Profile: Artist’s daughter settles in to motherhood

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | Vicki Weslek, outside her “almost” new home on Manhanset Road, just a ways past the mini-golf course.

Vicki Weslek is like many other young Island moms, and then, in some respects, quite different.

She, like her peers, is in her early 30s, married to an Islander who makes his living here, has relatives down every fifth road and, with three children under the age of six, never wonders what to do with her spare time. And again, like many other young women here, she is grateful that her mom is around to lend a hand on occasion.

She’s different in two significant ways — she’s the daughter of the late Islander Alan Shields, the well known artist and North Ferry captain. With her brother, Jason, Vicki works steadily to keep her father’s work in the public eye. A passionate Democrat, she has been a member of the Shelter Island Democratic Committee since 2009. It was her husband, Ian, who ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the Town Board. A Navy veteran, Ian has his own construction business.

Her mother is Maria Caccese, Alan Shields’ widow, an Islander who is busy volunteering for the Retreat, the East Hampton organization that helps victims of spousal abuse, and working part-time in the real estate business with Georgiana Ketcham’s agency. Her grandfather is John Loconsolo of Ram Island. Her brother Jason, 10 years older than she, is a carpenter here on the Island who recently married Karena Johnson, Jenifer Corwin’s daughter; Jenifer is James Eklund’s sister.

Vicki is the only member of her family who actually “started here,” she notes, born at Southampton Hospital in March of 1979. She attended a small off-Island school for her first three years, the Tuller School in North Haven, then went to the Shelter Island school through eighth grade. She left for boarding school, the Stony Brook School in Stony Brook, graduating in 1996 and going on to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. She majored in art history and was well into her senior year before anyone on the faculty realized she was Alan Shields’ daughter.

Pleasure and excitement, “shock and awe” followed, she recalls, as well as a request for him to take part in a lecture series, which he did. “That’s a great memory,” Vicki said. “It was wonderful, really awesome. I was living off-campus then and got to give a dinner for him after the lecture and I loved it. Friends came, the faculty came. It was so cool. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood what it was to be an artist and what it meant outside in the world. Until then, he was just my dad. Now I’m a big admirer.”

The works of Alan Shields, who died in 2005, are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Tate Collection, London; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. He is represented there by the Greenberg Van Doren Gallery.

After graduation from Colgate, Vicki came back to the Island for the summer to figure out what to do next. Although she was an art history major and had good contacts in the art world through her father, she wasn’t sure exactly what her next step should be. It turned out to be Ian Weslek, whom she met that fall and felt sure about quickly. They started to build a life together “right away. It was so natural. We clicked well together.”

They married in September 2005 and now have three children: Harrison, 5; Evan, 3; and Elizabeth, 1.

Working for a landscape design company on the Island after college, Vicki decided she liked that field and went to the New York Botanical Gardens to obtain a certificate in landscape design. In 2008, when the Town Board was planning to create the small park on Bridge Street, they asked for Islanders to submit plans. Vicki submitted a design as did many others. No single plan was accepted but a committee of several people whose designs were admired came into being and Vicki was among its members. She found it “a great experience to work with different people, to collaborate and come up with something really nice.”

In 2010, she was approached by Heather Reylek, chair of the Shelter Island Democratic Committee, and asked to join. She accepted immediately, delighted for the opportunity to become involved. But it wasn’t her idea that her husband Ian run for a Town Board seat in 2011. The committee suggested it and her first thought was to say no, knowing how busy he was. But then she thought she’d let him decide and he said yes. “It was a great summer,” Vickie said, “collaborating, hearing ideas and different approaches.” They were disappointed that he didn’t win but “pleased that Jay [Card] and Jim [Dougherty] did. The Democrats on Shelter Island are so great about sending in absentee ballots but you don’t really know until it’s over.”

Although this is “a quiet year” politically on the Island, she thinks Tim Bishop’s race for re-election to Congress is an important one. She said she’ll also be interested to see if Republican State Senator Ken Lavalle, a longtime holder of his seat, is reelected. His Democratic opponent this year is Bridget Fleming, a Southampton councilwoman, and Vicki hopes she wins. She would like to see more women involved in government for a better “balance.”