OYSTER BAY: A brush with the past

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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

Island event.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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."

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