Artist Harry Schnepf, known across Long Island for his painted beach scenes and lighthouse portraits, is crafting some of his most painstaking work literally for the birds.
Commissioned portraits of houses have boomed in popularity in recent years, he said, and lately, an even more unique spin on Long Island home-themed art has emerged: replicas of the residences, made to scale and crafted into birdhouses. Prices start at $500.
When he is not recreating images of the famous Montauk Lighthouse, cresting waves or Long Island beaches, Schnepf is poring over photographs of local homes and scoping out the houses on Google maps. Sometimes he studies the residences in person to fully grasp their every nuance.
“I’m a detail guy,” Schnepf said. “The really small stuff I add to it is amazing: windows, little lights and flowers.”
Schnepf, 68, of Bayport, has dabbled in art since he was a child — back when he said he got “in trouble for drawing on my desk as a kid in Catholic school.” But it was not until the past decade that he buckled down and grew serious about his craft. He said when he is finished with his sales job, he spends close to 40 hours a week painting scenes of South Shore communities that he sells in shops and galleries across Long Island.
Schnepf’s avian artisan adventures started when Kenneth Woodhouse, 56, of Cherry Grove, found himself stumped on a present for his mother in 2019. Over the years of celebrating birthdays and holidays, he had exhausted his inventory of gift ideas. Woodhouse had seen custom birdhouse replicas of Long Island homes, but most makers were out of state and charged at least $1,200 for the work, he said.
Woodhouse turned to Facebook in hopes of finding a local artist. And that’s when Harry met Kenneth.
Working in secret for weeks, Schnepf made a smaller version of Woodhouse’s mother’s Wantagh home. The birdhouses take close to 70 hours of work, if not more, Schnepf said. He said he cannot create them in the summer because he is too bogged down painting Long Island imagery, his bread and butter as an artist.
Upon seeing her yellow Craftsman-style home, complete with a bird entrance through the chimney, a miniature wreath on the front door and a tiny mailbox, Woodhouse said tears filled his mother’s eyes.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” Woodhouse said. “The color, the dimensions, everything was absolutely spot-on perfect.”
Similarly, Chris Valenti, 52, a Bayport native who lives in Los Angeles, sought a unique gift for his friend after staying on his Patchogue houseboat in the early days of the pandemic. After perusing The Catbird Seat art gallery in Sayville, Valenti said he landed on one of Schnepf’s birdhouses. When it arrived in Los Angeles months later, he and his friend were stunned.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was so detailed and just gorgeous,” Valenti said of the double-decker boathouse model, which included a flagpole and sliding door. “It gives you goose bumps.”
Artist Harry Schnepf sells his work in stores and galleries across the South Shore and Montauk, including at the Montauk Lighthouse gift shop. He said his most popular works are scenes of Long Island beaches, but in recent years, clients have commissioned him to make birdhouse replicas of Long Island homes. Prices start at $500.