Whaling Museum Honors Sag Harbor’s Working Class Roots

Carolyn Conrad, "Mill Town"
“Mill Town”  |  Carolyn Conrad

The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum is turning its eye to Sag Harbor’s working class roots in a series of exhibitions and lectures this summer titled “Every Village Has a Story.”

The exhibitions are broken into two categories. The first, which opens this Friday, May 27, explores the places of industry and commerce throughout Sag Harbor’s storied history, while the second explores the people whose lives have enriched the village since its founding in 1707.

Museum Associate Manager Michael Butler was on-hand for a preview of the show during Sag Harbor Cultural Heritage Day May 21. He explained how the works in the show tell the tale of the village’s periods of boom and bust, as different industries, from whaling and shipping to manufacturing, rose and then faded.

And within those industries were people who devoted their lives to trades that often became outdated, leaving them without work but still within a community struggling to find a new identity — even now, in an era that could best be described as one of excess and veneer.

“The pieces portray the fact that Sag Harbor has working class and blue collar roots,” said Mr. Butler. “We don’t want to forget there were average people here.”

Indeed, Sag Harbor is unique among the agrarian towns that dot the South Fork — it was always an urban center, dependent on its harbor and its contact with the outside world while people in nearby towns were focused on growing crops and livestock.

Michael Butler's "The End at the Beginning"
Michael Butler’s “The End at the Beginning”

The first segment of “Every Village Has a Story,” opening May 27 with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m., is a series of depictions of Sag Harbor’s places — from Mr. Butler’s own “The End at the Beginning,” which depicts the Alvin Silver Company fire on Main Street New Year’s Day in 1925, one of many fires that has ravaged Sag Harbor throughout its history. That fire began in Ballen’s Store on Washington Street and was fueled by a large cache of ammunition in Ballen’s Annex, which ignited the stately brick Alvin Silver Company. Bohack’s later bought the property and opened a supermarket in 1950 at the site of what is now the Conco D’Oro pizza parlor.

Peter Solow contributes a mixed-media piece, “Cornerstone,” about the building of Pierson High School, John Capello contributes the oil painting “Noyac Bay,” a depiction of fishing cottages at the end of Long Beach, while Joan Tripp contributes the oil painting “SideWheeler,” which depicts steam ships docked at Long Wharf, while Reynold Ruffin’s acrylic “Cedar Lighthouse” is a colorful geometric play on history.

Erica Lynn-Huberty contributes an as-yet-unnamed textile work — a tapestry and a curtain that depict “the only two livelihoods available to women” during whaling times, said Mr. Butler — as a seamstress or as a prostitute.

Erica Lynn-Huberty's tapestry
Erica Lynn-Huberty’s tapestry

Scott Sandell also contributes “Sag Harbor (A House Made of Air),” a collage that includes a meditation on Peter Matthiessen’s “Men’s Lives,” Carolyn Conrad contributes her archival digital photograph of handmade objects, “Mill Town,” and Paul Davis contributes the assemblage “Blue Collar”

The exhibit is curated by Elise Goodheart, an artist representative and former Sag Harbor gallerist who has been involved with The Sag Harbor Educational Foundation, The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art, The Donald Reutershan Trust and The John Steinbeck Memorial Committee.

The museum will host a panel discussion on “Waves of Immigration,” moderated by Alexandra Eames on June 12 from 11 a.m. to noon, as part of this exhibition.

The discussion will center around Sag Harbor’s historically diverse population, including Jewish, African American, Native American, Polish, Italian and Hungarian residents, and on the neighborhoods they built.

Fahys Factory Finishing Room Workers - Marianne Rodriguez Collection
Fahys Factory Finishing Room Workers | Marianne Rodriguez Collection

The second exhibition in the “Every Village Has A Story” series, titled “People,” is curated by photographer and Canio’s Books co-owner Kathryn Szoka. It will open with a reception on Friday, July 1 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Artists in the exhibition include Linda Alpern, Michael Butler, Ann Chwatsky, Arthur Leipzig, David Slater and Kathryn Szoka.

Sag Harbor Express publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan will lead a panel discussion on the exhibition titled “Meet Me On Main Street” on Sunday, July 17 at 11 a.m.

The discussion will center around the changing face of the Main Street business district with long-time business owners who will look back at the evolution of Sag Harbor’s businesses and the customers they serve.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

One thought on “Whaling Museum Honors Sag Harbor’s Working Class Roots

  • May 26, 2016 at 11:30 am

    What? No Bayman under a glass dome…


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