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Love On Display At Southampton Historical Museum

Originally Posted: January 21, 2009

Edward Callaghan

Guests mix and mingle in the dining room of the Rogers Mansion during the opening of "Heart to Hand: Love in Early American Tools and Design" and "Paintings of Southampton." Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - On a bone chilling Saturday love was in the air in Southampton at the Rogers Mansion home to the Southampton Historical Museum for the opening of two very special and very site perfect exhibitions truly filled with love.

The first exhibition which greets one upon entering the landmark former captain's home is titled "Heart to Hand: Love in Early American Tools and Design" from the collections of Gerri and Morgan MacWhinnie.

Warmly greeted by Gerri MacWhinnie, guests were immediately immersed in her passion for collecting early American household items, notably those featuring a heart motif. The assembled collection on view is just a part of what Gerri and Morgan have spent over half a century putting together in their travels up and down the East Coast.

Gerri MacWhinnie diplays a handmade quilt with a heart motif.

Gerri said her obsession with heart decorated items started when she met Morgan, a successful antiques dealer. His mother, Inez MacWhinnie, also an antiques dealer known for her wonderful shops in Southampton and Bridgehampton, presented Gerri with a necklace from which dangled several heart charms. Since then she and Morgan have, "combed the fairs and shows all the way up to Maine and way down south searching for early American household items with the heart carved, embedded, woven or fired upon it".

Artfully arranged in groupings around the mansion's first floor were scores of everyday tools, pots, bed warmers, tinder boxes and foot stools. Upon one fireplace mantel sits an assortment of paper hat boxes and pantry boxes used to store dry produce. Each was adorned with a painted heart. Over the mantle there are a dozen or so forks, cookie cutters and spatulas again each with a heart incorporated into its design.

Pointing with great pride to the display, Gerri noted, "I am continually amazed that such totally utilitarian items - meant to be used everyday - were fashioned with such great love. The blacksmith or woodworker who took the extra time to add a touch of love with the heart included." Often such simple items were created as gifts from "husband to wife and he would request the heart be included so that his wife would think of him whenever she used it". An iron fork with a tiny copper heart at the base of the handle was a perfect example of "a gift fork probably given as a wedding present."

Morgan, who clearly has studied every facet of the objects in their joint collection, indicated to the viewers the tiny hearts embossed in a Colonial era bed warmer noting the intricate workmanship in this ordinary heater and marveled at the delicacy of the tracing. Remembering a particularly handsome Dutch pan, he confided sheepishly, "Sssh! I think I sold it."

Throughout the rooms are stunning examples of the most mundane tools from cheese sieves to foot warmers that became things of beauty as a result of the pride of their creators.

Throughout the rooms visitors explored stunning examples of the most mundane tools
from cheese sieves to foot warmers that became things of beauty as a result of the
pride of their creators.

Though there were many familiar faces from the community, the Museum also attracts its fair share of tourists eager for the opportunity to view such historical works in the setting of this museum. Gerri was thrilled to meet a tourist from the Netherlands who was able to translate the inscription on a beautiful china plate. The inscription reads, "There is nothing better in a marriage than love and trust between a man and a woman." Gerri simply beamed recounting the story.

But surely, for Gerri one of the most treasured possessions and of more recent origin in this collection is the hand-stitched quilt replete with hearts which was made by the parents of her students at Centre Moriches school when they believed she was retiring. That was back in 1989 but Gerri said, "I fooled them and kept teaching until 2005."

The love of hearts was all the more understandable when Gerri and Morgan proudly announced they will celebrate their 50th anniversary in the next few days on, when else, but Feb. 14, "Valentine's Day - we're calling it a survival party," laughed the pair.

Upstairs in the house is the second exhibition "Paintings of Southampton" by the much respected artist, the late Hank Schneider that clearly shows his love for and appreciation of his adopted town. Though Hank sadly passed away in September while he was organizing this exhibition, his sister Alice helped to set up the display in the manner she knew he would have wanted.

The majority of paintings portray winterscapes on the East End and most particularly Southampton. Violet and rose colored clouds over the quaint Dune Church, a single mockingbird on a speed limit sign, a snowy field at the base of a hill dotted by several barns and a pair of lonely looking ramshackle structures with a for sale sign - all elements of everyday life in the coldest of seasons. Yet in all of Hank's pictures there is the sense of life and new days to come. Even the buildings with the "for sale" sign seem to be waiting for one purchaser with a long held dream to fulfill.

Alice Schneider and Ruth Schneider admire the self-portrait by Hank Schneider.

Hank, a native of Queens, passed away at the age of 92, having lived permanently in Southampton since 1984. Unable to pursue a career as an aviator during the Great Depression due to family finances, he instead attended the Arts Students League of New York on scholarship to study painting and photography. For many years he pursued a successful career in the advertising world before settling in the Hamptons to devote himself full-time to his art.

A founding member of the Southampton Artists Guild, Hank exhibited regularly in shows at the Southampton Cultural Center and galleries across the Hamptons and New York.

In the main dining room of the Rogers Mansion, his self-portrait showing him in sailor's cap and coat is fittingly on display. His sister Alice said she made the Museum staff "bring that picture down here, he looks more like a seaman than Captain Rogers" - and indeed, he does.

Throughout the afternoon reception, guests were treated to several rounds of sea chanteys by Gloucester-based singers and musicians Tony Hilliard and Janet Young. With the portrait of Hank Schneider looking on one was transported back to another era in moments, a time of brave sea-faring men and open fields and loving hearts awaiting their return.


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