1999-09-25 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance

by Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway is not just another pretty face. There are treasures to be found here above and beyond the ordinary fare of a pleasant seaside community. Thanks to Denis Macrae’s program of tours of Rockaway, this fact is becoming evident to more and more people. The latest tour, this past Sunday, took us from 88 street to water’s edge at the east end, exposing us along the way to pleasures both contemporary and timeless.

Housed in the Wave building at 88 street is the Rockaway Museum, where is displayed memorabilia from and information about the fascinating history of this area. Museum docent Charlotte Avin showed us the present exhibit of items relating to Rockaway’s Playland amusement park, including postcards, artwork and the park’s clown logo.

Next, Susan Locke generously showed us her pottery studio. She gave us a demonstration of the art of pottery making, discussing such techniques as glazing and firing. Susan produces beautiful functional pottery such as cups, bowls and casseroles. If you wish to see her lovely work, stop by the Wave building. Just give her a call first.

Russell Sage was one of the many rich and famous who once had a luxurious summer home in this area around the turn of the century. He and his family were members of the local First Presbyterian Church. After Sage’s death, his wife built a new church, in a new location in Far Rockaway, as a memorial to her husband. Gracing the front of this mini-cathedral, which is part of the Russell Sage Memorial, is the extraordinary stained glass window created for it by that master artist/craftsman, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Believe me. You may read about the window, you may see pictures of it. But you won’t fully appreciate it until you experience it "in the flesh." It is one of Tiffany’s greatest works of art. On this day, imparting his insight and vast knowledge of all things "glassic", was Patrick Clark. A Rockaway treasure himself, Clark is a stained glass artist who has been entrusted with restoring windows in such venues as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He also creates new works of stained glass for various and sundry millionaires. Clark discussed not only the history of the window, but also the factors which made this artist and, therefore, this work, so special. Patrick spoke of the essential combination of Tiffany’s great passion and Mrs. Sage’s generous resources, which made possible this unique creation. The window is made primarily of opalescent glass, which Tiffany was able to produce in his own glass factory. Tiffany was one of the developers of this new, milky glass. Unusual because it is a landscape window, not a religious one, it nonetheless carries a religious metaphor. The tree, a symbol of life, is reaching toward the sky in a gesture of prayer. Prayer brings the individual into the presence of God. In parallel, light passing through the window is a symbol of Christ passing through us. This glorious work breathes, like a painting. Its creator uses pieces of glass like brushstrokes. Of note, Clark theorizes that the marshland seen in the background is Jamaica Bay. A landscape window of this size was unusual and possible only because of the monetary resources behind it. See this masterpiece, sometime, for yourself.

Almost Paradise Dive Center, where 24 diving schools hold classes and where unusual creatures such as coral reef fish ride up on the Gulf Stream, was our penultimate stop. Sitting on the beach across from Atlantic Beach, you can have a bite to eat while enjoying the scenery.

Our journey ended at Mott House, a beautiful artist’s cottage built around 1880, by the wealthy Mott family. It was used by son Richard Mott, an artist whose paintings of the bay fill the wall panels. Looking out over the water to Manhattan, the house is uniquely suited to what owner Patrick Clark envisions for it. He wishes to restore the house, preserve it, and use it as a workshop and education center. Through a city contract, children could be taught about the interconnections among art, the surrounding marine environment and local history.

Thank you Denis, Patrick and all involved for reminding us of what a special place in which we live. We look forward to the next tour.

Sunday, October 17, the Broad Channel Historical Society will hold its fifth annual exhibition of historical material. The event will be held at the VFW Hall between noon and 5 p.m. Artists interested in displaying paintings or photographs of Broad Channel and Jamaica Bay, call Mrs. A.F. Toborg of Broad Channel, as soon as possible.

Geoff Rawling is doing a mural on canvas with children at this weekend’s RMAC festival. He’ll be there Saturday and Sunday, at the fence in front of the bathhouse, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Any children who wish to participate, just show up.

Just show up here, next week. I’ll be sure to come, too.


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