Tag Archive | "Southampton Historical Museum"

Deconstructing the Sayre Barn

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By Annette Hinkle

Looking at the Sayre Barn today, you wouldn’t guess that a year or so ago the barn, which dates back to 1825, was in serious danger of completely collapsing in on itself.

But that, in fact, was the case.

The old barn had originally been built on the corner of Main Street and Hampton Road in Southampton and in the 1950s, was moved to its current location on Meeting House Lane, site of the Southampton Historical Museum.

It is one of several historic buildings on view at the museum, but the barn had become so unstable in recent years it had not been open to the public for quite some time. Recognizing that something had to be done with the dilapidated structure, the museum brought in Strada Baxter Design/Build, an Amagansett-based firm which first deconstructed the barn by taking it down to it’s skeletal supports, and then completely rebuilt it using the original wood when possible and new wood when not.

Work was completed this past spring and today, the barn is solid, bright and fragrant with the smell of pine. There’s still ample evidence of the old Sayre Barn, however, not only in the form of some of the original beams that were repurposed in the restoration, but by way of a series of giant photographs that currently adorn the walls.

“Deconstructing The Sayre Barn: Ulf Skogsbergh” is an exhibition featuring photographs by Mr. Skogsbergh highlighting the farm tools and implements which were removed from the barn in advance of its reconstruction.

Shot on stark white backgrounds that highlight the object’s form and printed extremely large — in many cases, larger than life — the photographs speak of the barn’s long history. The images are a visual documentation of bygone rural life, and offer an intriguing exploration of what went before. This past is defined not by words, but rather the quiet, elegant and often simple objects that once were vitally important to the work at hand — work that is no longer part of most of our daily lives.

For Mr. Skogsbergh, the objects have long been a source of artistic interest. Years before there were plans (and funds) to restore Sayre Barn, museum director Tom Edmonds invited Skogsbergh to stop by and have a peek inside.

Mr. Skogsbergh was intrigued by what he saw.

“Tom had just started working here and he said, ‘Come see the barn,’” recalls Mr. Skogsbergh. “It was in shambles and he said he didn’t know what to do with it.”

“I said, ‘I’d like to make photographs of the objects,’” he adds. “Then years went by.”

But last year, when the time came to clear out the barn in preparation for reconstruction, Mr. Skogsbergh was invited to borrow the objects and take them back to his Hampton Bays studio to photograph them.

“I work in a garage that is painted all white,” says Mr. Skogsbergh. “When you put something down, things like rust and grime fall off. Rust is oxidation – once something rusts, it doesn’t go any further and it almost protects it. It gives objects that patina. Time has to be an element, you can’t fake that.”

Which is why those flecks of rust and grime were intentionally included and evident in the background of many of Mr. Skogsbergh’s photographs now hanging in the barn. At one point he even noticed the presence of a couple small spiders that had taken up residence on the edge of a wooden wagon wheel he photographed. Those little spiders are part of the image and now the story behind it.

Many other iconic tools of the farming and fishing trade are also represented in the work — horseshoes, a rusted saw, a giant anchor. But there are other objects on view that that have little or no relevance to those of us living in the modern age. Among these are machines that look as if they might have been used to grind something, clean something or shred something. Because of our lack of understanding of their original purpose, even something like a scythe, which we may recognize but likely have never held and certainly have never swung, takes on a beauty based more on form than function. It’s a beauty defined not only by the sort of history found in the flaking of rust, but by the very shape of the objects themselves.

“I saw them mostly as sculpture and approached it as minimalist photography,” explains Mr. Skogsbergh. “They’re not intended to totally be documentation. I’ve exaggerated textures and colors …so it’s interpretive.”

One of the most intriguing images in the show is a view of the structure’s skeletal trusses overhead which is suspended from the ceiling of the barn. The photograph was taken on a clear October night in the midst of the reconstruction process and the sky is studded with the same stars that have been looking down on that old barn for hundreds of years and will continue to look down on the new Sayre Barn for years to come.

“When they took the shingles and the lathe off, I liked seeing the bones so I photographed it,” says Mr. Skogsbergh. “This is a panoramic view, from one end of the barn to the other. I used wide angle views and took a lot of frames that I stitched together on the computer.”

“I think I’ve taken it to extremes, but that’s not unusual,” he says.

The largest photograph in the show measures four by 12 feet and is a life size image of a piece of Sayre Barn itself — a massive support beam.

“I’m interested in the iconography of objects,” says Mr. Skogsbergh in explaining why he photographed the beam. “That’s also why I have the horseshoes — it’s about transportation. And the big saw… that’s what they used to build this damn thing.”

