Letting the Community In on Preservation

Guests marveled at the land and buildings, which had been the house and studio of John Little, who was among those in the first wave of 20th century Abstract-Expressionists to discover Springs

   Sure, they may have been at the East Hampton Town-owned Duck Creek Farm near Three Mile Harbor to look at the art exhibited in a Parrish Art Museum Road Show on Saturday, but of equal and perhaps more long-lasting note was the reaction of many to the beautiful property itself.
    The event that evening was ostensibly for an installation by Sydney Albertini, a wildly inventive artist known for vaguely disturbing knit masks and body coverings. Her work was draw enough; easily more than 100 people milled about at any one time. But guests also marveled at the land and buildings, which had been the house and studio of John Little, who was among those in the first wave of 20th century Abstract-Expressionists to discover Springs. Drinks in hand, they combed the tidy lawn, cupping hands alongside eyes to peer into the two-story “half-house” built around 1795 for Jonathan Edwards. A knot of children sat at the base of a tall weeping willow having the kind of conversation impenetrable to adult ears. Others of the younger set played tag, darting in and out of the shrubbery.
    What was most remarkable about this was that the Parrish event was the first public use of the property since the town bought it with money from the community preservation fund at the end of 2004. It is terrific that the $2.5 million deal took place at all, but a shame that it took so long for it to be made ready for something the public can enjoy.
    Compared to other South Fork hamlets, Springs has only a few spaces suitable for gatherings, picnics, and learning a little about history. Ashawagh Hall, an important cultural center maintained by the Springs Improvement Society, is very heavily used, which proves the need for additional public places.
    To prepare for Ms. Albertini’s show, the town installed a plywood floor in the 1890 Gardiner barn which Mr. Little had moved onto the land in 1948, making it better suited for visitors on this and other occasions. We can envision acoustic music performances or poetry readings there, for example, and family reunions on the broad lawn.
    It was probably not simply accidental that a broadly smiling Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who was among those in attendance on Saturday, was the deciding vote this week to take another town property, Fort Pond House in Montauk, off the real estate market. It could not have been lost on him that, like the Amagansett Life-Saving Station, whose restoration has had his strong backing, smaller parks and public properties have a significant positive effect on residents’ and visitors’ quality of life.
    Duck Creek Farm is now a model of a sensible and needed public acquisition. At a time when attention is being focused on the $40 million (and growing) balance that has come into the East Hampton Town preservation fund from the real estate transfer tax, discussion must ensue about how to get residents aware of what assets the town already has and about moving speedily to buy more. At one time the Edwards fields extended over some 130 acres; today the remaining property contributes to an understanding of the post-colonial period when large, outlying farms were being established by the descendents of the original settlers.    
    All those involved, specifically town officials, Ms. Albertini, the Parrish Art Museum, the Duck Creek Farm Association, and the food and drink purveyors who were there, are to be congratulated for putting this triple treat — an important part of the town’s historic and artistic identity and a valuable common asset — back into the conversation.
    By the way, Ms. Albertini’s installation can be seen Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. until Sept. 2. Duck Creek Farm and the John Little House and Studio is off Three Mile Harbor-Hog Creek Road at its intersection with Squaw Road.