Over a five-decade career, artist Mort K�nstler has
created more than 3,000 images and become the nation's best-selling painter of
Civil War scenes. But none of the Cove Neck resident's works depicted a Long
One of the North Shore's major philanthropists set out to change that.
The result is a new work by K�nstler, "Teddy's Fourth of July," a scene of
Oyster Bay's most famous resident, Theodore Roosevelt, downtown on the holiday
in the early 20th century.
The painting, completed in time for this fall's 150th anniversary of the
26th president's birth, will be copied to make prints to be sold for $200 in
September to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich and
eventually the Theodore Roosevelt Association's effort to build a TR museum in
the hamlet. (Details will be available at mort kunstler.com.)
Making are more meaningful
It wouldn't have happened without the persistence of Roger Bahnik, chairman
of Mill-Max Manufacturing Corp. and president of the Boys & Girls Club - and a
serious art collector who met K�nstler almost 20 years ago.
After Bahnik became acquainted with K�nstler's work, he arranged for the
artist to donate prints to Boys & Girls Club auctions and then ended up buying
more than 15 of them himself.
"When I own art, I always like to know the artist," he said. "It makes the
art much more meaningful."
Then he bought one original oil of Confederate Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson and
another of a wartime religious service into which K�nstler painted Bahnik and
his wife, Lori, as members of the audience. K�nstler frequently paints family,
friends and auction donors into his works.
"It just didn't make any sense to have this very popular and talented
artist here in Oyster Bay and all he paints is Gettysburg and Virginia," Bahnik
said. "I said to him, 'I want you to do a Long Island painting, but, better
yet, I want you to do an Oyster Bay painting of Teddy Roosevelt.' He said 'OK.
Fine. But I have so many other paintings I have to do.'
"After asking him for at least 10 years, I said 'OK, Mort. Let's stop
pussyfooting around. I commission you to do this painting.' He said 'OK, fine.
I have two more paintings to finish, and then I will do it.'"
Bahnik commissioned the painting for $100,000. Even though it was not part
of the commission deal, K�nstler included Bahnik, his wife, their son and
daughter and their spouses in the painting.
K�nstler said he had never done a local scene because "since my early days
as an illustrator, when I was like a brush for hire, I've always been busy with
work." He said he has been lucky enough to have a waiting list of private
commissions and orders from publishers interested primarily in Civil War images
to turn into prints.
"I put in more time on this than any other painting I've done" - four
months - which was necessary to include the Bahnik clan and get architectural
and other details right, the artist said. "I think this is certainly one of the
best I have ever done. Once I got started with it, I began to get so excited."
Doing a lot of research
K�nstler said he loves to paint scenes where the original architecture
remains intact. And in this case, the backdrop for TR riding in an open car -
driven by Bahnik - is the extant Moore Building, which served as the summer
offices for TR's presidential staff.
Oyster Bay town historian John Hammond and the Theodore Roosevelt
Association provided photographs and background material to K�nstler, who
included signs for the bicycle shop and bakery in the background as well as
flags, bunting and "welcome" signs used at the time.
"People don't realize how much research goes into a painting like this,"
K�nstler said. He read two books about TR, studied the types of cars and wagons
used at the time and researched the weather so he could put the proper
shadowing on the Moore Building for July. "I learned that the Secret Service
accompanied him, so I painted a couple of Secret Service men dressed as Rough
Riders, which is kind of a neat thing they did," K�nstler said. He also
arranged for TR re-enactor James Foote to come to the studio to model a white
summer suit and white Panama hat.
The painting is "very accurate as to the details," Hammond said, "but there
is no actual documentation of TR being in a car on July Fourth. However, the
fact that there is no documentation doesn't mean he wasn't in the village in a
car. The Fourth of July was his favorite holiday. He came downtown on many July
Fourths." Every year TR gave a speech on the holiday in some city, and in 1906
he gave that speech in Oyster Bay on citizenship.
Theodore Roosevelt Association president James Bruns said, "Our hope is
that we can work with the artist, who is world-renowned, to create 100
limited-edition prints that can be offered for sale to support the capital
campaign for the Theodore Roosevelt Museum and Research Center." The
organization and K�nstler have discussed creating at least 15 special canvas
prints to be offered to donors who give more than $100,000.
"Many of my paintings end up finding the right home" in the area where the
scene depicted took place, K�nstler said while admiring his finished product on
the living room wall of Bahnik's Oyster Bay Cove home, "and this is certainly
one of them."