When we visited My Studio, artist Aleksander Betko was at his easel completing a commission, and simultaneously explaining his technique to a couple of interested visitors. Betko, a Manhasset Isle resident said, "I enjoy the fact that people just stop by. They can see the painting unfolding." That's the kind of place My Studio is-warm and welcoming. People are encouraged to stop by, come in, chat with the member artists, and view the wonderful art that is displayed. Betty Stephens, founder and executive director, said, "Stop in, have a cup of tea or java at our 'Starving Artist Café' and sign our guest book." Betko compared it to a time 5 600 years ago when artists and sculptors worked in the cathedrals of Europe in full view of the churchgoers.
My Studio, located at 284 Main Street between Carlton and Bank, is the brainchild of Betty Stephens, a longtime Port Washington resident, community activist, artist, and businessperson. Betty Stephens and her husband Captain Hugh Stephens, who is also well known to many Port Washingtonians, have owned the building for almost 30 years. They had used the ground floor for their consulting business and when they "retired" (that's not a good word for such an active couple, but it's all we have), the library used it for a while for administrative offices, and then the Stephens rented it to an antique business. Hugh said, "When the bottom fell out of the antique business in the Northeast after September 11, 2001, Betty asked me, 'Can I use it for what I've wanted to do all my life?'" And so, My Studio was born. Betty added, I've have had this dream for a long time. I wanted to create a not-for-profit space where artists could work and stimulate each other as the Impressionists did. Our historic part of town is beautiful, it inspires artists to create, and they should have gallery space to show and sell their art."
My Studio is an artists' consortium that currently has eight artists-in-residence, all of whom are residents of Port Washington or surrounding communities. