The old Penny-Crawford farmhouse, next to the post office on Main Road in Cutchogue, is easy to drive past as you wind your way through the North Fork countryside — although the sign out front might catch your eye as you go by.
Inside, visitors are stopped in their tracks by the works of member artists and craftspeople. Scenes of North Fork lavender fields, vineyards, lighthouses, flowers and beaches cover the walls, while pottery and fabric crafts pepper the tables and hang from the walls. Photographs, watercolors, oils, acrylic and giclée prints are among the fine-art mediums on display; fabric crafts include place mats, pillows, aprons and tea towels; pottery includes larger serving pieces as well as small bowls and cups; and there's a range of jewelry, from sea-glass earrings to sterling-silver and copper necklace and earring sets.
In its 73rd year, the Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild offers area artists and artisans a place to display their wares and a chance to share artistic tips. Each month a member artist's work is featured on the back wall of the main fine arts gallery, welcomed in good times by a reception with music and food. Volunteer cashier and painter Caryll Batterman laughs as the tradition is explained. "That was the good old days. Remember that, receptions and music?"
Although virus restrictions last year put lessons, art shows, receptions and member barbecues mostly on hold, the guild brings artists together to share ideas and techniques. Historically, members have taught classes for adults and children, there have been children's programs and a two-week summer art camp that traditionally ended with "Project Runway"-style event where students showed what they'd learned and modeled clothes and props at the annual Village Green Art Show. Guild membership ranges between 20 and 40 members, said Bob Kuhne, with about 25 members currently. Kuhne, 71, of New Suffolk, a painter and photographer, has been president since 2000.
The guild runs on volunteer help — members do everything from administrative tasks to hanging exhibits to maintenance and running the cash register. Members Lee Harned, Cathy Campbell and Linda Burke help stage the displays and decorate the galleries, where art and crafts change four times a year. Kuhne organizes permits and vendors for art shows; last year he helped uncover the boarded-up fireplace in the 1850s farmhouse, clearing out a century or two of soot piled inside it to install an electric stove.
"The last year hit us pretty hard when we had to close down," Kuhne said, "but we were able to reopen on a limited schedule in August." That the guild owns the farmhouse, built before 1857, helped it survive the past year, he said. Currently, the galleries are open noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, although the guild may add days and hours as summer progresses.
The farmhouse is the guild's second home — members moved literally across the street into the larger quarters in 1953 when its purchase was made possible by a generous $10,000 interest-free loan from a member. When the loan was called due in 1964, "members rallied to raise the balance by issuing 30 guild certificates of indebtedness at $100 each at 4% interest. With a legacy from Ann Currie-Bell, the payment was fulfilled and the bonds were redeemed by lot before 1970. Three of the bonds were donated to the guild and cancelled," notes a history of the guild on its website. Currie-Bell also was instrumental in founding what became the Southold Historical Society.
That willingness to pitch in has helped maintain the guild over the years. Members pay a yearly fee to have their work displayed and sold in the store. In return, they help teach and staff the cash register when the building is open. At the end of the year, those who have met their commitment of volunteer hours get back part of their $300 membership fee.
While some members aren't interested in volunteering, most understand their work helps nurture the North Fork arts environment, Kuhne said. And, as with various area historical societies the guild frequently joins to sponsor those art shows, finding younger members to keep the organizations going remains a challenge.
Deanna Witte-Walker, executive director of the Southold Historical Society, hopes the two groups can resume their shared two-day Village Green fine arts, crafts and antiques festival this summer. "We're keeping an open mind," she said, noting her board voted recently to reopen the society building beginning July 1.
Kuhne does a great job managing the vendors for the show, she said, noting much of the displayed art relates to the area's rich history and scenic beauty. "People love to use the motif of the area, and the guild is a perfect fit," she said. "We're still seeing that passion for art from guild members and it's important to keep that."
She noted the guild's deep links with earlier area artists, like Otto Kurth, his wife, Helen Kroeger, and Caroline Bell, who all took part in guild art shows. They were members of a group referred to by author and gallery owner Terry Wallace as the Peconic Bay Impressionists. In addition to her artistic talents, Bell had ties to William Purrier, one of the original settlers of Southold Town. Her history as an artist and art teacher, including teaching several guild members, is outlined in Wallace's book "Caroline M. Bell and the Peconic Bay Impressionists" (M.T. Fine Arts, 2006).
‘It’s a family’
The guild also functions as a haven for artists to share ideas and find fellow practitioners. "It's a family where you share a common interest," said Ginger Mahoney, 72, of Cutchogue, guild vice president. She was thrilled to be able to talk about glazes and firing techniques when fellow potter Brook Lauro joined.
Artists often paint what they see from their studios or on nearby drives. Jo-Ann Corretti of Mattituck has "Red Barn 2" on display, an acrylic of an image she saw on a drive through Mattituck. And Kip Bedell turned his artistic talents to interpreting the scenes of water, boats and farm fields that he sees since retiring from running Bedell Cellars Winery.
Members also are a source for locally produced items included in North Fork Box shipments, a business in East Marion run by Maria Vizzi and Lisa Owens. Local products are shipped based on seasonal and specialty themes, and boxes have included guild members' lavender sachets, cotton wine bottle totes and note cards.
