Almost a year after a ribbon-cutting at what was for generations a bank in the heart of the historic Stony Brook district, a new art center finally opens for business on Friday.
The Reboli Center for Art and History seeks to reflect the spirit of the most celebrated painter in seven generations since William Sidney Mount to focus on everyday life in his native Three Villages. Joseph Reboli, who died in 2004, was so prolifically popular that the vast majority of his paintings — more than 3,000 — were purchased at galleries in his hometown or Manhattan.
That was one of the challenges facing Reboli’s widow, Lois, as she endeavored to establish a standing salon in his name following his death, at 58, to cancer. “We only have about 80 paintings in the collection,” says Lois Reboli, “plus some on my walls at home I’m not ready to part with yet. But we’ve heard from many people who’d happily loan us Joe’s paintings.”
But there were many other challenges. Hoping to open this spring following alterations, including removal of bank teller stations, Reboli learned that zoning and historic district issues required months of negotiations and statuary changes, eventually passed by the Town of Brookhaven. The bank property was zoned commercial, which did not allow for a museum or art center. “It really does take a village,” Reboli said at the preview party before the official opening earlier this month. “Actually, it took three villages,” she added with a laugh, referring to the Three Villages district of Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field.
Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) said the Reboli center “will make Stony Brook even more of an arts destination than it already is,” complementing such attractions as the Long Island Museum, repository of much of Mount’s figurative art, Stony Brook University’s Staller Center and the recently opened Jazz Loft next the Three Village Inn, where young Reboli first sold his art.
Noting that a grant for the art center in Reboli’s name has not yet passed, Englebright said, “When approved, it will give us another excuse for a grand opening party.”
Dozens of Reboli’s paintings hang in galleries and a gift shop in what were once the bank teller stations, among them “Bellport Gate,” on loan to the center, and such familiar scenes as “Old Field Cabanas” and his garden hoses series. In other galleries, paintings by Setauket artist Doug Reina, furniture by Brookhaven hamlet arts-craftsman David Ebner and collage studies by Stony Brook sculptor Pam Brown are on display. The building’s banking history is traced in another small gallery.
“Lots of artists are tortured souls,” Lois Reboli says. “But Joe was one of the happiest guys I’ve ever known. . . . He took the time to talk to everybody, especially young artists.”
As part of the center’s mission, workshops, lectures and plein-air painting sessions will be held at the property overlooking Stony Brook Harbor where Reboli painted. The Atelier at Flowerfield, which opened as the Reboli Atelier in the St. James/Stony Brook industrial park, closed and reopened in the months since the art center’s ribbon-cutting. The two entities are no longer affiliated.
Born and raised in Stony Brook, Reboli returned home for good after an Army stint, painting scenes his family inhabited for generations. As a teen, he was encouraged by his Aunt Anna, known as “Duck Lady” for feeding fowl in the mill pond across Main Street from her white clapboard house next door to the Reboli home. She worked in what was then the Bank of Suffolk County — now the Reboli Center — displaying Joe’s art there and at the Three Village Inn. “What didn’t sell, she bought herself,” says Colleen Hanson, Reboli Center vice chairwoman. The bank building was purchased last year for $1.6 million — $1.3 million from the pending Englebright-sponsored grant.
Like Mount’s, much of Reboli’s work was native-inspired. His studio was a space above the home, which he and Lois (they married in 1989) moved into two years before his death, across the pond from Setauket’s Neighborhood House.
“Joe’s work freezes a moment in time,” says his widow, “taking everyday objects and letting you see them in a fresh light.”
Reboli Center for Art and History
WHEN | WHERE Opens Friday, 64 Main St., Stony Brook
HOURS 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays
INFO 631-751-7707, rebolicenter.org