Larsenworld: Documenting a Man and his Dream

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Jack Lenor Larsen in a still from “Larsenworld.”

By Annette Hinkle

Tucked deep in East Hampton’s Northwest Woods on nearly 16 acres of former farmland, LongHouse Reserve is a veritable oasis of beauty and tranquility — a secret garden full of mystery and wonder.

It’s also home to some of the finest work by the world’s most renowned artists, including Dale Chihuly, Eric Fischl and Sol LeWitt.

Though open to the public and just minutes from East Hampton’s Main Street, there are still plenty of people on the East End who don’t know that LongHouse even exists.

“In a way, it’s a blessing,” admits Dianne Benson, president of LongHouse Reserve’s board of trustees. “And in a way it’s kind of a curse.”

“A lot of people say, ‘I live up the road, I thought it was private.’ They don’t realize what it is,” she adds. “We’re amazed people haven’t heard of it. We want people to come, but for the right reasons.”

Among the “right reasons” is to experience an environment that represents a unique melding of art, architecture and garden which has been 40 years in the making. The property is the vision of renowned textile designer and art collector Jack Lenor Larsen who bought the property — former farmland on Hands Creek Road — in 1975. In the years that followed, he set about creating a home and garden that spoke to his love of fine design — particularly Japanese design.

The house itself was built in 1986. Designed by architect Charles Forberg and built by Joe Tufariello, its inspiration was the 7th century Shinto Shrine at Ise, Japan. These days, the home also serves as an exhibition space where pottery, textiles and furnishings are often on view. Outside, there are meticulously curated gardens along with a collection of 60 or so sculptural pieces — a third of which rotate on a regular basis.

Among the permanent (or nearly permanent) pieces is a giant dome created by Buckminster Fuller and an oversized all white chess set by Yoko Ono. Also on view now at LongHouse is “Tumbling Woman,” a dramatic sculpture by North Haven artist Eric Fischl which he made in response to the terror attacks at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

It’s an amazing collection and one that changes each year.

“We like to have 50 to 60 pieces at any given time and we like to bring in 12 to 15 new pieces each season and retire some,” says Benson. “What’s remaining, we move all around so it’s in a different location and in a different kind of light.”

“You can’t say you’ve been to LongHouse if it’s been a few years because it’s never the same,” she adds. “The overall ambiance remains, and that’s the important thing.”

A stills from Larsenworld with artist Eric Fischl and the “Tumbling Woman,” his 9/11 inspired sculpture installed at LongHouse this year.

LongHouse Reserve and Jack Lenor Larsen are the subjects of “Larsenworld,” a new 23-minute documentary that will be screened on Friday, June 23 at Guild Hall and followed by a conversation with Larsen, Fischl and photographer Ralph Gibson. The film was a year in the making and it chronicles the many facets of Larsen’s career and dreams, which culminated in his creation of LongHouse Reserve.

Benson, who acted as executive producer of the film, explains that the purpose of “Larsenworld” is to create a visual record of Larsen and his vision for LongHouse Reserve. Benson explains that the idea for the documentary came from a short film about artist Roy Lichtenstein that was shown on a loop during an exhibition of his work at Guild Hall two years ago.

“It was so enveloping and instructional and it so much captured the man, it made a great difference about viewing the work,” she recalls. “I thought we need a film about LongHouse — all its facets and Jack.”

So Benson and the trustees reached out to the Checkerboard Foundation, the non-profit independent documentary production company that made the Lichtenstein film, to see if it could do the same for LongHouse. Upon visiting the property, the foundation soon realized there was a wealth of material which could be used to support the making of a film about LongHouse and Larsen. The trustees set out to raise the money needed and the film was completed.

“We now have visual record that we will have when we have a visitor’s center or when Jack has a museum installation,” says Benson.

A scene from “Larsenworld.”

Benson notes that the film will also serve to explain Larsen’s guiding philosophy for LongHouse after Larsen, who celebrates his 90th birthday on July 22, is no longer in residence and the property becomes a museum

“He talks very freely about what he envisions when he’s gone,” says Benson. “Some crafts, furniture, hangings, pottery, ceramics — all the things that he loves. He wants them to continue to change and for the board to acquire things in his spirit.”

“The thing about LongHouse, it was a created as a whole in which you’re living with art in all its forms,” explains Benson. “To Jack, everything is artistic. The napkin he uses is as important as a sculpture, as is the drinking glass. He’s living with art in all its forms. While there are many gardens that have art in them, and sculpture parks that are made for sculpture, they don’t have the sensitivity of LongHouse and the variety of gardens.”

“LongHouse is a very unique collaboration between art and nature.”

The newest work to join the collection at LongHouse is “Sanctuary Entwined,” a site-specific exhibition by Toni Ross which will be unveiled this Saturday, June 24 — the night after the film screening at Guild Hall. Also being unveiled is “Escape,” a sculpture by artist Don Gummer (and husband of actress Meryl Streep).

“Larsenworld: LongHouse in East Hampton” will be screened at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 23. It will be followed by a discussion and a reception. Admission is free.

On Saturday, June 24 from 5:30 to 7:30, LongHouse Reserve hosts an opening to celebrate “Sanctuary in Twine” by Toni Ross and “Escape” by Don Gummer. Admission is $10 and include refreshments.

LongHouse Reserve is located at 133 Hands Creek Road in East Hampton. Regular visiting hours are Wednesday and Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. in May, June, September and October. In July and August, the property is open Wednesday through Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. For information visit longhouse.org or call (631) 329-3568.

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