"That's been nice, we enjoy that very much," Mahoney said. "Our card goes in there, so that helps spread our name. We make sure to carry what was featured in the box, too," she said, showing off a display of wine totes sewn by Nancy Johanson.
North Fork Box also tags the business on social media, Vizzi said. "It's a wonderful way of introducing someone from the guild or a store," she noted. "There's so much talent under one roof I just want to shine a light on it, and it all celebrates the North Fork."
Jewelry maker Janet Bidwell, 66, of Aquebogue, a former winery owner and now a real estate agent, is a new member.
"It's a community of support and an outlet for sales," she said. As a longtime member of the Long Island Mineral and Geology Society, she had tools and beads and began making jewelry last year when the pandemic shut everything down. "Making a pair of earrings, that's gratification," she said. "It's a lot of fun."
Mary Anne Huntington, 82, of Cutchogue, an illustrator and former tech editor, began making jewelry about 15 years ago after retiring from running the student computing lab at Suffolk County Community College. She took a class, eventually bought a kiln and jumped in.
Texture figures prominently in her sterling-silver and copper jewelry. She begins with metal-infused silver and copper clay molds of a leaf, flower or other textured item, then adds more details after she sands the items. It's a long process of molding a piece for an earring, necklace or bracelet, drying and refining it, firing it, tumbling and oxidizing it, and then polishing it. "Then comes the hard part — deciding on the type and length of the chain and the connector," she said with a laugh.
Huntington also has been a dedicated shopper over the years — along with Elizabeth McDowell, 55, of Mattituck and Lynn Summers, 74, of Southold. Summers was shopping recently to see what was new as well as whether there were Christmas ornaments. "The great thing is, when you take them home you have a piece of the North Fork," she said.
"It's things you won't find anywhere else, and they're so well made," said McDowell, whose grandmother moved to Cutchogue in the '70s and who moved to the North Fork full time in 2014 from Massachusetts. She had purchased a small, embellished bowl around Christmas for her sister and decided she needed another of Mahoney's pieces. "I got to see others and ended up buying seven," she said. "Buy it when you see it. They're one of a kind, and you feel so lucky to come across them."
The guild also offers a book of photos of historical paintings by members for visitors to peruse. Recently, Mahoney located a painting of an old blacksmith shop in Greenport a customer wanted. "It was [of] her grandfather's blacksmith shop, and she ended up buying it," Mahoney said. "I love that there's so much history in the guild and in the art."
Other connections, too, show the wide community the artists have built. Peter Kreppein, 29, of Cutchogue, built the guild's online store and helped it shift to using bar code scans for sales and inventory.
Kreppein, who has an IT background, is the grandson of honorary member Anna Engelhardt. He got his start with the guild when he was 14, helping check out customers as he fulfilled some of his grandmother's volunteer obligation. When the guild reopened for the season this year and he came to do computer work, he also brought along some of her crafts for the display floor.
"It's been a good learning experience for me, working in a nonprofit setting and learning how to build an e-commerce site. It's been a tremendous learning opportunity."
Plan your visit
The Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild (28265 Main Rd., Cutchogue; 631-734-6382; oldtownartsguild.org; email@example.com) is open noon to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Christmas. Its new online store, which features different items than the guild shop, is at oldtownguild.org.
Upcoming outdoor events:
- June 5: Fine Art & Crafts Fair (rain date June 6)
- June 26: Antiques and fine art sale (rain date June 27)
- July 10: Fine Art & Crafts Fair (rain date July 11)
- July 17 and 18: Christmas in July sale, featuring holiday items
- July 24 and 25: Antiques, Fine Art & Craft Fair on the Southold Historical Society grounds on Main Road and Maple Lane.
Check the website for event hours and pop-up events.
— Kay Blough
The art of community
Other arts organizations across Long Island committed to encouragement, support and advancing appreciation for the fine arts, visual arts and the crafts movement include:
- The Art Guild of Port Washington, 200 Port Washington Blvd., Manhasset; 516-304-5797; firstname.lastname@example.org; theartguild.org. The guild is resuming some in-person classes and will be open for two upcoming exhibits. “Flower Power runs” until May 22; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. A Members Showcase runs from June 4 to July 10. Check website for updated information.
- Long Island Craft Guild, P.O. Box 1443, Melville; 516-350-8984; email@example.com; licg.org. The group now meets online via Zoom. An exhibit, “The Current Climate,” is online. Members hold meetings and workshops via Zoom and hope to resume meetings at the Syosset Public Library when permitted.
- Art League of Long Island, 107 E. Deer Park Rd, Dix Hills; 631-462-5400; firstname.lastname@example.org; artleagueli.org. The league is offering a limited number of in-person classes in its socially distanced studios, along with virtual art classes via Zoom. The Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery is temporarily closed.
- Art League of Nassau County, 917-972-4706; artleagueofnc.org; email@example.com. It offers monthly virtual demonstrations and is running its spring virtual exhibition online at artleagueofnc.org/spring-virtual. The league’s exhibit space at the Clinton G. Martin Community Center in New Hyde Park, is closed until further notice.