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Historical Celebrations

Originally Posted: September 19, 2007

Edward Callaghan

It was a weekend for history and historical celebrations on the East End.

Harborfest volunteers Jack Reiser, John Woudsma, Nathan Brown, Lillian Woudsma,
and Caroline Ritterbush. Photo by John Wegorzewski

Sag Harbor marked its 300th birthday with a blowout weekend-long bash. It started with a nautical feast for all the senses and a myriad of activities highlighting the legacy of the village that was once the whaling capital of the East End. The three-day fete kicked off with the 12th Annual Lobsterbake to benefit the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum featuring singer/songwriter Caroline Doctorow. Concurrently, the John Jermain Library opened an exhibition on the whaling captains, "Who They Are," a perfect primer on the great seamen.

Saturday saw the kickoff of the Sag Harbor Charity Cup Challenge. The 12-meter America's Cup Yacht Race out on the bay was teeming with local yachtsmen and fishermen anxious to have a closer then surfside perch to view some of the sleekest sloops from around the world.

This year's Harbor Festival was also the backdrop for the First Annual Sag Harbor Art Festival organized by artists and gallery veterans Cuca Romley, Tulla Booth, and Rebecca Cooper.

Throughout the weekend, there was theater as well, with the presentation of an original play by Stacy Dermott, "300 Stories of Sag Harbor: The Tercentennial Edition" at the Old Whalers Church. Directed by Toni Munna, the play celebrates 300 years of fascinating, outrageous, and sometimes scandalous tales of life in the seafaring village. Rob Wilson starred as ethnologist William Wallace Tooker and Brittany Brown as local poet and painter Annie Cooper Boyd. The inimitable Bonnie Grice, the host of WLIU's much loved morning show, played herself. Canio's Books celebrated with a marathon reading of "Voices of Sag Harbor: A Village Remembered," edited by Nina Tobier and featuring the stories of numerous residents past and present.

Despite the rains on Saturday, which all but washed out many of the early day activities, the crowds packed the village. On Sunday, thousands worked their ways through the bustling streets with the bulk of the crowd swarming all over Long Wharf and Bay Street. All the better to catch the whale boat races, help thwart the landing of a pirate boat and revel in the sunlight that made the harbor sparkle.

Save Sag Harbor's Barbara Oldak, Seth Grossman, and Helen Samuels. Photo
by John Wegorzewski

On the wharf, scores of folks sporting Save Sag Harbor buttons and sashes like Seth Grossman and Anna Throne Holst. These displays were indicative of the resolve of many in the tiny community to put the brakes on overdevelopment. Concerns stem from the possible take over of the local businesses by big box stores and glitzy designer shops more suited for a big city.

Hard not to agree when you experience so many lovely small town moments such as trying on flower bedecked hats by the Ladies Village Improvement Society, chatting up a local poet or listening to the sweet sea chanties of John Corr. Where else on the East End could you watch a clam shucking contest with some seasoned 10th generation clammen pitted against some top local chefs!

In the round we caught, first place went to Detective Scott Ehrlich of the East Hampton Police Department with Denise O'Malley snaring 2nd prize.

At the tip of the wharf beneath the flags of Bermuda and Panama flying over the huge yachts, Raphael Odell Shapiro sat at a tiny table pecking out poems on an ancient Royal typewriter for any who asked. The 17 year old Ross School senior wanted to make his own very singular voice heard on Sag Harbor's big birthday and give a small gift to his community. And the poems were good!

Pierson alumni Jane Holden, Jack Youngs, Lyn Duchemin, and Joe Markowski at
Sag Harbor 300th. Photo by John Wegorzewski

Along the wharf, a trio of would-be Bob Dylans strummed their guitars, Boy Scout Troop 455 was selling corn on the cob and hotdog, Culinary Experience's Mike Mosolino was serving up shrimp fritters at break neck speed, and the Golden Pear crew was dishing out gallons of their spicy chili. The Fish Farm and dozens of local eateries were on hand to keep the crowds well fed.

Alumni from Pierson High School were out in full force prepping for their upcoming 100th anniversary and a recreation on the school's front lawn of a 1937 group photo. They even have one of the school's oldest alumna coming, 98 year old Alice Miller Ham of East Hampton! Literally hundreds of townspeople volunteered for the event helping to make it one of the greatest street parties in East End history.

We ended our day in the only way possible cocktails with friends on the porch of The American Hotel. Toasting all our neighbors who worked so hard to make this party terrific were The Oasis' Gina and John Donnelly and Kerri Dollinger, Marcia and Dick Clair of The Drivers Seat, and Erica de Jong.

History of another sort was made this weekend with a perfectly timed exhibition at The Southampton Historical, "Mahogany Dew: African American Artists in Southampton". By all accounts it was the first ever show exclusively devoted to African American artists in Southampton Village. This was certainly a first for the Museum, which under executive director Tom Edmonds is making great strides to a greater relevancy to and inclusion of the community.

Barbara Eleazer Bowen and Curator Brenda Simmons at Mahogany Dew. Photo by
John Wegorzewski

The brainchild of curator Brenda Simmons (better known to many in the Village as the executive assistant to Mayor Mark Epley) the exhibition is a standout among group shows featuring several area African American artists recognized for excellence in their respective media.

Herbert Randall's stunning photography fills much of the first floor gallery, images that range from portraits of his family members to tender moments caught on a city street. Joanne Williams Carter's paintings of mundane scenes of local country lanes festooned with telephone poles have a special poignancy. Carter points to their usefulness now outmoded as they will no longer be part of the landscape, much like the vanishing farms and meadows on the East End, and are passing into history.

Not all is solemn in this show. Frank Wimberley has several abstract pieces in the show that are vibrantly filled with a riot of color in a master manipulation of paint, texture and tone. For sheer joy, nothing can compare to Michael Butler's brilliantly colored scenes of everyday life done in a style that might be termed nave, as Grandma Moses, but with a very real sense of humor imbued in many of his miniatures.

Rosalind Randall, artist Herbert Randall, and Judy Caslin at Mahogany Dew. Photo
by John Wegorzewski

In the first floor library, guests were treated not only to a short poetry reading by Ms. Simmons but a dazzling display of musical virtuosity by the acclaimed flutist Dwayne Kerr, who tours regularly with the incomparable Erykah Badu. Kerr rocked the house sliding effortlessly from soft, sensuous jazz stylings to rousing, foot stomping gospel!

The Museum rightfully enjoyed an enormous turnout for this ground breaking event with guests coming from as far north as Rhode Island and south as Ft. Lauderdale for this wonderful celebration of the artists in our midst. Among those on hand were Southampton Trustee Bonnie Cannon, the first African American elected to the position, Kathy Engel, Mary Abbott, Gina Michael, Dr. Thelma Dye-Holmes and Carlton Holmes, Rosalind and Herbert Randall, Barbara Eleazer Bowen (who made the trek from Rhode Island to support her childhood friend Brenda Simmons), Ulysses Tapley, Joan Holzmacher, Paul Bennett, Hillary Woodward with her mother Constance Herrick, the Museum's president Harry Hackett and wife Barbara, Robert Hansen, Joanne Williams Carter and her husband and daughter Robert and Janine, Juanita and Frank Wimberley, and hundreds more.

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