Picturing history at Town Hall: America’s Beauty Spot

1950 pictorial map of Shelter Island illustrated by The Nelson Studio, St. James, N.Y. (Donor: Helen Wortis)

1950 pictorial map of Shelter Island illustrated by The Nelson Studio, St. James, N.Y. (Donor: Helen Wortis)

The board room at Shelter Island Town Hall is often dominated by discussions pertaining to pressing issues that will affect Islanders in the future. But right now, at least one wall of the room is dominated by a pictorial slice of Shelter Island’s past.

“America’s Beauty Spot” is an exhibition featuring a collection of vintage 20th century advertising brochures and maps touting the pleasures of summer life on Shelter Island.

The show was curated by the Shelter Island Historical Society and its collections manager Lora Lomuscio, who selected the original items from the archives and had them enlarged and printed on canvas for display.

“Changing the scale makes them more impressive — which is something you can do with reproductions to make them accessible while keeping the original documents safe,” explained Ms. Lomuscio in a recent interview with the Reporter.

c. 1930 Shelter Island advertising brochure and map created by the Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce.

c. 1930 Shelter Island advertising brochure and map created by the Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce.

She notes that the idea for the exhibition came from Supervisor Gary Gerth who invited the Historical Society to work together with the Town.

“He really wants to foster community across many organizations,” she said. “It’s perfect.”

c. 1935 Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce brochure.

c. 1935 Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce brochure.

Also perfect is the fact that the show allows the Historical Society to showcase some of its artifacts at a time when the Haven’s House Museum is closed to the public due to construction of the new archives building on the property.

“We’re closed, so the archives are not accessible,” said Ebeth Lones, the Historical Society’s communications and donor development coordinator. “Here, people can see these brochures even larger than they would in the archives itself. It’s more tangible, more real than some of these little postcards or fragile documents that you can only view behind plastic sleeves.”

“It gives us exhibit space we don’t have right now,” added Ms. Lones who also credits Judy Meringer, secretary to Supervisor Gerth, for coordinating installation of the Town Hall exhibition.

The Island maps and advertising brochures on view date from the 1920s to the 1960s. While the brochures were produced by the early Chamber of Commerce, pictorial maps on view were created by the Nelson Studio in St. James and local artist Edith Shepherd. Ms. Lomuscio explained that she first became aware of the brochures while working with the Time Travelers summer program for children at the Historical Society.

c. 1934 advertising brochure and map illustrated by Paul Laune.

c. 1934 advertising brochure and map illustrated by Paul Laune.

“We scanned and reproduced a lot of documents from the archives to make a timeline in a more casual way on paper,” said Ms. Lomuscio. “That’s the first time I saw this Chamber of Commerce brochure from the ‘20s.”

“It was so neat and beachy,” she said, adding that something about the imagery and the language stayed with her. “‘Shelter Island: America’s Beauty Spot’ —  I stuck the photocopy of the brochure in my bathroom.”

While the job of the brochures was to promote the Island’s beaches, woodlands and night life, ultimately what they encouraged is something far less tangible — an emotional and physical escape from the stress of an urban existence.

“I think they really show the juxtaposition of city life vs. tranquil rural life,” said Ms. Lones. “What resonates with me is the familiarity of the brochures. One of the things we’ve tried to draw attention to with this show is how little things have changed.”

“What they were advertising about what’s great on Shelter Island is still great,” added Ms. Lomuscio. “It’s a place of natural beauty that’s not overrun. The Island’s not part of either the North Fork or South Fork, and that keeps it special.”

When asked for his take on the exhibition in a phone interview on Monday, Supervisor Gary Gerth said, “I think it’s spectacular. Though I hate to say it, it brings me back. It’s reflective of the time.”

EBETH LONES PHOTO | From left, Town Supervisor Gary Gerth, Shelter Island Historical Society Collections Manager Lora Lomuscio, Shelter Island Historical Society Executive Director Nanette Lawrenson and Shelter Island Historical Society Board President Elizabeth Pedersen in front of the new exhibit at Town Hall. All maps and advertising brochures are from the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society.

EBETH LONES PHOTO | From left, Town Supervisor Gary Gerth, Shelter Island Historical Society Collections Manager Lora Lomuscio, Shelter Island Historical Society Executive Director Nanette Lawrenson and Shelter Island Historical Society Board President Elizabeth Pedersen in front of the new exhibit at Town Hall. Maps and brochures are from the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society.

“It’s insightful and inspiring, and it gives us an opportunity to look at the history of the community to see where we’re going,” he said. “This is a continuing thing. I’m trying to meet with all the groups on the Island so we come together. This is a community room and we want to have rotating exhibits and art shows and bring the community together.”

Those who want to take a piece of the exhibition home with them can purchase reproductions on canvas for $100 each. Money raised from the sales will benefit ongoing efforts of the Historical Society. Order forms are available in Town Hall or by emailing [email protected]

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