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The Horse Whisperer Comes To Sea Cliff

For more than 20 years, fashion photographer Roberto Dutesco has been traveling to Sabel Island, a remote island 100 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, to photograph horses. This windswept island, known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, has been the site of 475 shipwrecks and also home to something extraordinary: a colony of more than 400 wild horses who have managed to survive on this austere terrain, with only sea grass and ponds for sustenance. 


“I consider myself a global ambassador for the wild horses of Sabel Island,” says Dutesco. “I wanted to share my experience among the wild horses to people around the world, to show them true wilderness in its primal state, unaware and unafraid of man. I wanted to recreate for others, as nearly as possible, my extraordinary experience, what it was like for me to step onto their untouched land, what it was like for them to see me, and what they would remember from the encounter long afterward.”


Only two people live on this island and have to create a makeshift landing strip any time a plane comes in by carving out a runway in the sand. This unforgiving land, never permanently settled, was a temporary home of shipwrecked sailors, 40 convicts transported in 1598, pirates and wreckers. No one knows how the horses came to the island but they have been running free for centuries. Dutesco, originally from Budapest and now a resident of Canada, has made eight trips to the island.


His magnificent photographs have been seen around the world and now they can be seen in a new studio that opened up last month in Sea Cliff called GREY, owned by Sonja Nuttall, a Sea Cliff resident and fashion designer. Nuttall was instrumental in co-founding the Urban Zen foundation in 2006 with Donna Karan, which works to introduce nontraditional healing methods into hospitals, and through philanthropic works has raised awareness of the plights affecting people everywhere from Tibet to Israel. Nuttall met Dutesco 12 years ago when she was meeting the Dali Lama.


“Roberto was there photographing the Dali Lama and we became good friends. I love his work,” says Nuttall. “I had this space for over a year but never did anything with it. I wanted people to experience something beautiful and he is so beautiful, so this showing of Roberto’s work is the first time the gallery is opened. His show will run for three months and afterward I have four more artists coming.”


The opening evening was a who’s who of Sea Cliff. Mayor Bruce Kennedy and his wife, Robin, greeted Dutesco, who was signing his books for the enthusiastic crowd.  


“I think this art exhibit is spectacular and very unique,” said Kennedy, who has been mayor of Sea Cliff for six years and is now running for State Senator. “It is really nice that Sonja took a risk and opened up this gallery. The talent she brings to this community is so nice. This is reflective of what the village of Sea Cliff is all about, we are an artistic community that embraces the arts.”


Stacey Scarpone, Sea Cliff resident and the executive director of the Women’s Fund of Long Island in Jericho, had high praise for Dutesco and Nuttall. “What Sonja brings to this village is absolutely wonderful. She brings everyone together in a wonderful artistic space. I think this is a fabulous exhibit bringing acclaimed international artists to a local space to elevate the beautiful small village of Sea Cliff and to give everyone a taste of what is going on. This is a gorgeous experience.”


Scarpone met Dutesco through Nuttall. Last year the fundraiser for the WFLI which featured Donna Karan had a silent auction. One of the items auctioned off was a magnificent photograph of the wild horses donated by Dutesco. “When he heard about WFLI and the work we do with women and girls, he said, ‘I am in, how can I help?’ The money raised by his photograph helps support girl’s scholarship programs given by WFLI.”


Sea Cliff resident Susanne Deegan said, “I have been a fan of Dutesco’s work for many years and I have seen it all over the world in different places. It’s just magnificent and this art space is just terrific. We need things like this in Sea Cliff to reflect some of the personality and tastes; it adds value to the block and the village.”


Kirsten Marchioli of Sea Cliff purchased one of the books. “My daughter loves horses and I have been admiring the photographs in this studio. I feel like I want to run away to a desert island.”

Dutesco laughed hearing her comment, since he knows how hard it is to get to. “It costs $10,000 every time the plane goes up in the air. Half of the year the island is in fog and another third you can’t land so you have to be very lucky to get there. The superintendent makes a runway in the sand.  I stay with the two people who have been there for 40 years in a weather compound.”


The Gallery is located at 78 Rosyln Rd., Sea Cliff, across from the firehouse. The exhibit is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.