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Asian Laughter: The 2009 Longhouse Reserve Summer Benefit

Originally Posted: July 27, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Attendees enjoy the performance of the Angkor Dance Troupe at the LongHouse Reserve annual summer benefit. Photos by Douglas Harrington

East Hampton - Remember that television show narrated by Leonard Nimoy called "In Search Of?"

LongHouse Reserve creator Jack Lenor Larsen.

You know, in search of Atlantis, in search of Noah's Ark, in search of the Fountain of Youth, etc. Although they may have, I cannot remember them ever doing an episode that went in search of the Garden of Eden and now I know why, they knew where it was all the time. I am being facetious, of course, but on Saturday, July 18, after years of covering the arts in the East End, I made my very first visit to the LongHouse Reserve for their annual summer benefit and it struck me that if this was not the original Garden of Eden, it sure was not far off the mark.

This year's event was themed "Asian Laughter" as a tribute to the joy that Southeast Asian art and culture bring to the world. Upon entering the event we were immediately struck by the brightly colored silk banners waving in a light breeze, the colorful rice paper umbrellas that were both distributed to guests and displayed as decorative art installations through the grounds and the delicate, firefly illumination of the Asian lanterns that lit the evening's festivities. It was a consummate blending of art and nature, which is the hallmark of the 16-acre LongHouse Reserve and its mission to "exemplify living with art of all forms."

LongHouse Reserve Co-Presidents Manana Freyre and Dianne Benson.

As we strolled along the receiving line, above an elevated pink petaled art installation to our right, a half dozen Asian drummers toned out a melodic rhythm that echoed throughout the grounds in harmonic confluence with the subtle conversation of nature and the exuberant comments of arriving attendees. LongHouse Co-Presidents Dianne Benson and Manana Freyre greeted each supporter individually - expressing their gratitude and extolling them to "have a fantastic time." I expressed my amazed first impression to the women who responded, "You are reacting to the manifestation of the mission of LongHouse which is living with art in all of its forms, whether visual, audio or garden - it is living with art."

Sag Harbor Express publisher Pat Cowles and his wife Betty were in attendance as not only is his stepbrother Charlie on the Board, but the reserve is supported by the Cowles Charitable Trust. "We have a long relationship with the reserve and we love it here. It is a wonderful asset for the area, everybody loves it."

As we entered the actual event area, the traditionally costumed Angkor Dance Troupe had just taken the stage that was constructed in an open field. As they preformed beautifully elegant interpretive native dances, the attendees were transported to ancient Cambodia with each move and gesture. Brazilian fashion designer Claudja Dicalho, who shows at Jarlaph in Amagansett, commented on the apparel of both the performers and attendees who where encouraged to wear colorful outfits of silk, batik and ikat. "There are so many beautiful and beautifully dressed people here. I am in complete awe of the costumes from Southeast Asia, they are just unbelievable, I love the traditional dressings they perform in." The Cambodian dance troupe was followed in performance by internationally acclaimed Korean drummer Vongku Park and his troupe.

Artist Koichi Hara with one of his eight LongHouse Reserve sculptures.

Built on property adjacent to his private residence Roundhouse and inspired by a 7th century Shinto shrine in Ise, Japan, LongHouse is the structural centerpiece of the reserve which was created by legendary textile designer, author and collector Jack Lenor Larsen. He is internationally known as one of the world's foremost advocates of traditional and contemporary crafts. I had the rare privilege of a private audience in one of the Asian inspired gardens with the master. I first asked him about the geneses of LongHouse, "As you know I lived next door at Roundhouse for 30 years and I expanded it several times. But then I came back from being in Sante Fe with Stanley Marcus and his rambling adobe was so much larger, it had lots of rooms that had no function other than to display art. I thought if I started over I could have a house with waste spaces. It could be better and I could share with people and show them different ways than the normal houses that people were building, that maybe made more sense. So I did. We moved in here in 1992, so it is no longer new, but the gardens keep evolving and improving with more sculptures and more visitors and more children."

I asked Larson to elaborate on the importance of the educational aspects of the LongHouse Reserve, particularly in regard to children, "Well I have a good memory, I remember being a child and it was the field trips that I enjoyed the most. Getting out and about and seeing things that were different than they were at home. I learned a lot, it expanded my imagination and it made me want to do things that other people hadn't done yet. Children need to learn something about that and something about plants and art. They need to know that they can be individual, you don't have to conform is the most important thing for children to learn. I am a non-conformist, they can learn something from that."

Brazilian fashion designer Claudja Dicalho amid rice paper umbrellas.

Larson expanded upon the Japanese influences that are reflected in the Longhouse design and gardens, "Japan is my favorite country, I've been there 40 times. I am a student of that kind of aesthetic, totally different than ours, they truly believe that less is more." He also commented on the future of Longhouse, "We will officially become a public garden and take on those responsibilities. Planing for the future, trees will need replacing and things like that. The board is about to have a retreat to plan the future, to consider the future when I am not here." Larson explained that the reserve is now considered an asset, but the East Hampton Town Board is considering designating it a public garden.

Designation or not, there can be no question that the LongHouse Reserve's single greatest asset is Larson himself. His creativity, his altruism and his passion for these glorious grounds breathe through them like a refreshing summer breeze and smile upon them like the nourishing warmth of a summer sun set against a perfect Hamptons sky.

The walls of the ground floor of LongHouse were filled with over 100 pieces of contributed art as part of the gala's silent auction. The works of artists either donated directly or by their families and collectors including Roy Licthenstein, Willem de Kooning and Edward Steichen, among many others that shared Larson's passion. There were also items like a book of lyrics autographed by Paul Simon and a book donated by John Beech and Edward Albee, who himself was present at the event.

LongHouse Reserve supporters view the donated art of the silent auction.

The grounds of the reserve are filled with sculptures and other art mediums juxtaposed with the natural beauty of this deftly crafted arboretum. One such installation was specifically created for the evening's event by San Francisco's Koichi Hara, a Japanese artist whose work is part of the permanent collection of LongHouse. Hara's art, eight pieces in a specific sculpture garden, could not be more representative of the mission of LongHouse, which he described as, "Material showing us beauty. Craftsmen know the stone, feel the stone, they know its beauty. These stones are heavy, but maybe not heavy in their presentation, maybe they are floating."

The 2009 LongHouse Award recipient was the American weaver Carol Cassidy, who has devoted her life and skills to working with artisans in the Developing World, revitalizing ancient craft traditions. Cassidy has recently created and taught Cambodian weave workshops for amputee victims of land mines, creating opportunities for those who might otherwise be left unaided in a part of the world where the social services and privilege we take for granted are non-existent.

At this year's summer gala supporters of this extraordinary living and breathing artistic garden enjoyed traditional Southeast Asian food, entertainment and art. They reveled in the company of fellow Hamptonians who shared their cherished reverence for this place and the vision of the man that created it. A reverence and elation that is immediately felt with the very first step upon the grounds of this rarefied land, this East Hampton jewel, the LongHouse Reserve.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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