Polygala cruciata, or drumheads, from Suffolk County Historical Society
The Peconic River — once a pristine stream flowing through Riverhead, now an endangered estuary — is the theme running through “Cross Pollination: An Artistic Collaboration,” a three-venue series of separate but related exhibits that open this weekend. The shows are curated by Suffolk County Historical Society, East End Arts Council and Art Sites gallery, all in Riverhead.
“Interpretive Flora,” at the historical society, features digital images reproduced from color slides that are part of the museum’s Oren Ryker Collection. Contemporary botanical-inspired works by EEAC artist members, selected by gallery director Jane Kirkwood, are also on view here.
More works by these artists are featured in a combined juried and invitational event titled “Botanicals” at EEAC.
The third show, “Peconic Exploration,” at Art Sites, is the first exhibition done under the aegis and in support of Peconic Green Growth, a fledging not-for-profit founded last year by Art Sites director Glynis Berry, Larry Simms and Tom Carson. Ms. Berry, who imagines the river restored to its natural beauty, conceived the organization to promote the river as a vibrant, recreational community asset.
“Art can help people rediscover the beauty in nature and is a way to encourage a dialogue with the public,” Ms. Berry said.
Dialogue is also much on the mind of SCHS exhibition and public program coordinator Kathryn Curran. “We want to use our collection to engage the public in a way that brings history alive in a contemporary manner,” she explained. Director Wally Broege says, “The society has been a sleepy organization known in history circles but, till now, not in art and community circles.” With more than 18,000 objects in its collection, the organization has a new, evolving vision to make the museum a historical and cultural nexus for Suffolk County.
The Oren Ryker Collection is the linchpin for this vision. It consists of 236 Ektachrome transparencies that the photographer took along the shores of the Peconic River. Each small glass square is like a miniature painting, a dazzling jewel that preserves a different species of wildflower.
Mr. Ryker, born in Parsons, Kan., in 1900, moved to Riverhead with his wife, Mignon, in 1928. An accountant who, at age 60, channeled his love of nature into photography, he befriended noted botanical photographer Samuel Gottsho (1875-1971); the two spent countless hours canoeing and taking pictures along the Peconic River.
Mr. Ryker fastidiously documented his images, referencing each of his slides to the authoritative identification source, New Britton and Brown. His copy of this book and his camera are in the exhibit.
Unfortunately, only eight transparencies are on display, but the few shown as digital reproductions suggest an abundance of glorious blooms: curry-colored sunflowers, royal purple grape hyacinths and cranberry-hued carnivorous side-saddle flowers, to name just a few. But the significance of the Ryker collection goes beyond beauty. Locked within each fragile square of glass is an equally fragile bit of nature, a visual fragment of a landscape that used to be.
Mr. Broege says he has plans for a second, more comprehensive exhibit of Mr. Ryker’s collection, one that will encompass a history of the Peconic River and provide some insight into an environment seriously altered by development and chemical pollutants.
Art Sites’ “Peconic Exploration” is a conceptual exhibition that reflects the interaction between art and science. It includes art that specifically references the river, done by artists who actively engage the urgency that nature as subject matter holds for this millennium. Each work possesses a unique aesthetic and carries a message about the endangered resource flowing just yards away from the gallery.
Conrad Obregon has discovered isolated sections of the Peconic that have managed to escape human intrusion. His “Peconic Panoramic” series features 56-inch-wide photographs of the river, the same spot photographed in different seasons. Edward Batcheller uses site-specific natural vegetation — leaves, grasses and crustacean forms — to create solar images, sometimes by using the light of the moon. Andrea Cote’s paintings are made with river water, and Bob Braine and Leslie Reed take photographs of the river floor through the transparent bottom of a boat they built for this purpose.
The art exhibited in the “Interpretive Flora” show wanders off the shores of the river, instead offering artists’ personal interpretations of flowers. Works run the gamut, from enormous floral oil paintings by Jennifer Ribbe and small intimate still-life arrangements by Lucille Berrill Paulsen and Vera Mingovits to an assortment of crafts: pressed flower arrangements by Hazel Kahan, woven sculptural flowers by Ellen Dickinson and tapestries made of recycled textiles by Abby Vakay. The companion works that appear in the juried “Botanicals” exhibition at EEAC had not been selected at the time of this writing.
The cooperative spirit of this joint endeavor points in a refreshing new direction. Such collaborations are enlivening, with art becoming an active part of life. It’s fun. And most important, it renews our focus on the need to save a river and its life-giving resources.
As they say: “It takes a village.”
‘CROSS POLLINATION: AN
On view April 23-June 4. Opens Friday, April 23, 5-8 p.m., with free trolley rides offered between the three venues.
Suffolk County Historical Society
300 W. Main St., Riverhead
Vintage botanicals from the Oren Ryker Collection, with related works by East End Arts Council artists Ellen Dickinson, Hazel Kahan, Roberta LaRosa, Vera Mingovits, Lucille Berrill Paulsen, Jennifer Ribbe and Abby Vakay.
East End Arts Council
133 E. Main St., Riverhead
All-media juried art show judged by Rick Friedman, president of ArtHamptons. In project room: sampling of artwork from Suffolk County Historical Society’s invitational show, curated by EEAC.
651 W. Main St., Riverhead
Featuring work by Ed Batcheller, Bob Braine and Leslie Reed, Darlene Charneco, Andrea Cote, Dawn Lee, Conrad Obregon, Marianne Weil, Ellen Wiener and John Wissemann.