Column: The Florida-North Fork connection

12/15/2011 4:00 AM |

One of the sweet ironies of our winters in Florida is the extent to which our activities here are tied to our lives on the North Fork. (I suppose you can’t live and work in one place for 35 years without having that happen.)

The past two weeks offer a good example. On Friday, Dec. 2, we spent the day in Miami checking out the work of three artists with strong ties to the North Fork — sculptor Michael Combs of the legendary decoy-carving Combs family and artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov of Mattituck, whose “Ship of Tolerance” public art project had its latest unveiling at the Miami Children’s Museum.

Mr. Combs’ latest works — lifelike wall-mounted animal heads hand sewn out of what appear to be animal hides — are haunting and provocative. His stock has risen so high that the pieces we saw were priced beginning at $21,000. And he’s now represented by a gallery in New Orleans, a far piece from his North Fork roots.

The Kabakovs’ “Ship of Tolerance” is not for sale, as far as I know, but it caused quite a stir the day we were there. It’s a little hard to describe, so let me quote directly from their website:

“The mission of the Ship of Tolerance is to educate and connect youth of different continents, cultures, and identities through the language of art … It is a conceptual piece that is meant to reflect how divergent cultures interpret tolerance and how these interpretations overlap. The ship’s sails are stitched together from paintings by hundreds of local schoolchildren from different ethnic and social backgrounds, and will convey a message of tolerance and hope.” (Go to for additional information and images.)

According to an email we received from “Ship of Tolerance” sponsor and supporter former Greenport mayor David Kapell and his wife, Eileen, who invited us to the unveiling in Miami, the “Ship” has been “successfully executed in Siwa, Egypt; Venice, Italy; St. Moritz, Switzerland; and Sharja, United Arab Emirates. “Following the Miami installation, we will execute projects in Havana, Cuba, in May 2012 and Bronx, N.Y., in June 2012.” (Hey, what about the North Fork?)

Incidentally, the Kapells looked exceedingly fit and fashionable the night we saw them, and hizzoner didn’t disappoint when he took me aside for a quick briefing on the state of the Incorporated Village of Greenport. And I came away from it thinking: Why isn’t this guy still mayor? (He should be.)

The day after meeting up with the Kabakovs and Kapells in Miami, it was off to Florida’s Gulf Coast for a few days of camping at a state park with friends of ours from the North Fork — who shall remain nameless because one of them was playing “hooky.” Once again, our life in Florida was intertwined with our life on Long Island.

And it happens again this week, when we plan to have dinner down here with Jaap and Maryann Hilbrand, proprietors of The Doofpot on Main Street in Greenport and its companion Italian ceramics shop, Maryanna Suzanna on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

(One of the ironies of our dual citizenship is that sometimes it seems we have more time for that sort of thing — having dinner with old friends — down here than we do back home, where other obligations often take priority.)

So, then, you may ask: Have the Gustavsons considered moving permanently to South Florida? Short answer: no, never. As Ms. Dorothy Gale of Kansas and Oz has so often been quoted as saying: There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

True home, that is.

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