Column: April Gornik Has Found a New Home

Artist April Gornik in her North Haven studio. Nancy Remkus photo

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” 
― Vincent Van Gogh

Some of us are deeply rooted, for generations, in this place we call “Home.” We fall in love with our corner of the world and hold on fiercely to all we know and care about. Others have found their way here like samaras, Maple seeds, carried by the wind to a new place, taking root and falling in love. And love is love. We grow together and work together, side-by-side, linking arms to protect our beautiful home.

There is a person I know who has this fiery vocation in her heart and what seems to be an endless altruistic force that propels her to serve and protect this home. Many of us have heard of her and have seen her name peppered in local newspapers- — April Gornik — artist, activist, environmentalist, lover of animals. How lucky we are that the winds of fate have carried her here to help celebrate our history and to champion a movement to protect our cinema?

Ms. Gornik was born in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Her father was a tax accountant and a jazz trombonist, and her mother was a housewife and an avid reader. Attending Catholic Schools most of her life, Ms. Gornik became the voice of the student body rallying against a silent retreat, knowing in her heart how important it was for teens to have a place to speak about their feelings. Always loving to create things, Ms. Gornik worked towards her BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art and later transferred to Nova Scotia School of Art and Design in Halifax. “It was a hip and experimental school. I was in the studio art department, very interested in conceptual art. I didn’t touch painting. That’s where I met Eric. He taught painting there. I finally had to admit to myself that landscape painting was what I really loved.”

Mr. Fischl and Ms. Gornik moved to New York City, later marrying and making it their home. “I started out waitressing and bartending until I was able to live off the sales of my paintings. I have had shows in galleries in New York City since the early eighties. Everyone who becomes an artist has to be the artist that they are. Some friends in the mid 1980’s introduced Eric and I to Sag Harbor and showed us how cool it was. We loved it, and soon after, purchased an old farmhouse on Harrison Street, which we renovated. Each time we’d visit Sag Harbor, we’d stay longer and longer and longer.”

Ms. Gornik and Mr. Fischl eventually sold their Harrison Street home and moved to North Haven where they have lived permanently since 2004. “I first got into caring about Sag Harbor when a large chain pharmacy wanted to come into town,” Ms. Gorik remembered. “People worried that this would wreck Sag Harbor as we knew it.” Ms. Gornik helped form ‘Save Sag Harbor’ to protect the village as it stood. Subsequently she has worked with the Sag Harbor Partnership and has tirelessly spearheaded the effort to preserve the Sag Harbor Cinema.

“I’m a newcomer. I’m not a local. I’ve adopted it,” mused Ms. Gornik “I like listening to people, and reaching out to all of the community to hear what they believe will work best for the cinema.”

When the Methodist Church building on Madison Street went back on the market, Ms. Gornik and Mr. Fischl decided to sell their New York City properties in order to buy it. They are working towards a Spring 2020 opening as a “creativity center,” said Mr. Gornik, as they are both very interested in artist in residency programs, hosting creatives and bringing new artists into the community. “Sag Harbor has always had writers, artists and people who come and go,” she said. “It has a long history of people interacting with people from the outside. The people I am working with really love this place, everyone loves it and wants to protect it.”

Ms. Gornik remains committed to her community and to making a difference. When she is not busy with meetings and working on the theater, she enjoys painting, walking, reading, playing classical guitar, working on the Sag Harbor Partnership tours and attending local events.

Though her name is associated most distinctly with the cinema and the Methodist Church building, Ms. Gornik is also busy helping the community in a host of other ways. She and Eric purchased nearly 30 acres near their home in North Haven at a remarkable price. They could have easily turned around and made a fortune dividing it and selling it off. Instead they sold it to the town as preserved land-even losing a bit from their initial investment. She has also been instrumental in helping to support the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park effort. And then there are the ads for the Southampton Animal Shelter which she funds, her involvement with the Eastville Historical Society, creating and executing the walking tours of our village, and even printing and posting signs reminding drivers to be watchful of our endangered box turtles.

“Sag Harbor has been a part of an amazing history and connection to things around the world-even on the moon.” Ms. Gornik said. “Sag Harbor stories are great and far reaching. It has been a home to great artists and writers alike. It has been a productive community with wonderful diversity. Sag Harbor’s history is very inspirational to me. It’s a great story and a great narrative that is still being lived. This village has had to reinvent itself time and time and time again. The resiliency of this place is really profound. We want to be a part of the history of this place.”

There are times that I have felt a divide between those of us who consider ourselves local and the relative newcomers. It’s a feeling that can be difficult to describe but is surely felt by many. When I asked Ms. Gornik if she has ever felt that, she replied, “I think locals feel protective of Sag Harbor, and I feel that protectiveness as well. So that is something I respect-we’re working together to keep Sag Harbor intact, even as it’s growing and changing.”

Ms. Gornik’s landscape paintings are breathtaking and reflect her love of nature and the light that surrounds her life. I thought to myself, if I could paint like that I would perhaps spend all my time in the studio or outside listening to the birds sing, or holding my guitar, but not April — she is using her time and her resources to make Sag Harbor an even more beautiful place to live. It shook me off of my armchair and helped me to see how the love of Sag Harbor is not reserved for those whose roots run deep but also for those whose roots extend and reach.

There are times that we whisper the names of our ancestors into the wind so they won’t be forgotten. I speak aloud the names in Oakland cemetery as I wander through and thank them for leaving their mark on our village. And now we welcome new names and faces and ballast to our village and thank them for their kindness, their hard work, their fiscal support-and for leaving their imprint on our beautiful village. And so we are grateful to April Gornik and Eric Fischl for their vision, their hard work and for making Sag Harbor their HOME.