“Deconstructing The Sayre Barn: Ulf Skogsbergh” is on view at the Southampton Historical Museum, 17 Meeting House Lane, Southampton, through October 18. For more information call (631) 283-2494.

The Art of Preserving History

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John Griffin giving a tour of the North Sea Burial Grounds on Friday, August 8. Photo by Gianna Volpe.

John Griffin giving a tour of the North Sea Burial Grounds on Friday, August 8. Photo by Gianna Volpe.

By Gianna Volpe

John Griffin is more than just the man who will lead the Southampton Historical Museum’s walking tour of the North Sea Burial Ground at 11 a.m. on Sunday, August 17—he’s a living part of the site’s history.

Mr. Griffin’s ancestors are in some of the centuries-old cemetery’s most notable graves. They include Joshua Edward Elliston Jr., who preserved 133 acres of land adjacent to the burial site in the name of wife, Emma Rose, which is now a Southampton Town park.

The woodcarver and his wife, the daughter of a whaling captain, are buried next to one another at the North Sea Burial Ground beneath gravestones crafted by J. Edward himself, something that makes the site’s restoration efforts all the more crucial for its personal guardian.

“He designed all of this,” Mr. Griffin said of his ancestor’s handiwork. “He carved it out of wood before it was ever made out of granite.”

Mr. Elliston also designed the gravestone of his father, Joshua, who Mr. Griffin said, was a farmer from Southampton Village who enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and served a full four years as a farrier during the Civil War.

“His grave is down in Southampton Cemetery,” said Mr. Griffin. “Uncle Ed designed that too, so you can go read about him and the regiment that he was in. There’s a link with all of us, my dear, and we’re fast leaving our history in the dust.”

That’s precisely what this North Sea Burial Ground tour guide has been working to avoid. Mr. Griffin, a veteran military helicopter pilot, was a key player in a 2009 stewardship agreement formed for the site’s restoration between Southampton Town and the historical museum.

A sandstone grave at the North Sea Burial Grounds. Photos by Gianna Volpe.

A sandstone grave at the North Sea Burial Grounds. Photo by Gianna Volpe.

“There’s a fund established at the museum to underwrite work here from private donations because even though the town owned the property, they were allotting no money for restoration,” he said. “They would come and mow it occasionally, but now we hope they will pay for the perimeter fencing and for training people to mow without scoring the stones, so you don’t cut and weaken them.” ?Mr. Griffin said this training is especially important as older graves are cut from delicate sandstone, which cannot be restored nearly as well as their marble or granite counterparts.

“If the sunlight is hitting it just right then you can make out the letters and the angel of death on the top, but that’s as far as you can go with these,” Mr. Griffin said of one of the site’s red sandstone tombstones, some of which bear the icon of a bodiless angel—appearing unimpressed—with wings attached directly to its head. “They delaminate, you see? They split and continue to split until they become hollow. The older stones in most of these cemeteries are sandstone because it was easier to work with…. that’s why you have to be really careful trimming around them.”

Mr. Griffin said the restoration of North Sea Burial Ground actually began four years before the stewardship agreement. In 2005, he said the town did a survey of its 10 historic burial grounds before students from the University of Pennsylvania came to the East End and mapped the sites—giving each grave a number.

“We’ve been working on it steadily ever since and are now down to the maintenance stage,” he said, adding retired Suffolk County Detective Dennis Delaney has been so effective in developing his restoration technique at North Sea Burial Ground that it has “become the prototype for how to restore historic burial grounds.”

Mr. Delaney is already involved in restoration efforts at other Southampton sites, some of which will take years before they are complete.

“The one in East Quogue is coming along and we’ll probably start on the Old South Burial Ground this summer,” Mr. Griffin told The Sag Harbor Express mid-June, adding Mr. Delaney was about to begin restoring the North End Graveyard and Burial Ground between North Sea Road and Windmill Lane. ?“This has become a project of great respect and pride…. It’s a big, big job that will probably take two him two years to do,” he said. “They really took great care in what they did at North Sea Burial Ground and were very careful not to damage anything. Dennis even found a way to cut and shape marble to fit where pieces were broken.” ?Mr. Griffin said there is a national movement to restore historic burial grounds.

As veteran Marines, both he and Mr. Delaney seem to fit the profile as advocates for such a movement.?“There is a Marine down in Cranberry, New Jersey, who recently restored 5,300 graves with two Eagle Scouts,” said Mr. Griffin. “It took between a six-and-seven-year period to accomplish the work at North Sea Burial Ground. Many of the footstones had been pulled up by guys that were mowing–  we found almost 30 of them discarded in the bushes—but luckily they had initials matching the headstones, so we could pair them up. Dennis would pace off the number of paces and probe to maybe find the rest in the ground and stick it together…. The cleaning process was really educational because…. all the inscriptions were filled with mud and dirt…. now you can read everything on the stone, except some of them are so old and weathered that you can’t,” he said.

