Margaret Garrett and Bruce Wolosoff are artists, their lives on Shelter Island anchored by their love of the physical place as well as the community where their daughters, Juliet and Katya, grew up.
The couple first landed here in 1995 on an excursion from New York City to visit friends who described the place as paradise.
Bruce was a composer and Margaret was a painter. Bruce remembered the first visit: “It was great to establish a relationship with the sky again.”
For a couple of years they came for the summer, but when they realized their work would allow them to live here full time, they made the move.
“You can tell a lot about a community from its post office,” Bruce said. Margaret told of the day Bruce came home from the Heights Post Office in a state of excitement. Accustomed to the sort of post office experiences that gave rise to the phrase “going postal,” Bruce was astonished by the difference on Shelter Island.
“They are so nice,” he said. “They asked me what I was mailing, they helped me package my mail.” That visit turned out to be an early indicator that Shelter Island was the right place for their family.
Bruce has been making music all his life. From a three-year-old at the piano to a rock band as a teenager — “We made a lot of noise” — to an accomplished young pianist playing New York’s classical venues, he had enormous success. Still, he felt unfulfilled playing other peoples’ music and, as he approached his 30th birthday, made the shift from performer to composer.
“I met the right teacher who unlocked it for me. Instead of approaching it with a lot of theoretical materials, he asked me the question, ‘What are you hearing?’ and taught me to trust that inner sound.”
Since then, Bruce has composed for the Columbus Symphony, the 21st Century Consort, the Minnesota Ballet, the Carpe Diem String Quartet, the Eroica Trio and many others.
In 2010, he returned to performing. His latest release, “Darkling I Listen,” is a solo piano performance of 15 short compositions, inspired by the poetry of John Keats. “I would read some of Keats’ poems and a line would jump out at me,” Bruce said. “I would quickly write music to go with it, and then develop the sketches over time.”
He related how a nighttime ride on the South Ferry inspired him to compose a piece for piano and violin called “The Night Ferry.” “I got out of the car. It was a warm night, there was a beautiful moon and a little bit of fog, and I heard this music. It was so clear. I try to respond to my life with sound, and ‘The Night Ferry’ was one example.”
Part of the work was presented at the Music Festival of the Hamptons and at the 2011 Composers of the East End chamber music series in Southampton.
Bruce is now at work on a concerto for cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio of the Eroica Trio. His process involves visualizing the performer and imagining what she would play. “She’s one of the best cellists I’ve ever heard,” Bruce said. “I picture her … I hear her playing.”
Margaret’s artistic life began with ballet. She began dancing professionally at 16, first with the Pennsylvania Ballet and later with the Cleveland Ballet. She attributed her professional ballet career to growing up in a Pennsylvania town where one of the top ballet teachers in the country happened to live. She finished high school by enrolling in a correspondence course, or as she put it, “an original home-schooler … they mailed you books.”
As she was leaving the Cleveland Ballet to move to New York, a friend told her, “I think you should meet my friend Bruce.”
Eventually, they met for a blind date, in Greenwich Village.
Margaret said, “It was meandery and fun.”
Bruce, “I was sad when it ended.”
They are now approaching their 25th wedding anniversary.
Not long after meeting Bruce, Margaret began to paint. “A friend of Bruce’s was a wonderful painter and he became my teacher,” she said. “He said ’just paint, and I’ll talk to you about them.’ So much is about doing it and figuring it out.”
The paintings in Margaret’s series called “Tuning Fields” are layers of movement and complex patterns, with a calligraphic feel.
Her work is abstract, but influenced by the natural world that she observes. From her Shelter Island studio, she can see the moving sea grass and horizon lines — elements that find expression in her canvases. “Lately, I’ve been watching dance, and then making drawings, finding the form from movement. So I have a group called ‘Lamentations’ based on the Martha Graham dance.”
In 1997, after living on Shelter Island for several years, Margaret and Bruce bought the oldest house in Silver Beach, perched on the margin of sea and sand. Although they were comforted that the house had made it through the 1938 hurricane, Margaret said that the wind “can be very intense.” The seller, who had lived in the house since the 1950s, told them, “you’re going to like it here because sometimes it’s just paradise and other times — well, you’ll see.”
Daughters Katya and Juliet are already both accomplished artists. Still in high school, Katya is a cellist and a visual artist with a summer job on the Island. Juliet is finishing her junior year in college, majoring in philosophy and playing in a band called “Psychobaby.” Margaret said, “We’re hoping they can get a gig on Shelter Island this summer.”
For this family of artists, Shelter Island has been an idyllic home. Bruce said, “People aren’t really here to show off. They are here to live their lives.” To make room to live their lives, after over 20 years raising two girls in the same house where they both work, this past Memorial Day weekend was the time for a big yard sale. Said Margaret, “We needed to clear away a lot of stuff.”
“I feel so lucky, the luckiest person in the world,” Bruce said. “To be able to raise a family here on Shelter Island, and to do music … we are all aware that it’s a special place.”
Margaret’s and Bruce’s websites, with examples of their work and a link to Bruce’s composition, “The Night Ferry,” can be found at margaretgarrett.com and brucewolosoff.com.