Around the Island

Friday Night Dialogues: Hap Bowditch recalls growing up on Shelter Island

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | An image of Shelter Island in steel takes shape in Hap Bowditch’s studio.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | An image of Shelter Island in steel takes shape in Hap Bowditch’s studio.

When Harry “Hap” Dawson Bowditch agreed to speak at the Shelter Island Library’s Friday Night Dialogues, he didn’t know where to begin. As a lifelong Islander and a descendant of one of the original Shelter Island families, he is an authority on the history of Shelter Island. He’s also an expert on the Island’s development because of his career working for his contractor father and for the Highway Department.

Along the way Hap has proven to be a talented artist, and his metal sculptures have been exhibited in shows on the East End and as far away as Williamsburg, Virginia. He’s even restoring vintage cars, drawing on his years running his auto repair shop.

This is truly a 21st century Renaissance Man!

Where did he get the name Hap? It turns out that it is a family nickname for Harry, the name Teddy Roosevelt called Henry Howard Preston, Hap’s great-great-grandfather. The next generation dropped Henry for Harry and dubbed him Hap, a name that has stuck right down to Harry Dawson Bowditch III, Hap’s son.

Born 65 years ago in Greenport, Hap has spent his entire life on the Island. His father took him to work as a very young boy, letting Hap ride next to him on the heavy equipment he operated. Little Hap soon learned how to work different levers and at a young age (he’ll have to tell you how young) began driving the machines himself. He learned to weld when the equipment needed repair, a skill that led to his car repair business and then eventually to his artistic career.

His wife, Dianne, creative in her own right, is a connoisseur of daffodils. She grows, arranges and shows them, and Hap often travels with her when she judges daffodil shows around the Northeast. They have seven children between them and all but one live in the area — Hap III lives in Chicago.

Visitors to the Island often wonder about the metal shepherd who watches over the corner of Midway and Smith roads. They’d be amazed if they stopped to tour Hap’s studio there and found his many unusual designs, often representing images from nature. These sculptures have won Hap awards as an “outsider artist” and he has sold hundreds of pieces.

Hap’s art career is the perfect union of skills learned during a lifetime of on-the-job training in his work with machinery. Come to the library on February 16 at 7 p.m. and let Hap captivate you with the stories of his life on the Island. There is no charge for this program but donations are always gratefully accepted.

Up Next: On Friday, February 23 at 7 p.m. join a team to engage in our third annual Battle of the Brains trivia contest led by Bob DeStefano.