Though suppliers have thus far changed hands twice, Mr. Griffin said the team is in contact with the owners of a company that manufactures D/2, a heavy duty cleaning product developed for cleaning antique stone, vinyl and steel. He said D/2 has been used on the White House and Washington Monument.

“All these stones that are clean and upright—we are fortunate a very fine man came along on his own, learned how to do the repairs and basically carried on when we would have had to pay thousands of dollars to do what he did,” he said. “They paved the way for us—[the people in] these old cemeteries. They paved the way for us.”

A sandstone grave at the North Sea Burial Grounds. Photo by Gianna Volpe.

A sandstone grave at the North Sea Burial Grounds. Photo by Gianna Volpe.

A Photographic Record of the Southampton Summer Colony

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 A young Jacqueline Bouvier leads her pony at the horse show.    Bert Morgan

By Stephen J. Kotz

When members of Southampton’s summer colony made an appearance at the horse show, the beach club or an elegant cocktail party, chances are the photographer Bert Morgan was there to catch a flattering portrayal of their arrival.

And starting this Saturday, a collection of about 30 of those photographs, featuring the a young Jacqueline Bouvier, Gary Cooper, and Henry Ford II, will be on display through October 18 at the Southampton Historical Museum’s Rogers Mansion on Meeting House Lane in Southampton Village.

“Southampton Blue Book, 1930 to 1960: Photographs by Bert Morgan” is being shown in cooperation with Patrick Montgomery, who acquired an archival trove of some 1.5 million negatives after Mr. Morgan’s death, in 1986.

The images in the show will be combined with like number of others to be published in a book of the same name.

“He was the society photographer,” said Mary Cummings, the show’s curator. “He followed them to all their favorite spots,” whether it be in New York City, Southampton, Palm Beach, or Bermuda.”

The show will include images of a young Jacqueline Bouvier at the long vanished Southampton Riding & Hunt Club. “That is going to be a highlight,” said Ms. Cummings. “There are some very cute photos of her in her equestrian outfit.”

Others who posed for Mr. Morgan, and whose photos are among those hanging in the show, are Diana Vreeland, the influential editor of Vogue, Clark Gable, Mr. Cooper and his family, one-time New York governor and presidential candidate Al Smith, and Tony Duke, who died just last week, and his brother, Angier Biddle Duke.

Mr. Morgan was able to penetrate the inner circles of high society and win his subjects’ trust with his professionalism and discretion, according to Ms. Cummings. Because he presented his subjects in a flattering way, they were all too happy to oblige him if he asked them to pose for a photo as they entered places like the Southampton Bathing Corporation.

“What is interesting is he really got to know them all. He wasn’t paparazzi, he wasn’t crashing these events, he was invited,” she continued. “He attributed his success to getting to know these people everywhere they went.”

“He wasn’t one of them, but they liked him,” Mr. Montgomery said of Mr. Morgan’s relationship with his subjects.

“Bert’s business was basically selling pictures to his subjects,” he continued. “As people came into an event, he would ask them pose. He would then send them a contact sheet and you could order prints. If you stopped ordering prints he stopped taking your photo.”

Mr. Morgan also sold prints of his high society celebrity photos to magazines such as Town & Country, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Mr. Morgan was in demand as a wedding photographer as well as being the official photographer of the New York Racing Association, which gave him still more opportunities to photograph the rich and famous with their thoroughbreds at the track.

Mr. Morgan, who was born in 1904, immigrated to the United States from England with his parents. As a young man, he bought his first camera for $7 in a pawnshop and got his start taking photographs for Chicago newspapers.

After moving to New York, he soon became a society photographer, whose career would span three distinct periods, the 400, Café Society, and the Jet Set, according to Ms. Cummings.

As the formal balls given by members of the 400 gave way to the more public, and more inclusive, entertaining of the Café Society, who gathered in fashionable hot spots like the Stork Club and extended invitations to movie stars and other performers, Mr. Morgan was there.

Early on, he used a 4-by-5-inch format camera and would cram as many glass plates as he could fit into his pockets for a shoot. When he ran out of plates, he called it a day. He later moved to standard film, but still used large format Speed Graphic cameras for some time before making the switch to smaller format film.

“People were more respectful of cameras back then,” said Mr. Montgomery of Mr. Morgan’s early years and the ease with which he was able to get people to pose for him. “As you move forward, the photos become more candid. It goes from a very formal, respectful approach to more the kind of paparazzi stuff we are used to seeing today.”

