Artist Jerelyn Hanrahan of Oyster Bay, second from left, is...

Artist Jerelyn Hanrahan of Oyster Bay, second from left, is flanked by her construction team of John Lancia, far left, Nicholas Pereira (black shirt), and Matt Oleanik. (Oct. 5, 2011) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Two years ago, sculptor Jerelyn Hanrahan had a strand of an idea: to create a community pearl, literally and figuratively, for Oyster Bay.

She stood at a work site last week, having nearly reached her goal. Twenty-one cement spheres, some nearly a half-ton and three feet tall, will form one of the more ambitious public art projects in the town -- a 40-foot "string of pearls," doubling as benches, along the beach at Theodore Roosevelt Park. Installation is expected in time for the annual Oyster Festival Saturday and Sunday.

"This belongs in Oyster Bay," said Hanrahan, who runs Atelier Fine Arts Studio on East Main Street in Oyster Bay hamlet. "The art world is a little insular. Here you reach a broader audience."

Each sphere is being finished with pearl paint, to be linked with a chain to create an oversized necklace. The pearls, weighing 200 to 850 pounds, will be trucked to the park Tuesday and secured in a figure-eight formation.

The Town of Oyster Bay has agreed to display the project through Nov. 1, spokesman Brian Devine said. Finding a location was difficult because of park renovations, he said.

"But we thought it was an interesting project that would sync up pretty well with Oyster Fest," Devine said. "It becomes one of those destinations. It's not every day you see a 40-foot string of pearls."

If the project, titled "Graduated Pearls," must move in November, Hanrahan said she'll sell it to a commercial broker, perhaps for display in an office lobby or shopping mall.

But her preference is for the string of pearls to remain part of Oyster Bay. The $100,000 in materials and craftsmen labor needed to create the necklace were donated. Oyster Bay Main Street Association provided undisclosed "seed money," director Isaac Kremer said.

"It supports the emerging arts scene in Oyster Bay," he said, noting various studios and galleries that have recently opened. "This can really get us on the arts and culture map."

Hanrahan, who lectures at Nassau Community College and the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, grew up in Oyster Bay. She returned 10 years ago after working as an artist in New York City and Europe.

She has displayed public art projects in Manhattan, Toronto and Switzerland. But with the pearls, she said she wanted to make a small-town connection.

She asked residents to vote for their best local merchants and named the top 19 a "Pearl of Oyster Bay" with each sphere representing a community favorite.

Construction delays and rain slowed her progress, but Hanrahan said she's satisfied with what the necklace has become.

"It really did become a community project," she said.

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