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Jenifer’s Shelter Island Journal: Crucible for creativity

I remember the first fall I spent on this island as a full-time resident. As I’ve often mentioned in this column, I’d been a summer kid who, as many before me have done, found myself packing up my off-Island life and moving out here to live-live.

I already knew it was a pretty, postcard kind of place, but I’d only experienced it drenched in the crayon colors of summer — I’d never really been around for autumn. That first year I thought that maybe autumn wasn’t planning to come. The trees had begun rusting in late August, but it was October and if leaves came off at all, they did so brown or even still-green. 

Then one morning the third week into the month, I woke up to a blaze of red and gold. The whole island was incandescent with such beauty it was almost painful. I was supposed to be drumming up customers for my fledging refinishing business, but all I could do was drive around from Silver Beach to Reel Point and back again, gawking.

I think it was the third day of this traveling beauty binge that I finally sobered up enough to draw the following conclusion: The beauty of the Island is so intense any season of the year that if you’re not pushing back with your own creative energy, that beauty could crush you. Some 40 years later I still believe that. Not just for me but I suspect for many of us, it’s a matter of “creating in self-defense.”  

Maybe it’s because we’re an island that the creative energy here seems so … concentrated, and the June 13  Reporter confirmed that belief. The terrific lead article by Charity Robey on the cover of the Around the Island section profiles an exhibition of works by 25 East End artists curated by Tom Cugliani and installed al fresco in and around the forests and gardens of Sylvester Manor, Sculpture@Sylvester Manor.

The cover shot is of a work by Island artist, Kate Lawless, entitled “Taking Pause” — heavy coils of rope in widening concentric circles around the base of one of the massive Manor trees. (I happen to have two “Lawlesses” from decades ago hanging in my home).

The late Alan Shields, an internationally known painter and sculptor, is also represented, as is a third Island artist, Mary Ann Moy. The Shields children, Jason and Victoria, installed their father’s piece, meant, by the artist, to be viewed outdoors. Jason said the installation itself was kind of a “spiritual experience,” especially when, throughout the day, all the pieces changed as the light changed. This extraordinary exhibit, which must be experienced, remains on view through September 8.

The point is, this exhibit is far from alone in showcasing the multi-talents of so many Islanders — amateur, professional or, as is often the case, a dynamic combination of both. Cases in point: On behalf of the Shelter Island Historical Society, Lisa Shaw and The Last Resort Players, are mounting a fourth original musical next month (watch this space for details), while Peter Waldner has once again convinced certain otherwise sane people to appear in the third film of his “Freida” trilogy.

In the meantime, two weeks ago, hugely talented professional musician, vocalist and teacher Sara Mundy, presented her ever-growing group of young piano students to an audience of justly proud friends and family in a packed recital at St. Mary’s Church. 

Personally, I think next time tissues should be provided. And then there’s the on-going Zoom poetry group from the Shelter Island Library and the venerable Friends of Music, not to mention those free Friday night “rehearsals” that will be starting at Perlman, that bring the best of classical music to this modest “rock.” 

The fact is, this heightened creativity manifests in all sorts of ways all the time, and not just in the arts, by any means. I think of all the volunteering people do and the amazing impact that kind of creative energy has on the entire community. For instance, my just-across-the-street neighbor, Debbie Brewer, is not only an EMT with the Shelter Island Emergency Medical Services, but also volunteers at the Island Food Pantry. Debbie is one of the many Islanders who give creatively of themselves: all the members of the Shelter Island Fire Department; all the people who deliver Meals on Wheels or coach teams or mentor students, or help with the 10K; or the Memorial Day parade; and on an on.

And then there’s this paper, the Reporter, that’s been a platform and catalyst for creative energy, a witness to and memorializer of the vibrant Island life we love and a bastion of reliable facts providing us with a shared truth that’s essential for the health of any community or country. But now the Reporter’s in jeopardy. Watch this space.