Mr. Montgomery is a documentary filmmaker who began buying the archives of photographers and filmmakers in the late 1980s. “I was a customer,” he said. “I thought it would be more fun to be on the other hand of the equation.”

After Mr. Morgan died, his son, who had joined him in the business, kept it going, but eventually decided that he wanted out. When Mr. Montgomery learned the archive was for sale, he made a deal “and drove down to Palm Beach with a truck and picked it up.”

The more than a million images were well organized “with a massive card catalog like you’d find at a public library,” he said.

“He went out and shot every day for 50 years,” Mr. Montgomery said. “He shot the rich and the famous but also the rich and not famous.”

Admission to “Southampton Blue Book, 1930 to 1960: Photographs by Bert Morgan” is free to members of the Southampton Historical Museum and $4 for adults. Young people 17 and under are admitted for free.  The Rogers Mansion at 17 Meetinghouse Lane is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Ticket holders to the society’s “Insiders View of Southampton Homes” will be guests at a special preview of the Morgan exhibit on May 31 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. A public opening reception will be held at the museum on June 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. For more information, call (631) 283-2494 or visit www.southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org.

Hunting and Fishing Through the Ages

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web 10K hunting fishing

by Emily J. Weitz

When you look out across the water and see a bayman scraping the sandy floor with a long rake, there is something about it that feels timeless, even primal. Maybe that’s because some of these methods of fishing and hunting have been around for thousands of years, and are still used in roughly the same ways, for the same purpose: to feed and clothe our families. It may not always be so direct – the diet of a bayman might not be all what he catches, and a hunter may not be walking around clothed only in fur. But still, the bounty of this place continues to serve those who hunt and fish, just as it did thousands of years ago. That’s the subject of the current exhibit at The Southampton Historical Museum at Rogers Mansion, which will be on display from this Friday through October 29.

Obviously, a great deal has changed since the earliest humans were hunting and fishing in the area. But David Bunn Martine, curator of this exhibit and director/curator of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum, argues that much has also remained the same.

“Through the lifestyle of baymen and their families, especially in East Hampton,” he said in a recent interview, “it’s stayed the same a great deal. They use a lot of Native American techniques.”

Some of the techniques that remain common practices for local fishermen today were learned from Native Americans.

“Fishing with pound nets, fishing from the shoreline, and fishing with traps are ancient techniques indigenous to this area,” explains Bunn Martine.

Through looking at the development of the artifacts, you can also see how these practices changed over time, and how Native American practices influenced the hunting and fishing practiced across the East End today.

“Five thousand years ago, eel spears and eel rakes were used that were very similar to the ones the English settlers used,” says Bunn Martine. “Modern ones are made out of metal or iron, but they look similar.”

Replicas of many of the tools that were (and in some form still are) used for fishing and hunting will be on display at the exhibit.

“We have a dug-out canoe we made out of pine at the Shinnecock Museum,” says Bunn Martine. “Also we have reconstructed objects, like simulated fishing tools and hunting tools like spear throwers.”

There will also be stone arrowheads used for hunting deer and small game as well as other period artifacts like basket nets, basket traps used for fish and old fashioned netting featured in the exhibit. Paintings, like large pieces depicting the Paleolithic period on Long Island and others showing whaling ceremonies from the relatively recent 1700s, will also be on display.

Evidence of hunting on Long Island dates back at least 10,000 years, and there have been fifteen finds of Paleo points (arrowheads or spear points), to prove it. However, archaeologist Jo-Ann McLean of Jo-Ann McLean Archaeological Consultants, points out that “These Paleo points were found all over Long Island. They were never associated with a site where there was an encampment. This leads us to believe these were travelers passing through hunting.”

So the most ancient of hunting practices were likely nomadic peoples roaming through the rich natural world of Long Island and hunting for deer and other game.

One significant aspect of preparing this show, said Bunn Martine, was in the recreating of some of these objects. Even though nets, lures and traps can be purchased in stores, there was a time when everything needed to be constructed at home. At the Shinnecock Museum, people are now learning to make these things again.

“We want to learn to make these things again by hand using traditional materials like plant fibers,” says Bunn Martine. “We are learning how they made nets and fishing tools by hand, how they made lures and hooks and cordage. It’s part of our tradition… We are getting back in touch with traditional material culture: basket making, net making, object making. These are things we’ve been researching for years but [this exhibit] is another manifestation.”

Hunting and fishing, and all the processes that go with them, are deeply embedded in the life and culture of the East End. Still integral to the survival of many local families, these practices are as ancient as human existence in this area. This exhibit is an opportunity to see just how far back Long Island people, and their traditions, can be traced.