“The Ghost of Grey Gardens” Unearthed in Sag Harbor
By Debbie Tuma
Lois Wright, of East Hampton, painted many scenes of the famous Grey Gardens estate when she lived there during the mid-1970’s. She painted portraits of Big and Little Edie Beale, their cats, their friends, and also pictures of the house and gardens.
But she never imagined that one of her paintings, a self-portrait of her, would resurface after 40 years, in a Sag Harbor antique store. And it was discovered, by accident, by her friends Andrew Wargo and Ray Donovan, of Riverhead.
When they recently wandered through the Black Swan Antiques in Sag Harbor, Mr. Wargo and Mr. Donovan said they never expected to find a lost treasure from Grey Gardens of East Hampton.
“It’s a very unusual antique store, with many eclectic items, and I spotted an upright Steinway piano in the back, so I sat down and played it,” said Mr. Wargo, a classical pianist who plays at local venues.
While watching his friend play, Mr. Donovan noticed a round, blue metal tray, with a woman’s portrait painted on it in white paint, and above it read the words, “The Ghost of Grey Gardens.” He immediately recognized the art work, about 20 inches in diameter, as that of Ms.Wright.
“Andrew and I had been to her art studio, and we both couldn’t believe we found one of her paintings in this antique store,” said Mr. Donovan.
They called Ms. Wright, now 87, at her home and a few days later, Mr. Wargo brought her into Black Swan Antiques to see for herself.
“I was so surprised to see this painting,” said Ms. Wright. “I don’t know where it’s been, and the last time I saw it was at Grey Gardens 40 years ago, when I gave it to Connie Anderson, a well-known theatrical performer and comedienne who lived in New York City and East Hampton at the time, and who died in the past few years.”
She said she was glad to see “it’s evidently been taken good care of—there’s not a scratch on it. I guess no one’s been putting cocktails on my face,” she chuckled.
Ms. Wright, a 30-year host on LTV, has exhibited her “Grey Gardens” paintings over the years at The Gallery in Sag Harbor, and the National Arts Club in Manhattan. She also published her book, “My Life at Grey Gardens.”
When asked why she painted herself as a ghost, Wright explained that she and her family had been neighbors of the Beales, and after her mother died and she was alone, her friend Little Edie invited her to live with her and Big Edie. It was during the filming of the famous documentary film, Grey Gardens,” by the Maysles brothers, in 1975, that she felt like a ghost because the Edies were getting tremendous publicity, and she was always in the background.
“People were calling from Europe and all over the world, about the movie, and Little Edie was always going to New York City to do talk shows,” she said. “I was coming and going all the time, but nobody knew I was there. I can well understand the focus of the movie was on them, and not me, but I felt like I was invisible, like a ghost. But I did end up in Big Edie’s birthday scene of the Maysles’ film.
Ms. Wright happened to find a round, Pabst Blue Ribbon cocktail tray at a local antique shop, and she first painted it blue. She painted her face and long hair as a ghostly white figure, with her signature at the bottom left. On the back, she wrote the words, “Painted at Grey Gardens by Lois Wright, given to Connie Anderson.”
Ms. Wright claims she also saw ghosts while living at Grey Gardens.
“I saw the ghost of an old sea captain in my room, which was upstairs over the front porch and the front door. I could look out over the whole area from my room there—I called it “The Eye of Grey Gardens,” she recalled.
Randy Kolhoff, owner of Black Swan Antiques, said he found Ms. Wright’s painting about a year ago, at an estate sale in East Hampton. “I thought it was a fun, original piece of work, and I know how popular Grey Gardens is, so I thought it would be nice to have in my shop,” he said.
Although she is excited to reunite with her artwork, Ms. Wright has decided it should go to her friend Andrew Wargo, an avid collector of Grey Gardens memorabilia, a big fan of the movie, and a long-time friend of the late Albert Maysles.
Mr. Wargo, who paid $450 for “The Ghost of Grey Gardens” painting, said he is thrilled to have this for his collection. “I love how this painting has traveled back to the hands of Lois Wright, its creator, after all these decades,” he said. “Maybe the ghost had something to do with it.”