Collectors, Creators and Makers: Fischl and Gornik Want to Hear from You

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Eric Fischl and April Gornik inside the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church. Michael Heller photo

Are you a collector? A maker? Can you wield a power tool with proficiency? Do you have special skills you want to share with the world and an interest in harnessing that talent in the development of emerging art or a new local product?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik want to hear from you, as they attempt to tap into the local talent found, and perhaps not yet discovered, while moving forward with plans to transform the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church on Madison Street into a flexible space for art and innovation.

Mr. Fischl, the celebrated painter, printmaker and sculptor, and Ms. Gornik, the equally celebrated painter, purchased the former church building in July for $7 million, according to Suffolk County records. They are currently in the process of working with architect Lee Skolnick, a longtime friend and collaborator, to finish the stalled restoration of the exterior of the church building, and the renovation of its interior.

Ultimately, Mr. Fischl and Ms. Gornik see potential in the church building becoming a space for artistic exploration — a use that will further cement Sag Harbor Village as a downtown where the arts thrive with Bay Street Theater on Long Wharf, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center in the center of Main Street and the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum and the John Jermain Memorial Library at the other end of Main Street, with smaller nonprofits and arts-related businesses like Canio’s Books, and half-a-dozen art galleries located throughout the village business district.

“Part of the vision of the church and the cinema is the idea of this kind of arts district, where the arts becomes a part of the Sag Harbor economy in some way,” said Mr. Fischl. “We realized we really should find out what the skillsets are of people who are here to see if we do bring in experts in a field, artists or crafts people who need help or want to work in collaboration with someone, we could go to someone who lives here and has one skill or another.”

“It’s an easy and obvious thing to want to bring in people from the outside that will enrich your community, but it is also apparent to us that there are people in this community that we don’t necessarily know about — and should find out about — before we make any sort of final statement about what the church is going to be or we want to do,” said Ms. Gornik. “It is really important to look around you. I have been constantly surprised by the people in this community, whether it’s the knowledge of local history or some kind of connection to something amazing; or someone who has parents or grandparents have this talent maybe not a lot of people know about. We want to find out what is out there.”

At the Sag Harbor Partnership’s Big Tent Party for the Cinema — Ms. Gornik is on the board of the Sag Harbor Partnership and the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center and Mr. Fischl was eventually revealed as the anonymous donor that kick-started fundraising for the purchase of the Cinema project on Main Street with a $1 million pledge — the artists launched an online survey designed to learn about the skills and talents of residents on the South Fork. The Great Sag Harbor Creativity Survey is available at surveymonkey.com/r/NFZP3JX, with a Spanish-language version, Encuesta de la Creatividad del Grandioso Sag Harbor, available at es.surveymonkey.com/r/TYHMMSF.

The survey was developed with the aid of Maisie Coburn, a Sag Harbor resident studying social research in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mr. Fischl said including a Spanish-language version of the survey was critical; tapping into the talents of diverse cultures represented on the South Fork — and especially families with roots in Central and South America, easily the fastest growing demographic on the East End — is one of the survey’s goals.

Eventually, Mr. Fischl would love to see products created out of this incubator — products unique to Sag Harbor, conceived and created through collaboration with master artists and craftspeople, as well as residents, in the former church space.

Ms. Gornik and Ms. Fischl related a story told to them by colleague Moises Cerdas. Mr. Cerdas mother, Mercedes Solano, of Costa Rica, was in the hospital and found herself roomed with a woman undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment. Her roommate had lost her hair, and was often cold. Ms. Solano knitted the woman a hat. When another patient complained of cold feet, an intricate, hand-knit set of slippers were created. Ms. Gornik was gifted a pair of the same slippers, in a bright shade of blue, expertly crocheted by Ms. Solano’s hand, and for Ms. Gornik, a work of art in themselves.

Hand-knitted slippers made by Mercedes Solano. Michael Heller photo

“They are incredibly beautiful slippers and I was just enchanted by them and this story that in that hospital there was a very specific response to a need through a craft, and a craft that was very much a part of this woman’s community,” said Ms. Gornik. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a master workshop with someone who really knows how to make something like that?”

Mr. Fischl remembered a story told to him by Jeffrey Colle, a designer and builder, about an elaborate spiral staircase that required a specific kind of joinery that was both light and tremendously strong. “And he couldn’t figure it out, but a young Latino man working for him showed him how to do it,” said Mr. Fischl. “And when he was asked how he knew how to do it, he said, ‘I used to make violins that require the same kind of joinery.’ Wouldn’t it be amazing to find that man and have him make violins here?”

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