Day weekend at The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, is inaugural in more ways than one. The exhibit marks the first time Plein Air Peconic is collaborating with The Whaling Museum in addition to The Peconic Land Trust. It is also the first time the twelve artists who constitute the six-year-old Peconic Plein Air group — nine painters, three photographic artists — are depicting a particular preservation area – Sag Harbor.

And the exhibit also marks the start of what the board of The Whaling Museum hopes will be a “revitalization” effort for this historic building, turning it into a cultural center in the village by way of timely and relevant music and art, says Casey Chalem Anderson, curator of Light By the Water. She notes that Whaling Museum Board Vice President Barbara Pintauro Lobosco is passionate about this broader cultural and environmental initiative and looks forward to putting on more events that call attention to preserving local natural resources.

“It’s not just whaling and history,” says Anderson. And it’s not all aesthetic concern. Preservation affects the local economy.

A beautiful and eclectic example of what the AIA Architectural Guide calls “Long Island’s finest example of high style Greek Revival architecture,” the Whaling Museum building reportedly contains the largest collection of whaling equipment in the state, and over the years has been providing information for visitors and schoolchildren about when Sag Harbor was a major whaling town in the 18th and early 19th century. But it’s time to add to that heritage and enhance it, Anderson says, and she’s hoping that the Plein Air Peconic exhibition will do just that. Certainly the artists involved in the show are excited about being at the museum, with their larger works hanging in the high-ceiling front parlor and smaller pieces in the corridor off the main hall. Each artist is showing three to five works.

Every year, Plein Air Peconic partners with a different organization or venue but Light By the Water is a “special show,” notes Anderson, focusing on the bays and ponds and beaches around Sag Harbor at a time when  “new homes and commercial buildings” threaten to contaminate or destroy the East End landscape.

Such is the dedication of the participating artists in Light By the Water, a few of whom live and work in the village, that they acknowledge – with humor – some of the difficulties they faced; indeed, as one painter advised, as her work was being hung, “don’t touch, it’s still wet.”

Another allowed as to how she was still adjusting composition and color.

En plein air does not necessarily mean being outside in the natural light to do it all. It never did, even as the genre gained in popularity in the 1870s, when paint in tubes made it easier to transport materials to a site. Finishing up in a studio, working from a photo, a sketch or small study is not uncommon. True enough for Susan D’Alessio, whose contributions include the tranquil “Sunday Sail” — three people easing along Noyac Creek near Clam Island, with Morton Refuge in the background — a sunny scene set against a ridge of  Hopper-like trees. She also submitted a night painting of The Whaling Museum itself  — done en plein air “before it got totally dark.”

Anderson’s oil on wood-panel “North Haven and Rain Cloud” is meant to signify  the triumph of sun over darkness (“a metaphor” for her, over the last few months), and is  paired with “The Volger Estate” (off Noyac Road), whose cheerful “ball of clouds” confirms the metaphor. Both paintings reflect her desire to capture both pond and bay in the same painting.

Yes, the light out here is “amazing,” says Anita Kusick, the newest member of Plein Air Peconic. Every day, every hour, the light changes the color of the water. And the wind, when it’s not blowing up?  Maybe around sunset, if Aubrey Grainger’s big-sky over Mill Creek can serve. And when is the water not in flux, creating different land patterns, depending on time of day and season, observes Joanne Rosko, who said she was particularly challenged by the ever-changing curved beach around Tramaridge.

Boats on the bay is a popular subject in the show. With few exceptions they are shown moored, masts prominent as organizing vertical lines, as in Ellen Dawn Skretch’s striking, smoothly painted sunset in the harbor. Gordon Matheson, who works in acrylic (using “more layers than most oil paintings”) talks about always loving to depict the strolling path on Circle Beach because it presents both bay and pond, and a lone large tree he’s been doing for years.

Rarely are the pictures in the show moody — though Kathryn Szoka’s atmospheric, monochromatic-like images with their slightly “vintage” look (Otter Pond, Tramaridge, Long Beach) and Ellen Watson’s colorful, sharply focused mid-horizon lines will give viewers a chance to appreciate the various media embraced by this group of representational artists. It’s always nice, says Anderson, when viewers identify places from the photos and paintings and leave better educated, if not moved, about the goals in common between art and conservation.

Light By the Water runs through July 9. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Peconic Land Trust and to The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. Participating Plein Air Peconic artists include Casey Chalem Anderson, Susan D’Alessio, Aubrey Grainger, Gail Kern, Anita Kusick, Michele Margit, Gordon Matheson, Joanne Rosko, Eileen Dawn Skretch, Tom Steele, Kathryn Szoka, Ellen Watson. The Whaling Museum is at 200 Main Street, Sag Harbor. An Artists’ Reception will be held on Saturday, May 26, 5-8 p.m. and a Coffee With . . . on Sunday July 1, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Black Whalers

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Eastville men crewed Sag Harbor whaleship

By Jim Marquardt

On  the wall of the Eastville Community Historical Society on Hampton Street is a modestly framed roster of “19th Century Eastville Whalers,” the ships they sailed on and their crew assignments. A little research revealed that the 13 men listed were only a fraction of the thousands of African-Americans who manned ships that sailed from Sag Harbor, New Bedford, Nantucket and Greenport, pursuing their giant quarry throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. White and Black sailors joined rainbow crews of Shinnecock Indians, Pacific Islanders, Creoles, Peruvians, West Indians, Colombians and a few Europeans. At sea, skin color was far less important than courage and skill, and the only measure of a shipmate was seamanship and success at catching whales. One Black seaman in those days said, “A colored man is looked upon as a man, and is promoted in rank according to ability to perform the same duties as the white man.”

