Plein Air Peconic Celebrates Ties to Land Trust

Dune Beach, by Susan D’Alessio.

By Stephen J. Kotz

Ten members of Plein Air Peconic will gather this weekend at Ashawagh Hall in Springs to exhibit their work and celebrate a 10-year partnership with the Peconic Land Trust.

The artist group and land preservation organization have enjoyed a symbiotic arrangement over the years, with the artists donating a portion of the proceeds from their of their sales to the trust, and the trust working to preserve the land the artists love to paint and photograph.

“Being able to paint outdoors and do these immediate paintings right on the spot allows for a particular experience that you can’t get when you are locked away in a studio,” said Casey Chalem Anderson, whose seascapes will be among those exhibited this weekend.

“It’s really the environment and protecting the environment that is the important thing,” added Kathryn Szoka, a photographer, who has been a member of the group since the beginning and will exhibit her own work as well.

Also showing their work will be the painters Susan D’Alessio, Terry Elkins, Gordon Matheson, Michele Margit, Joanne Rosko and Eileen Dawn Skretch, and photographers Tom Steele and Ellen Watson.

Plein Air Peconic artists began to exhibit their work to benefit the land trust a decade ago after Mr. Matheson stopped by the land trust’s office with a portfolio of paintings he had done of agricultural buildings that had been torn down in the face of development, said Rebecca Chapman, the land trust’s vice president.

“It sparked my imagination to what a wonderful way artists could be a vehicle for land conservation and preservation through their observations of the way we were,” she said. The two organizations have been working hand-in-hand ever since, with the trust working to obtain access to the artists to some lands that are not open to the public.

Ms. Szoka, an owner of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, came to the East End in the early 1980s, and soon trained her lens on a rural landscape that was quickly being transformed by development.

“What I’ve been doing in my career is chronicling the changes that have occurred in the communities over the years,” said Ms. Szoka, who “Vanishing Landscape” photographs have been widely exhibited on the East End. Among her other projects are a week-by-week study through the growing season of the land trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett and a series on the changing makeup of the community along the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton.

Ms. Chalem Anderson, a native New Yorker, moved to the East End fulltime more than 20 years ago.

“It would not be the same place if it were not surrounded by the ocean and bays,” she said, “and to have farmland in between makes it perfection.”

Ms. Szoka said getting a group of artists to work together is a little like “herding cats,” but the members of Plein Air Peconic value their association. “A lot of our work is in isolation,” she said. “Working together helps us develop artistically.”

As part of the three-day show, the film “Growing Farmers,” a 16-minute award winning documentary, directed by Michael Halsband and produced by the Peconic Land Trust and Hillary Leff, will be screened continuously.

The exhibition will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Sunday and Monday. There will be a reception Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. and coffee donated by with the artists on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.