From her studio perched on a bluff in Peconic, artist Wendy Prellwitz draws inspiration from the ethereal light dancing off the waters below.
The studio, a family heirloom, is where her great-grandfather painted. Her great-grandparents, Henry and Edith Mitchill Prellwitz, came to Southold in 1911, joining a group of artists painting land and seascapes known as the Peconic Art Colony.
Nicknamed High House, the property, which includes an 1812 home and a pair of studios built by the Prellwitzes in the early 20th century, will take on added significance after Southold voted 6-0 on Aug. 29 to add the property to its list of local landmarks. The designation protects the landmark's historic character, requiring permission from the town's Historic Preservation Commission before alterations or demolitions are done.
An architect who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, Wendy Prellwitz, 73, said she pursued landmark status because of the home’s historical and cultural history.
HIGH HOUSE HISTORY
- The home was originally built in Aquebogue by Joshua Wells in 1812.
- The late art historian Ronald G. Pisano is credited with coining the term “Peconic Art Colony.”
- Two of Edith’s paintings can be seen in the American wing at the Met. The first is a landscape titled “Moonlight” and the other is “The Elevated,” an oil painting that fuses an industrial scene with the Impressionist style.
- Both of their paintings can be viewed at the Southold Historical Museum.
The Dutch Colonial once stood on Main Road in Aquebogue and caught the eye of Henry Prellwitz a century later. Board by board, it was taken down and transported by boat to the property on Indian Neck Lane in Peconic.
“We landmark older buildings so they don’t disappear,” Prellwitz said on a recent tour of the property, adding it would be “a shame” if a future owner razed the historic home.
Prellwitz also aims to preserve the history of the Peconic Art Colony artists, whose members included Edward August Bell, Benjamin Rutherford Fitz and Irving Ramsey Wiles, noted turn of the 20th-century artists who exhibited their work from New York City to the East End.
“They transformed the region through their teaching and leadership, helping to shape the next generation of local artists that followed them,” said Geoffrey Fleming, who served as director of the Southold Historical Museum from 2003 to 2015 and now leads the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia.
Henry and Edith both studied at the Art Students League of New York and met as working artists in Manhattan, Wendy Prellwitz said.
When they died — Henry in 1940 and Edith in 1944 — their collection of more than 300 paintings was left to the family. Wendy Prellwitz began photographing the works in the 1980s, with some ultimately sold to collectors, displayed publicly and donated to the Southold Historical Museum.
Three Prellwitz paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections and two of Edith’s — "Moonlight" and "The Elevated" are on display in the American wing of the museum.
Fleming said their studios are among the last remaining “from an era when the North Fork was teeming” with important artists.
With an eye toward the future, Prellwitz may also pursue an application to include the property on the National Register of Historic Places, which raises public awareness and also increases eligibility for federal grants to maintain historic structures.
Terry Wallace, executive director at the Gardiner Mill Cottage Gallery in East Hampton who has written two books on North Fork art history, said he’s grateful for Wendy’s preservation efforts. “Otherwise, these artists are going to be forgotten about,” he said.
Today, Wendy Prellwitz paints from the same light-filled studio her great-grandfather once did. Her work leans more abstract than her ancestors, but, thanks to preservation efforts, is influenced by the same rural views and memories of quiet summers spent out east.
“I never met them,” Prellwitz said. “But their spirits are here.”