Sag Harbor whalers came upon great adventures. Pyrrus Concer, a steerman and harpooner was aboard the Manhattan, commanded by Mercator Cooper, when it rescued 11 shipwrecked fishermen near Japan in 1846. Captain Cooper decided to return the sailors to their homeland, though foreign vessels were forbidden to enter Japanese waters. Reaching port in the Bay of Jeddo, armed boats surrounded the Manhattan and Japanese officials demanded an explanation for the intrusion. The Japanese were intrigued with Concer, never having seen a Black man before. When they understood the Americans’ peaceful purpose, the Japanese rewarded Cooper with spars, water, rice and fresh provisions, then ordered the Manhattan to leave and never to return. (A few years later, Concer joined the gold rush to California, but soon came back and in retirement sailed excursions around Lake Agawam in Southampton.)

In the golden age of whaling from 1800 to 1860, according to “Black Hands, White Sails” by Pat McKissack, African-Americans made up at least 25 percent of whaleship crews, and after the Civil War, as white sailors found jobs ashore, the numbers grew to 50 percent.

Work on a whaleship was tough, smelly and dangerous, and voyages to the far reaches of the oceans might go on for two or three years. McKissak says whaling’s death rate was second only to mining. A young sailor wrote, “There is no class of men in the world who are so unfairly dealt with, so oppressed, so degraded, as the seamen who man the vessels engaged in the American whale fishery.”

We’d like to think ships out of Sag Harbor took a more enlightened approach to their crews, but that’s probably unrealistic. The heyday of whaling coincided with the years of slavery in the United States and many Black crewmen were escaped slaves who took any job under any conditions. On a whaleship they were safe from slave hunters.

According to the Long Island Historical Journal, when Fair Helen departed Sag Harbor in 1817, her crew included Black sailors Cato Rogers and Nananias Cuffee. The Abigail shipped out a year later with six Black whalers, and in 1819 there were seven African-Americans in a crew of 15. They served as steermen-harpooners, stewards, cooks, seamen and greenhands. A few became mates and masters.

In 2000, the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum and Eastville Community Historical Society mounted a celebration of Black whalers. One of the exhibits was a heavy canvas “ditty bag” that belonged to Black boat-steerer Clayton King who shipped out from Sag Harbor in 1865 on the Odd Fellow, and in 1868 on the Myra. The ditty bag held a marlinspike and fid for splicing rope, a jack knife, a ball of beeswax to coat needles, a “palm” of leather fitted with a metal socket and thumb hole for mending sails.

Isaiah Peake was a cook aboard the Sag Harbor bark Oscar under the command of Isaac Ludlow of Bridgehampton. While the ship was anchored off Rio de Janeiro, a drunken crewman named Curtis instigated a mutiny. When Curtis came at Ludlow with an axe, the captain shot him, ending the mutiny. A New York court tried the mutineers   and sentenced Peake to only eight months in prison, probably realizing he was more a bystander than a mutineer.

Whaling was a major U.S. industry in the first half of the 19th century, producing basic ingredients for oil lamps, soap, smokeless candles, machine lubricants, bristles for brushes and brooms, bones for hoop skirts, corsets and umbrella frames. Crew compensation was calculated in the form of “lays,” a percentage share of the returning whaleship’s valuable cargo. Owners took 50 percent, captains 12 percent. A greenhand might get less than a half-percent before “expenses” were deducted to cover cash advances, clothing from the ship’s slop chest, tobacco and equipment. After months and years at sea some sailors owed money to the ship owners.

When the whaling industry began to decline, many ships sailed for the California coast where gold was discovered. One of them, the Sabina, with Black seaman John Crook aboard, took six months to reach the West Coast. In those times, square-rigged ships had to sail thousands of miles south down along two continents, west around turbulent Cape Horn, and thousands of miles north to California. Like many others, Sabina’s crew deserted the ship for the gold fields. She never returned to Sag Harbor and lies under the City of San Francisco. Some entrepreneurial Blacks made more money as cooks, barbers and shopkeepers in the mining camps that they could ever make chasing dreams of gold.

African-Americans made a unique contribution to whaling. Based on the “call and response” of slave spirituals, they created sea chanteys sung by sailors to the rhythm of their work. It was said that a good song was worth ten men on a rope. Many Black sailors now rest in the century-old cemetery near St. David’s AME Zion Church on Route 114. Locked away with them in the holy ground are memories of long voyages where they faced great hardship, but found pride and equality by meeting the challenges of a daunting profession.

Whaling Museum Presents Lincoln Documents

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Luau at the Whaling Museum

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