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Historical Society opens gala art show of artists who have worked on Shelter Island

On a perfect June afternoon, Islanders were invited to celebrate the opening Sunday of “Once On This Island,” an exhibition featuring the work of artists who have lived and worked on Shelter Island. Guests gathered in the History Center’s outdoor garden, and viewed the artworks in the two gallery spaces in the History Center’s new wing, on the main floor and downstairs, as well as in the entrance hall.

The exhibit is curated by Margaret Garrett, who is also one of the eight featured artists, along with Karen Arm, John Chamberlain, Janet Culbertson, Willem de Kooning, Jules Feiffer, Alan Shields and Ned Smyth. Some of the artists, including Mr. Smyth and Mr. Feiffer as well as Ms. Garrett, were on the scene, chatting with visitors.

Ms. Garrett said once she got the idea for the show, she was grateful to have help from artists as well as the families of the late Island artists John Chamberlain and Alan Shields. “Both Prudence Fairweather, John Chamberlain’s widow, and Jason and Vicki Shields, Alan Shields’ children, were excited about the idea and agreed immediately,” she said.

She learned from Ms. Fairweather that Willem de Kooning had spent a summer here in the 1950’s and that friends of hers, the Mnuchin family, would be happy to lend a de Kooning to the exhibition. “That was an unexpected and delightful surprise and I said of course I would be thrilled. A few weeks later, I was at Janet Culbertson’s studio  —another terrific artist in the show and one of the first artists I met when I built my studio here back in 1998 — and I told her about de Kooning spending a summer here. She immediately said, ‘Oh yes — he and Elaine rented a cottage from friends of mine, Bob and Joan Markel.’”

Artists have long flocked to the East End of Long Island, drawn by the quality of its light. Shelter Island exerts a particular pull, luring artists with its independent spirit and quiet beauty. “Once On This Island” celebrates these artists’ unique vision and the breadth of their stylistic interests, from abstract paintings, prints, sculptures and works on handmade paper to drawings and bronzes inspired by the natural world.

Within this variety, however, a common theme emerges — the influence of the Island itself — whether these artists spent a single season here or chose to make it their permanent home.

In an essay for the exhibit’s catalog, Archie Rand writes of the chance to create in a quiet space that beckons artists to the Island: “Although there is no lack of collegiality, this place dangles the artistic benefit of a physical solitude that amplifies concentration and fosters aesthetic communion … This is the gift of Shelter Island.”

The exhibit is one of numerous special events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Shelter Island Historical Society, said Executive Director Nanette Lawrenson. “Once on This Island” and a “Brigham, McBrian, Mosca” exhibit represent Island artists and generate reflections on, and stories of Shelter Island within the 100 years of the Society’s history. 

The exhibit will be at the Shelter Island Historical Society, 16 South Ferry Road, through Sept. 7. Exhibition hours are Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment: 631-749-0025.