The sudden death six years ago of Elinor Tibbets Van Ingen McDade, a beloved artist, yoga instructor and longtime owner of the Goat Alley Gallery in Sag Harbor, also marked the end of a beloved village tradition.
Each year for more than two decades, she and her husband, Robert McDade, who predeceased her, would open their Division Street gallery to local artists, affording them the opportunity to showcase — and sell — their creations.
The only catches were that those exhibiting had to have phone numbers starting with “725,” three digits that, at the time, were unique to Sag Harbor households, and each artist could only enter a single small work.
“If you had a 725 code in your phone number, you could be in it,” explained artist Linda Capello of Sag Harbor who, along with her husband, John, a sculptor, would always enter items in the show.
Michael Butler, a painter and former gallery owner himself, also recalls entering pieces into the exhibit — appropriately and simply titled “725” — and how aspiring artists like himself used to enjoy the annual gatherings that were inspired by late artist Lucia Haile and hosted by the McDades at their gallery.
“It was such a great idea for the arts community, and I think people do miss it,” said Butler, who now serves as general manager of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum.
Though he wasn’t a regular contributor, estimating that he entered his paintings only four or five times over the years, Butler is the driving force behind the rebirth of the exhibit, which he has retitled the “725 Group Art Exhibition.” An opening reception will run from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, September 21, and the show will conclude on Wednesday, October 31, marking the end of the museum’s 2018 season.
The exhibit is expected to feature between 40 and 50 works, a mix of paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures, according to Butler. He intends to hang them “salon style” using dividers so he can maximize the museum’s limited space. There is no fee to participate and his plan is to make the exhibit an annual tradition once again.
“The main thing is to pay homage to our local artists,” said Butler, who will be creating a new painting using primary colors for the show. “As artists, we don’t always push and promote ourselves as we could.”
Linda Capello and her husband immediately signed up upon learning that the 725 exhibit was being relaunched. She intends to show one of her nude drawings while her spouse will enter a sculpture of a coelacanth, a rare fish that many believed was extinct until recently, which he carved a few years back from a slender piece of orange alabaster.
His sculpture’s unusual size — John Capello estimated that it’s about 22 inches long and weighs between 12 and 15 pounds — has not afforded him the opportunity to display it anywhere in public until now.
“I love the fireplace in the museum … and there’s a shelf that’s just the right size shelf to hold this,” he said of his sculpture. “I’ve never been able to put it on a regular sculpture stand because the edges will stick out.”
Sag Harbor artist Casey Anderson remembers attending shows at the Goat Alley Gallery but cannot recall if she participated in the actual 725 exhibit. Regardless, the 25-year village resident said she did not hesitate to join the rebooted exhibit, explaining that she has the perfect entry to display for the inaugural show: an 11- by 14-inch oil painting of a flower field at Balsam Farms in Amagansett.
“I went by there and just gasped,” she said. “It was really, really beautiful. They sell bouquets of these flowers, and they have every color—all different reds, oranges, yellows, purples and lavender.”
She spent a few hours out in the field one morning in late July, trying to capture the beauty that surrounded her, adding the finishing touches at her home studio relying on photos she took. Anderson, who said she typically paints ocean scenes and waterways—and on larger canvases—said she could not resist the urge to create when she came across the flower field.
“It’s a stunning spot,” Anderson said, “and it’s so incredible to see such a wide expanse going off in to the distance of these colorful flowers right in the middle of the Hamptons.”
She intends to showcase her painting, titled “Balsam Farm Flower Field,” in the show.
Anderson loves the concept behind the relaunched 725 exhibit, adding that her home phone starts with the required three digits though she confesses she never uses it.
“I didn’t know when I moved here … [Sag Harbor] turned into such an interesting place culturally—it’s so rich,” she said. “It’s really an incredible place to live, especially now,” she continued, pointing to the unofficial end of summer.
Linda Capello says she is looking forward to exhibiting in the show, which pays tribute to her late friend. “It really was a very fun piece of history,” she said. “Elinor was an amazing person and I miss her terribly.”
“In a sense we’re paying homage to them,” Butler added, referring to Haile and the McDades.