Artists have flocked to or settled down in Bellport Village for its picturesque views and laid back culture since as early as the late 1890s. Frederick Kost, Walter Granville-Smith and William Glackens were just a few of the most famous artists drawn to the seaside community.
“The light reflecting off the bay was just so wonderful that it was one of the many reasons famous artists were drawn to Bellport,” said Anna Lou Fletcher, president of the Brookhaven-Bellport Historical Society.
Residents today still flock to the arts, whether listening to live music nearly every night of the week, browsing local art galleries, or sketching a model at the village’s community center or scenic views from the marina.
At the turn of the century, Bellport was a destination for city socialites like actors, artists, writers and poets, said Thomas Schultz, chief curator of Gallery 125, an art gallery at the corner of Bellport Lane and South Country Road.
“Artistry thrived in Bellport and still does,” said Schultz, 47, of Bellport. “Some of the most famous artists came here to get away from the big city and find inspiration in Bellport.”
Schultz, who is currently showcasing local Tim Hoffman’s artwork at the gallery until Saturday, said Bellport has been called “Hampton-esque” without the pretentiousness.
With classical music playing, retired art teacher Kathy Wayman, a member of the South Bay Art Association, spends her Tuesday mornings sketching and painting at the community center in Bellport. She’s part of a rotating group of amateur artists who have met there weekly for the past 30 years.
When weather allows, the group moves outdoors within the village to allow for plein air sketching.
"We learn by doing and learn from each other,” said Wayman, of Blue Point. “I’ve always loved to draw and this gives me the opportunity to practice what I know.”
Another sketcher, Ann Wiswall, said the sketch group has proved to be a draw for art enthusiasts from outside of Bellport, as well.
"Some local artists do come by to help sometimes" she said. "We just love drawing with each other. It brings communities together. Ladies from Sayville, Ronkonkoma, Patchogue and Bellport come together to practice their artistic talents."
The music scene in Bellport is equally as strong as the visual arts. Weekly, from Wednesdays and into the weekend, there is live music at Avino’s, Basil, Porters on the Lane, The Bellport restaurant, and Café Castello. Bellport’s bandshell summer concert series at the village marina kicks off on June 28.
Taylor Alonso, co-owner and chef of The Bellport restaurant, has been holding Thursday-night jam sessions there for 12 years.
"Sometimes 25 local musicians show up to jam together," said Alonso, 60, of Bellport. "It's gone from being an unusual thing to the norm. It seems every place in Bellport has live music. We like showcasing Bellport's musical talents."
East of the center of the village, on South Country Road, there’s the Gateway Playhouse, a theater that started in a barn in 1941 as a local alternative to Broadway. A young Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman performed there.
Paul Allen, managing producer and member of the Suffolk County Arts Advisory Board, said the 500-seat theater brings thousands of people to Bellport each week during the summer months.
"There is indeed a strong artistic vibe found here,” he said. “We’re privileged to bring Broadway to Bellport, while continuing the rich artistic heritage found within our area.”
Schultz said a love of the arts has become characteristic of Bellport.
“We have a sleepy little village, but our locals are stimulated by the music and artistry that’s remained here over the years,” said Schultz. “In my opinion, Bellport is the art capital of Long Island."