By Stephen J. Kotz
Earlier this year, the Sag Harbor Historical Society obtained $5,000 grant to restore the painting, “Crowning of Mercy,” that the Sag Harbor-born artist Hubbard Latham Fordham had completed in 1869 and board member Jean Held had found several years ago stored in a closet at the society’s headquarters, the Annie Cooper Boyd house, in the village.
So pleased was the board with the restoration work, done by Lawrence Castagna of East Hampton, that it has turned its attention to preserving a number of decorative paintings that Ms. Boyd, perhaps Sag Harbor’s most famous free spirit and Bohemian, had painted on the walls and doors of her home around the turn of the 20th century.
On Thursday, a handful of board members met with Mr. Castagna to hear his recommendations for preserving a number of works in the home that are recognizable to anyone who has ever paid a visit.
Jack Youngs, the society’s president, estimated that the project could cost anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 to simply clean the paintings to as much as $30,000 to $35,000 to more fully restore them.
A painting of the Beebe Windmill on a wooden cupboard door in the living room is one example. Mr. Castagna described the painting, which is cracked and dirty, as “pretty distressed” and said the first step would be to try to stabilize it by using spray adhesives and cleaning the surface. Later, it could be placed on a heated vacuum table that would allow the paint to settle to the wood surface. The painting could be touched up and a final coat of protective adhesive applied afterward, he told the group.
The group also examined several other paintings in the home’s dining room, including a painting of Montauk Point. “This one we bang a lot,” confessed Ms. Held of the painting, which is unfortunately right next to a door leading to a back room. Group members wondered when the painting was finished, noting the lighthouse was set back a good distance from the cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Ms. Held said that Ms. Boyd, who inherited the cottage from her father, William H. Cooper, who built whaleboats for Sag Harbor’s burgeoning whaling industry, “didn’t get the house in order” until about 1910 and likely did not paint the scene until then. Montauk Point was one of her favorite places, according to Ms. Held, “because that is where her husband proposed to her.”
A painting of cherubs on a on a piece of triangular-shaped canvas that might be sailcloth in a “frame” salvaged from a whaleboat form used by her father, sits above the fireplace mantel. It will also undergo restoration, as will one of a young woman sitting on the banks of a stream, dipping her toe in the water.
The group also took time examining the “Herald House Tea Room” menu board, which Ms. Boyd painted on a type of Masonite board when she tried to make ends meet during the Great Depression by serving lunch in her home. A mural painted on the wall of the bathroom, which was restored once before, is also in line for some work.
Ms. Held said she hoped the finished result would reflect Ms. Boyd’s individuality and the casualness of her approach to decorating her home. “The house is crazy,” she said. “That uniqueness has to be preserved.”
Mr. Youngs said his primary goal was to protect an important piece of Sag Harbor’s history. “It’s all starting to deteriorate,” he said of the artwork around the home.
At this point, Mr. Youngs said the society has yet to apply for grants to fund the project. He said it would likely apply to the Century Arts Foundation, which underwrote the restoration of the Fordham painting, as well as New York State, Suffolk County, Southampton Town and other private foundations.
“It’s been coming to a head for the last year or so,” said Pierce Hance, another board member, who has spearheaded the restoration project. The paintings have largely been left untouched in the home since the society inherited the home from Nancy Boyd Willey, Ms. Boyd’s daughter, who died in 1998. “You could say it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt,” he said.
Mr. Hance said the society core of dedicated volunteers would welcome help from anyone in the community who has an interest in preserving local history. The society can be reached at (631) 725-5092.