Saturday, August 2, 2014

WELLESLEY '66 | Visit to LongHouse, East Hampton

Seven Members of the Wellesley Class of 1966, plus escort,
before Peter's Pond (#16 on map). L to R: Roschel Holland
Stearns, Sally Swigert Hamilton, [John Tepper Marlin,] Alice
Tepper Marlin, Susan Rittenhouse, Joan Hass, Robin Reisig,
Hannah McClennan. Photo by James Zajac. Note blue sky.
On July 31 I was proud to accompany a group of seven Wellesley alumnae, Class of 1966, visiting LongHouse Reserve.

It was my second visit, and a much more interesting one than the first. One reason is that this time the visit was made with a docent to tell us the many stories of each part of LongHouse.

Our docent, James Zajac, was exceptionally well informed - not so surprising, perhaps, if you know that he is also a Trustee of the foundation.

The venue was well chosen for the purposes of a mini-reunion. This was one of several Wellesley mini-reunions in the run-up to the class's 50th Reunion in 2015-2016.

James Zajac, our Docent
and a LongHouse Trustee.
The combination of imaginative landscaping, startling sculptures and endlessly changing varieties of perennial plantings added up to a great setting for renewing friendships and making new friends.

The 16 acres of parkland in Northwest Woods, East Hampton are located 0.7 of a mile from Cedar Street, at 133 Hands Creek Road. It was acquired by Jack Lenor Larsen, famed textile designer and collector, in 1970.

The Gateway Bell (#4). Susan Ritten-
house '66 wields the Docent's mallet.
The Gateway Bell by Toshiko Takaezu (next to #4 on the map) is the first sculpture you see after entering. The docent provided a mallet and we were allowed to announce our arrival.

Professor Takaezu was named a Japanese "national treasure" for her work with ceramics before she went to Princeton to teach in Visual Arts for 25 years. She died at the lucky (in Asia) age of 88 in 2011. She won Princeton's three highest awards in the humanities, and an honorary doctorate. One of her students was Brooke Shields, who complied with the course requirement that ceramics students had to keep their nails short.

Peter's Pond (#16), Ground Level.
Peter's Pond (#16) can be thought of as the center of LongHouse. It dominates the view from the large terrace on the second floor of the main house, and also the view at the ground level, anchored by a large stone bird bath.

On the LongHouse map, Peter's Pond is shown in blue but in fact it is almost entirely covered by lily pads and other green plants. The view we had of the pond at ground level is shown at right.

Alice Tepper Marlin '66 looks at our
docent who appears giant-like
in the Red Garden (#17).
The Red Garden (#17) is so called because it has red flowers and red posts. The posts are carefully sized (height, circumference, interval distance) to give the illusion of greater depth. The posts that are farther away look as though they are farther away than they really are, so that as people walk toward them they appear to have been eating some kind of mushroom that makes them grow into giants.

The photo at left captures the effect, but it would be clearer with 3D or with multiple photos showing the change in size as a person walks toward the smaller posts.

Among the sculptures, the story behind Yoko Ono's colors-be-damned life-size Chess Set (#26) was particularly inspiring once the story behind it emerges like Brigadoon from the mist.

If you look at the photo, note there are no black pieces and no black squares on the chess board.

The Yoko Ono Chess Set (#26) is about half the size of a tennis court.
Why no black pieces? Why no black squares? Did the paint wear off??
At first it looks like a mistake or an unfinished installation. Or maybe the black paint has worn off in the 15 years since the sculpture was installed. The docent patiently waits for the penny to drop among the mystified tour members. The sculpture has more impact when the viewer has spent time puzzling over it.

It turns out that the lack of black lacquer on half of the pieces, the lack of black paint on half of the squares... is the point of the sculpture.

Yoko Ono is hammering home the point that war is about establishing identities and territories and then fighting over them.

As soon as we recognize that walk under many different colors - we have many IDs - we can deal with attempts to dehumanize other people based on a single ID that they share.

As soon as we understand that we can share our square, peace is possible.

Easier said than done, but... Imagine.

(Losing the colors, by the way, also happens to be an effective way of waging war by the defenders. If the defenders are out of sight or hard to identify, the attackers don't know what to do. That's what Edward II and Edward III found out when they tried to attack Robert the Bruce's Scotland. The outnumbered Scottish defenders under the "Good Sir James Douglas", as he is known on the Scottish side of the border, melted into the woods. They pursued what they called a "secret war". The musclebound American military machine has been subject to the same quandary in the face of a guerrilla or terrorist enemy that has a hidden identity. Where do we go to punish those responsible if we don't know who they are? Do we "round up the usual suspects"?)

Torii-like Sculpture in front of Peter's Pond (#16), viewed
from the terrace of the Pavilion (#34).
The group was privileged to be allowed inside the main house (#36). The house's architecture was inspired by the remarkably sustainable 7th Century Jingū (神宮) the Ise Jingū Grand Shrine in Ise, Japan, which I visited in 1986. The ancestral Shinto shrine, the equivalent in Japan to St. Peter's for Roman Catholics, is built to last 20 years.

It takes 20 years for a permanently employed family of artisans to build the shrine's replacement. Then the 20-year-old shrine is is torn down, and a new one is started with wood that comes from trees that were specially planted in the sacred imperial woods to mature at the time they are needed.

Features of a Torii.
We were not permitted to take photos of the interior of the Pavilion (#34), but I was allowed to take a photo of Peter's Pond from the large terrace. It shows the torii-like effect of the two sculptures at that end of the pond.

As one would expect of a famed collector of fabrics, the house has an unusual collection of interesting fabrics - and also ceramics, furniture and other objects.

The map of LongHouse sculptures and sites, available at the entrance (#3).
For those have not arranged a docent-guided tour in advance, LongHouse offers a Dial-In Docent. The OnCell guided tour is actually narrated by LongHouse Founder Jack Lenor Larsen. It can be accessed at any time by calling 631-604-7110.

The Dial-In Docent, available 24/7.
Call the number and instructions for use are provided. Stories about each of the sculptures and other features of LongHouse can be listened to via cell phone.

Each story is linked to the number posted at the site, in front of the  sculpture or other feature.

For those who are sufficiently expert in cell-phone technology, a bar code is provided at each site that can be read by the phone and will take you directly to the right point in the Dial-In Docent's repertoire.

There were countless different forms of seating, most of which could be utilized for a break in the walk. There is a rest room at the entrance (#3), to which one can return if necessary during one's visit.

Don't miss this gem of a place. It is rated by Trip Advisor as the #1 attraction in East Hampton - but then the Ocean is not included in the rating (Main Beach is, and ranks below LongHouse).


I hope to be around for the 50th Reunion of the Wellesley Class of 1966 in mid-2016.

Here's a photo at right of the head of the parade at the last Wellesley Reunion I went to.

Note the two flamingoes near the center of the photo. There is a long story explaining why the flamingo is the class mascot.