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Coming, going, and coming back:  For Patricia Foulkrod, home is always Shelter Island

Patricia Foulkrod has been coming to Shelter Island since the 1960s, and although she’s experienced the ferry countless times, the 10-minute crossing still lifts her.

“It doesn’t matter if I’ve just come from Riverhead, I get on the ferry and there is a shift,” Patricia said. “The coming and the going, greeting the Island and having to go again, the ritual of coming and going is so embedded and intrinsic. I get to renew my love for the Island over and over again.”

Patricia lives in Santa Monica in the winter, where she established a landscape business in 2015, but each time she returns, she pays back some of that love by showcasing the works of local artists in her Island gallery, many of whom she has known for most of her life. 

The Shelter Island Art House is a welcoming porch, plus a few rooms of beautiful objects in the heart of the Heights. “I’m a miniature Chamber of Commerce,” she said, referring to the foot traffic that brings daytrippers up the stairs, onto the porch, and into her gallery looking for information about where to eat and what to see.

Adding to the welcoming vibe is the presence of Bella, a canine senior citizen Patricia adopted in 2008 when she found the puppy on the street in Mexico’s Bahia de Todos Santos.

Tourists on foot in the Heights must look to Stars Café or Isola for food, but for a taste of the Island, Patricia’s gallery never disappoints. She’s held a book signing for Reporter cartoonist, artist and author Peter Waldner; a performance by a young Kazakhstan opera singer visiting Shelter Island on a J1 visa; and solo shows debuting Liz Cummings, Adam Bundy, Isadora Capraro, Margaret Schultheis, and Laurie Dolphin.

Recent exhibits included works by Kate Lawless, Katherine Hammond, Joyce Brian, and Charlie Hergrueter’s watercolors of houses in the Heights.

Patricia grew up in Montclair, N.J., on the same street as the Dinkels and the Waldners, families who summered on Shelter Island. She was friends with their teen-age children, and one morning in May after a raucous nighttime car trip to celebrate her friend Betsy Dinkel’s 16th birthday, she woke up on Shelter Island and fell in love with it.

After her high school graduation, Patricia went straight to Shelter Island and got a job as a waitress at the Chequit. The dorm-style room where she lived was so small, “You opened the door, hit the bed and you are out the window. Nails on the wall to hang my clothes, and the bathroom was down the hall.”

Waitressing alongside her at the Chequit in those days was Megan Hansel Hergrueter.

Saturday nights at the Chequit were legendary. “I was the only barmaid working every packed, crazy Saturday night. There was always a band. The music had to stop around 11 and the entire bar would file down the street to The Dory and Dick and Jane would let us stay there until 1 or 2.”

After college, and a brief enrollment at Katharine Gibbs secretarial school, she landed a job at WNET, Channel 13, in the news department, and stayed for four years, when she left to work for political consultant David Garth.

She directed political spots, including for Gov. Hugh Carey’s re-election, during the creation of which she says she informed him that she was pretty sure they had been at the same bar on Shelter Island.

Patricia found the Holy Grail; a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, rent-stabilized apartment on Grove Street in the Manhattan’s West Village for $600 a month, which she shared with friends from Montclair.

But her career eventually took her away from New York for long periods of time and she lost the lease. “Grove Street was my New York home for 14 years,” she said. “It was like losing a member of the family.”

In 1983 she was offered a job in Los Angeles producing a short film for Disney’s EPCOT, Living Seas Pavilion, and began a period of intense work and travel that took her away from Shelter Island. During this time, she produced 10 independent feature films, met and married a German cinematographer, and bought a house in L.A.

Patricia co-produced a series for Turner Broadcasting, “The Native Americans,” in 1994, which the New York Times described as “a celebratory history of, by, and with American Indians.”

That same year she traveled alone to 13 countries, interviewing people about love and marriage, heartbreak, and arranged marriages, for a movie she planned to make, but never did. The catalyst for the trip was the breakup of her marriage.

In 1996 she started teaching meditation in Central Juvenile Hall in L.A. to boys being tried as adults and sent off to state prisons. For four years, once or twice a week Patricia taught as a volunteer and received dozens of letters from boys in California state prisons telling her how much her class had meant to them.

“If I could pick only one thing — this is the best thing I’ve done in my life,” she said.

On February 15, 2003, Patrica and aerial artist John Quigley — -aerial art is a human installation using aerial photography — created “Peace on the Beach,” an event in which 5,000 people gathered on the sands of Santa Monica and arranged themselves into an image of peace in resistance to the invasion of Iraq.

“People got to see that you could do something peaceful that could be fun,” Patricia said. “It was magical.” She and Quigley went on to do a similar event for the United Nations.

When she started the gallery, she learned it’s not easy to have a landscape business in L.A. and a gallery on the other side of the country, and make it work. She told herself, “You love this island, so you have to figure it out. Every single day that I enter the gallery and turn on the lights, I am so happy.”

Patricia sees a fundamental conflict between people who want to keep the Island as a retreat and those who see it as a place to make money. “I personally don’t feel you can have a sanctuary and an opportunity in the same breath,” she said. “I don’t think they co-exist very well.”

When Patricia thinks about the Shelter Island she discovered as a teenager and the one she sees today, what stands out to her is how many people are here to make money. “The Island is changing. I don’t remember there being such a focus on the bottom line.”

Lightning Round — Patricia Foulkrod

What do you always have with you?


Favorite place on Shelter Island?

Bridge Street, late at night, coming down the hill, it looks like a little town in a model train set.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island?

A secret dog beach in Malibu called Big Rock.

The last time you were elated?

When I got into my newly installed bathtub.

What exasperates you?

Traffic at the stop sign in front of the Gallery.

The last time you were afraid?

Coming back to L.A., I had car trouble in a part of Utah that looked like it was out of Mad Max.

Favorite sports team?

Buffalo Bills.

Favorite movie?

Lawrence of Arabia.

Best day of the year on Shelter Island?


Favorite food?

Pepperoni pizza from Frank at Slice.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Most respected elected official?

Franklin Roosevelt.