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East Hampton to spend $850G restoring studio of Pollock pals

East Hampton Town purchased the former studio of

East Hampton Town purchased the former studio of abstract expressionist artists James Brooks and Charlotte Park for $1.1 million in 2013. The nonprofit Peconic Historic Preservation Inc. will oversee the use of the property. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Springs home and studio of prominent midcentury artists James Brooks and Charlotte Park — contemporaries and close friends of Jackson Pollock — will be the latest location preserved to honor the abstract expressionist movement’s history in the hamlet.

East Hampton Town, which acquired the property in 2013 for $1.1 million, has allocated $850,000 for restoration work in 2018, though proposals for the project could come in higher, town land acquisition and management director Scott Wilson said at a Feb. 1 town board meeting. Plans call for restoring three buildings — the house, Brooks’ studio and Park’s studio — all located on the 11-acre property, and opening the space for tours and public events.

“It’s such an important part of the history of this region,” said Alicia Longwell, a curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, which was gifted 89 works by Brooks and Park in 2017. “When you see how the artists lived . . . it makes them very real. It’s a better way to understand how they approached art and how they lived their lives.”

Brooks and Park moved to an old Montauk fisherman’s cottage in 1949 at the insistence of Pollock. Hurricane Carol destroyed the studio on the property in 1954, and in 1957 they moved their house and a guest cottage via barge to its current location on Neck Path. Brooks lived there until his death in 1992 and Park until her death in 2010.

Like Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, their art was heavily influenced by the coastal environment.

“These two couples are kind of joined at the hip in history,” said Robert Strada, executive director of Peconic Historic Preservation Inc., the nonprofit that will run the site.

Peconic Historic Preservation Inc. also manages the house and studio of abstract artist John Little at Duck Creek Farm on nearby Squaw Road. That property opened to the public in 2017.

Brooks completed his light-filled studio, an 18-foot-tall industrial-style structure made of transite panels and aluminum siding, in 1958. He designed and helped build the structure, which features a unique sawtooth skylight sitting atop the wall.

“He brought his madness to life,” Strada said of the building. “This is brilliant.”

Like Pollock, Brooks didn’t use an easel and painted on the floor. He was known for painting on unprimed canvas and would let the paint seep through and sometimes use the back of the painting as his template.

Inside the house, nails still protrude from the wall where Brooks would tack up his latest paintings and ask other artists for feedback.

Both the Brooks-Park and Little properties were purchased with funding from the Community Preservation Fund, which uses a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers in the five East End towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold to preserve open space and historic properties.

New York School painters who lived in Springs

  • Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

The abstract expressionist movement’s most noted artist, Pollock, along with his wife, the artist Lee Krasner, moved to Springs in 1946 and lived there for the rest of their lives.

  • Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Moved to Springs full time in 1963. He said the light and landscape of the East End reminded him of his native Holland.

  • John Little (1907-1984)

Moved to Springs in 1951 and made his studio out of a converted barn. That studio, at Duck Creek Farm, opened to the public in 2017.

  • Ibram Lassaw (1913-2003)

An artist and founding member of the Club, an informal discussion group of avant-garde artists that developed from gatherings at Lassaw’s New York City studio. He lived in his Springs home until his death.

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