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Passion for fashion unites tiny purses and paintings

Gerson Leiber created a series of oil paintings

Gerson Leiber created a series of oil paintings and etchings of luxuriously dressed figures and runway models in the 1980s and '90s. This oil, "Three Standing Fur Models," is one of his works on display at Art League of Long Island's Jeanie Tengelson Gallery from Sept. 16-Oct. 27. Photo Credit: Gerson Leiber

His and Hers. Not pillows, or mugs, or closets or even sides of the bed. For Gerson and Judith Leiber, both 96, who have spent the past 71 years as husband and wife, “his” and “hers” usually refers to his paintings and her purses. That is, his modernist interpretations of nature and fashion and her highly sought-after handbags — including her famed crystal-encrusted minaudières whimsically shaped like animals, fruit and veggies — a select group of which are on view together at the Art League of Long Island’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery in Dix Hills from Saturday through Oct. 27.

“As the song goes, ‘there is no place like home,’ ” notes Gerson of the opportunity for the East Hampton artist couple to showcase their works at a local venue. On display are more than 50 of Judith’s 3,500 fanciful designs, including the last bag she created in 2004 — her intricately bejeweled blue Peacock clutch — and the 1967 “Original Chatelaine,” the first metal bag she designed. “When the metal-plated bags came in from Italy they were all spotted. They looked terrible,” Judith remembers. “So I covered the plating with rhinestones, and that started a new trend.”

In addition to her statement-making evening bags shaped as sparkly creatures, musical instruments, and produce is an assortment of artist-inspired purses. “They are a perfect fit for our audience,” notes show curator Debbie Wells of the fine skin, silk, leather and beaded handbags that nod to the work of such artists as Pieter Mondrian, Faith Ringgold and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Gerson “Gus” Leiber contributes oil paintings and etchings of luxuriously dressed figures and runway models, including his “Nymph” lithograph series from the 1990s featuring women with stylish handbags. Never-before-shown floral pastels from the same period are also on view.

“A great feature of the show is that we explain the creative process,” says Wells, who is also chair of the Art League’s board. “We have Gerson’s paintbrushes and Judith’s original tools on view, along with a wax form used to produce a Judith Leiber purse.” The exhibit also includes videos featuring interviews with the artists and photos that recount how the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and American GI met and turned her unique skill set — mastery of the handbag trade from design to completion — into a big-name international business. Her finely crafted accessories have for decades been favorites among celebs and first ladies. (Think Hillary Clinton’s “Socks” purse, Elizabeth Taylor’s crystal Shih Tzu and Katy Perry’s cupcake clutch)

Another show highlight is the Art Deco patterned alligator and ostrich handbag included in a portrait of the creative couple by artist Will Barnet. “You can really feel their love story,” says Wells. “They are very interconnected. You can see the magic.”

WHAT “Passion for Fashion: Of Purses & Paintings — The Collection of Gerson and Judith Leiber”

WHEN | WHERE 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 16 to Oct. 27, Art League of Long Island’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery, 107 E. Deer Park Rd., Dix Hills

INFO Free, 631-462-5400, artleagueli.org

ALFRESCO ART

The changing landscape of the Long Island Museum recently included the installation of two new works in its outdoor sculpture series, begun in 2014. For the next year, Fitzhugh Karol’s “Pulse” and Gwen Marcus’ “The Tempest” will join Drew Klotz’s large, wind-powered kinetic sculptures and Carol Hummel’s colorful Crocheted Tree Project on the museum’s lush grounds.

Karol’s set of five totem-like sculptures, carved from pine and doused in tar, create dynamic silhouettes against the property’s rolling lawn while Marcus’ classic male figure, with arms raised, presses into a gust of wind, giving physical form to the age-old theme of man versus nature.

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, The Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook

INFO Free; 631-751-0066, longislandmuseum.org

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