East End Lighthouses

Montauk Point Lighthouse,pencil on collage, 30″x24″, private collection

In the summer of 2000 I was drawing the lighthouse from the parking lot at Montauk Point, a great view to set up and work. I’d gotten used to working on location, dealing with wind, rain or blistering sun and people coming over to watch and ask intuitive or sometimes simply dumb questions like, “Are you painting?” I’ve been working outside painting for a few years, dragging my folding easel and paints around with me wherever I’d go. A friend from Texas, Jim Gingrich got me interested. It’s something I still enjoy today, a great way to get way from the studio and focus. This day I was a working on a drawing of the Montauk lighthouse superimposed over a chart of Montauk. Two gentlemen approached and after watching a few minutes as I worked they politely introduced themselves as members of the Montauk Historical Society which oversees the museum and grounds of the lighthouse. They were volunteers that day and complimented me on the drawing. One asked if I ever thought about making a poster of the drawing. He said it would make a nice item in their gift shop. It wasn’t my idea but I’d been thinking about doing a poster for a while. A patron David Lines in Bermuda had asked the same question. Gary Kephart a longtime friend had encouraged me to do the same. So I asked them if they thought it would sell. One of them replied, “We have over 100,000 visitors a year the lighthouse. If you reached ½ of 1% you’d do pretty well”. That was enough to convince me. I had a thousand printed along with some smaller prints and cards. Since then the gift shop at the lighthouse has literally sold thousands of posters. To my surprise the cards and small prints did even better. I thought if the idea worked for Montauk could it work for others? Yes and no. I’ve learned it depends on how the vendor markets them. Fire Island Lighthouse just 60 miles west on Long Island has over 100,000 visitors each summer and they can’t sell them. But then they don’t really try. Montauk sells more Fire Island that Fire Island does.  As they say on Long Island, “Go Figya”. The idea for doing posters and prints started at the Montauk Point Lighthouse and since turned into an accidental business. I admit it’s a nice feeling to reach an audience with my work who can only afford a poster. They still get a nice piece of art. Not many people can buy a painting for $5-10K or more. Winter is a good time to work on these drawings. They take 40-50 hours to do, sometimes longer. When it’s too cold to go out and I just want to sit by the wood stove and keep warm I roll the drawing table over and work. And I’m always working on a new one. Sadly I’ve turned into a lighthouse nerd. I’ve been to lighthouses from coast to coast just to stand and be amazed by their beauty and history. Believe it or not I know some people right here in Bridgehampton who have never been to the lighthouse in Montauk. I bet I’ve climbed to the top 50 times. One spring I delivered an order to their gift shop and asked if I could climb the 109 steps to the tower. I sat up there for an hour and worked on a sketch. Not your typical day at the office.

Pencil drawing from a sketchbook, 14″x11″

The lighthouse prints are listed in the Gallery section of the site under Lighthouses and in the Store.

Cedar Island Lighthouse is another nearby favorite. It lies between the North and South Fork of Long Island at the entrance to Northwest Harbor as you are coming into Sag Harbor from the east. It used to be on an Island by itself but the hurricane of 1938 created a sand bar between the island and the mainland. You can walk to this lighthouse from Cedar Point County Park. My drawing tries to be a rendition of what it used to look like. Today the lighthouse is in a long process of being restored by Friends of the Cedar Island Lighthouse. I’ve been on the board of this organization for ten years, are stewards of the Lighthouse. The lighthouse is on the property of Suffolk County Park and owned by the County. It will take over $5M to complete. The County recently allocated $500,000 to start and has already spent $200K on the architect and engineering. We hope to do some fundraising on our own. Until 1974 it was privately owned and then given to the County. It was vandalized and later the windows were bricked in and the metal door to the entrance was set in place. At the time of construction in 1868 they used straw as insulation between the inner and outer wall. When the metal door was welded shut it is thought that a welder’s spark caught the straw insulation on fire which completely gutted the interior that was once all oak flooring, trim, cabinets, walls and ceiling. A roof was put on and the lighthouse has been in abandoned since. So far the Friends have restored the lantern room and we’re about to place it back on the tower. A new roof is next. You can find out more about our organization at cedarislandlighthouse.org.

Cedar Island Lighthouse, pencil on collage, 27″x32″, private collection

2018-05-18T15:47:58+00:00 April 26th, 2018|