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Keeping Time in Sag Harbor
This summer, the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum is proud to present an exhibition of photographs by Stephen Longmire. They are drawn from his book, Keeping Time in Sag Harbor, which the museum has sponsored in honor of Sag Harbor's 300th birthday.
Inspired by the example of a nineteenth-century Sag Harbor historian and photographer, William Wallace Tooker (1848-1917), Longmire, a North Haven resident, undertook a three-year photographic survey of the village's historic architecture and wrote the first history of its architectural preservation program. The book is a blend of photographs and text, including rare early views of Sag Harbor by Tooker and others, passages from prior books about the community by notable writers including James Fenimore Cooper and John Steinbeck, and interviews with contemporary residents. Keeping Time in Sag Harbor is a visual history of the village, told by its landmark buildings and the people who know them best.
The museum is offering members and friends a limited-edition hardback. Each copy is signed by the artist/author and contains a reproduction of the bookplate used by Henry Packer Dering, Sag Harbor's early customs collector. Contact the museum shop (631-725-0770) to reserve yours now. Softback copies of the book, which is published by the Center for American Places and distributed by the University of Chicago Press, will be in bookstores by early August.
A Tale of Two Photo Albums
In the 1880s, Tooker, who was Sag Harbor's pharmacist and archaeologist, made a series of photographs of the village's earliest buildings. He put them in an album and left it to the John Jermain Memorial Library. There it remains, a time capsule of Sag Harbor's first flush of historical consciousness. Today, Tooker's photographs look both ancient and current. They show long-vanished buildings such as the house on Brick Kiln Road that Col. Meigs raided during the Revolution and structures of the same era that remain, such as the "Umbrella House" on Division Street.
Tooker's Sag Harbor photographs show a place whose past had begun to overshadow its present. The port sent out its last whaleship in 1871, but the local fishery ceased to be profitable in the late 1840s. A textile mill, built in 1850, burned in 1879 amid rumors of arson, as the former boomtown fell on hard times. Joseph Fahys' watchcase factory helped turn the tide when it opened in 1881. This vast brick building only shows up in the background of one of Tooker's photos, as does another recent edifice, the Whalers' Church. Clearly these structures--key players in Longmire's pictures--had not yet acquired historical interest.
Keeping Time in Sag Harbor began when Longmire, a fine art photographer and writer, opened the time capsule of Tooker's photo album. He has added a new body of images of his own, using the village's historic buildings--and its photographic record--to tell the story of this venerable and fast-changing place at another crucial juncture in its history. Like Tooker, he treats both photographs and buildings as memory boxes for the stories that have made this place a home: first to whalers, then to watchmakers, and now to weekenders.
On several occasions, Longmire rephotographed Tooker's sites, using large-format equipment the earlier photographer might have recognized. Where such "before and after" pairings were possible, the two photographers have collaborated to picture the passage of time, not just a passing moment. They do so in spirit throughout the project, showing today's Sag Harbor through a historian's eyes. Longmire's pictures take a wry look at how the village wears its past. They will become a part of the community's visual archive, as the physical landmarks that are their subjects are rapidly rebuilt, in Sag Harbor's latest economic boom.
Please join Stephen Longmire for a tour of the exhibition on the third Saturday of each month (June 16, July 21, August 18 and September 15) at 3 pm
Stephen Longmire's photographs copyright 2007;