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Boating culture exhibit opens in Port Jefferson

Charles Kenny with volunteers at the Bayles Boat Shop in Port Jefferson. Photos by Nancy Solomon

July 02, 2013 | 09:10 AM
Estimates of the length of Long Island's coast range from 400 to 900 miles — after all, the Island is 118 miles long and 23 miles wide. Whether you accept the lower or higher number or something in between, the extensive length of the coast dictates that boating and related activities have and will play a major role in the area's economy and recreational activities.

"From Shore to Shore: Boat Builders and Boatyards of Westchester and Long Island," a new exhibit mounted by Long Island Traditions and ArtsWestchester, has opened at the Port Jefferson Village Center. The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 2, focuses on the culture of boat building and boatyards.

Andrew Nenchek and Levi Johnson installing the bow sprint on the Ida May. Below, Ken Budny with his recently restored BeetleCat.
It's particularly appropriate that the exhibit is open in the center since the PJVC was originally part of the Bayles Shipyard. "It's (the exhibit) in a community that has a long history of boat building. We also wanted to make it as accessible as possible to visitors," noted Folklorist Nancy Solomon. "It's open 9 to 9. No museum on Long Island has those hours."

Said Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, "Our purpose was to profile the people who are still doing this (building boats) today — a contemporary perspective. Our primary purpose is to help preserve these occupational and recreational traditions and the landscapes of the working waterfront."

The exhibit, which includes 35 display panels consisting of five photos each together with interpretive material, including quotes "from all the people we interviewed," said Solomon, provides "a behind the scenes look at boats and boat building." The exhibit focuses on 20 boat builders and 10 historic boatyards, boatyards where boats or ships are still maintained today.

In addition, the exhibit includes some original artwork by area painters, including Cindy Pease Roe of Greenport, Don Wilson, Jack Abrahams and Peter Hines. Noted Solomon, Hines is both a boat builder and photographer.

A multimedia presentation will be available with approximately 20 three- to five-minute interviews about traditional boat building. Exhibit visitors can listen at their leisure to any or all of the interviews. Solomon added, "Also on display will be some original tools from Davison Boat Yard in East Rockaway."

The showpiece of the exhibit, said Solomon, is a historic time line of boat building on Long Island, Westchester and nationally.

The exhibit has had a long genesis. Solomon started doing research for it in the late 1980s. "I study baymen. I was interested in doing some documentation. My colleague Tom Van Buren at ArtsWestchester was doing something similar so we decided to collaborate. We're both folklorists." Solomon, who has a master's degree in folklore from George Washington University, added that despite its long genesis, the exhibit is extremely current. "After (Hurricane) Sandy (last October), I had to go back to places that were impacted and document them, encapsulate the experiences of people before, during and after Sandy," she noted.

Several activities are scheduled in connection with the exhibit. An opening reception is set for July 11 from 6 to 8 pm, to which the public is invited. Please RSVP for the reception to 516-767-8803. Three panel discussions are scheduled throughout the summer: July 16 and 30 and Aug. 20 at 7 pm, to which the public is also invited.

On the weekend of Aug. 3 and 4, there will be a boat display from people featured in the exhibit. Solomon said that Ken Budny would bring his BeetleCat, a boat that is frequently restored on Long Island. Another boat will be George Comb's resorted historic Seaford skiff. "From the Westchester side will be Rocking the Boat, a community boat building project for youth in the Bronx. They will be bringing one of their traditional work boats. This type of boat was commonplace on the Hudson and East Rivers to transport goods."

Solomon added, "The Bayles Shop will be open the whole weekend (of the festival) with their current project," building and restoring wooden boats. The Long Island Maritime Museum (in West Sayville) will be bringing a boat. And Chris Hale from Weeks Boat Yard in Patchogue will bring some of his historic tools and his own custom made half model." Half models, Solomon explained were used by boat builders to show potential clients what their boats would look like.

A nonprofit educational organization, Long Island Traditions, founded in 1992, has as its mission "documenting and preserving the living cultural traditions of Long Island's ethnic, occupational and architectural heritage." As such, themes which relate to the maritime history of the island are important, including boat building, baymen and bay houses, the South Shore Estuary, West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook and Jones Beach.

Solomon noted that this is the first major exhibit the organization has mounted. The exhibit received the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Council for the Humanities.

Admission to the exhibit and all of the scheduled events is free. The Port Jefferson Village Center is located at 101A East Broadway, Port Jefferson. The center is open seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm, closed major holidays. The exhibit runs through Sept. 2.

This version corrects information about the BeetleCat boat.

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