Art Exhibitions in the Spirit of John Little

A milestone in the property’s long history
Photographs from “Bonac: Letters From Home,” Tara Israel’s ongoing series documenting the people and landscapes of East Hampton, will be on view at the Arts Center at Duck Creek in July. Tara Israel

When the Arts Center at Duck Creek in Springs opens for the season on Saturday afternoon with an exhibition of paintings by Cile Downs in the barn and a show of outdoor sculpture, it will be a milestone in the property’s long history.

Purchased in 2006 by the Town of East Hampton with the community preservation fund, the seven-acre property lay dormant until 2013, when Pamela Bicket, Ira Barocas, Loring Bolger, Zachary Cohen, and Jess Frost formed the John Little Society and mounted an exhibition of work by Sydney Albertini in the barn.

Since then, the five have been deeply involved — “more deeply than we ever thought we would be,” according to Ms. Bolger — with renovating the barn and guiding the property from a site for several one-off exhibitions to its just-realized status as a nonprofit arts center with its first full summer of programming, made possible in part by grants from the HiLo Foundation in New York City and the Willem de KooningFoundation.

Ms. Downs has lived and worked on her property overlooking Accabonac Harbor in Springs since moving there from Iowa in 1954 with her husband, the painter Sterling Lord. “Accabonac Abstractions,” an exhibition of colorful paintings that reflect her reverence for nature and the landscape around her home, will run through June 24. A reception will take place Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Ms. Downs was a founder of the Accabonac Protection Committee. “She’s a big environmentalist,” said Ms. Bolger. “The protection committee was her baby. It has really taken on a life of its own, going from grass roots to 501(c)(3). When she passes, the town will inherit the property. It will live on beyond Cile.”

“Under the Sun: Outdoor Sculpture at Duck Creek,” which was organized by Ms. Bolger, will include work by Mary Antczak, Michael Chiarello, James DeMartis, Elaine Grove, Bill King, Bill Kiriazis, Dennis Leri, Mica Marder, Aurelio Torres, and Ted Tyler. 

Three other art exhibitions have been scheduled for the barn. “Bonac: Letters From Home,” photographs by Tara Israel, will run from June 30 through July 22. Jeremy Dennis will show photographs from his “Stories” series as part of the Parrish Road Show in August, and Soren Hope will present five large-scale figurative paintings in September.

Except for Ms. Downs, the artists were selected from proposals they submitted; application guidelines for future proposals can be found on the center’s website. “We are really trying to keep this a community space,” said Ms. Frost. “It’s a fair game, a level playing field. Our mission is to carry on the spirit of John Little, which is to make it a community space, with everything free and nonexclusive.”

“We have a loose structure at the moment,” said Ms. Bolger, “but in the future we’re hoping to put together an advisory board of community members. With luck we’ll have more proposals than we can possibly accept, and the board would then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Little was an abstract painter who, while visiting Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner at their house in Springs in 1948, bought seven acres of what was once the 130-acre homestead of the Edwards family dating to 1795. He renovated the farmhouse and bought a 19th-century barn from the Gardiner family that he moved to the site for his studio.

He became a permanent resident of Springs in 1951 and, in 1957, he founded the historically significant Signa Gallery in East Hampton with Alfonso Ossorio and Elizabeth Parker. A retrospective of his work was shown at Guild Hall in 1982, and he remained an important member of the East End art community until his death in 1984. 

Music for Montauk will present a concert for piano and strings in the barn during August, and the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center will hold its Lichtenstein Lecture Series in the barn on Sundays during July and August.

Dennis Leri Mark Segal