By Dawn Watson
Dan Rizzie, an artist for more than 40 years, is best known for his colorful bird imagery. But whales have actually been on his mind for years.
He was certainly thinking about them when he and gallery owner Peter Marcelle hatched up an idea to raise money for the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum approximately four years ago. That’s when they conceptualized the idea, and the name, of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum’s first “Whale of a Show” art benefit exhibit and sale, which debuted in 2013.
The idea behind the show was primarily to raise money for the building’s much needed renovations, Mr. Rizzie said during a telephone chat on Sunday afternoon.
“We needed to save the building from demise,” he says. “It was literally falling into itself and falling apart in front of our eyes.”
But the group art exhibition is also meant to bring people together to celebrate the village’s whaling history, and now the preservation of the whale population, in addition to strengthening the artistic community within and around the village, the artist and the gallery owner agree.
The benefits of the show are great, says Mr. Marcelle, who owns a gallery in Southampton and lives in Sag Harbor. First, the museum benefits, he says. Second, the local artists get a chance to show their work. And third, collectors get fantastic pieces, while writing off their purchases as charitable contributions.
“Everybody wins,” he says.
Now in its third year, as part of the “Salt Air Exhibition” series, the group exhibition featuring renderings of the various marine mammals of the Cetacea order kicks off the summer arts season in Sag Harbor. Participating artists for this show include: Anna DeMauro, Jamey Ellis, April Gornik, Susan Lazarus, Edwina Lucas, Jill Musnicki, David Slater, Donald Sultan, Barbara Thomas, and John Torreano. Mr. Rizzie and Mr. Marcelle served as curators of the exhibition, which opens on Friday, May 22, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. and remains on display through June 21.
In addition to naming the annual exhibit, curating the show, and designing this year’s themed “Whale” tee-shirt, Mr. Rizzie has created a new piece of artwork as well. That mixed-media painting/collage began when he found the rubber sole of a sneaker washed up on the Tyndal Point beach near his home in North Haven.
Being an environmentalist, he picked up the worn detritus and carried it home. The bonus, in addition to cleaning up the beach, was that the bottom of the shoe he found “has the shape of a whale,” he says. So he decided to use it as the centerpiece for his submission. Surrounded by colorful geometric shapes, the former sole, which looks to have seen its share of rubber-meeting-the road time, sports a black smile and a red, yellow and black eye. It looks like a happy, if cracked and worn, whale.
“The fact that it’s made out of beach trash says a little something too,” the artist says, adding with a laugh, “you don’t have to like it but you have to admit it’s sure has a lot of sole.”
Mr. Rizzie’s friend and neighbor, and another well-known artist, April Gornik contributed a recent watercolor of a whale breaching for this year’s exhibition. The Whaling Museum supporter and environmental advocate applauds the group’s efforts.
“I’m very proud to be a part of the show,” she says. “I admire the museum’s commitments at preservation and its presence in the community.”
The entire “Salt Air Exhibition” series goes a long way to help shore up the museum’s ongoing restoration needs, says Board of Directors President Barbara Pintauro Lobosco. But there’s still always more to be done, including raising money for the next steps—a new ramp, gutters and leaders—she says.
Passionate about preserving the village’s heritage, Ms. Lobosco said that she first became aware of the organization’s objectives back when her father, Anthony Pintauro, donated one of his scrimshaw collections to the museum close to four decades ago. In her role as President, her goals for today are straightforward: to repair and restore the circa-1845 building by architect Minard LaFever back to its original grandeur and to ensure that the Whaling Museum continues to be a community hub.
“It’s a long journey with much more to go, but we’re on the right track,” she says.
Mr. Rizzie, who applauds the commitment of the Board and numerous museum supporters, couldn’t agree more. Pleased with the results of the hard work, and the generous donations by so many who have stepped in to help, he said he’s held in thrall by the continuing aesthetic upgrades at the museum.
“It continues to look better and better and better. It’s such an uplifting thing to see now,” he says. “The only problem is that every time I drive by, I almost wreck my car because I can’t stop staring at its beauty.”
The Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum’s third annual “Whale of a Show” group exhibit opens with a reception on Friday, May 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. and closes on June 21. For additional information, visit www.sagharborwhalingmuseum.org.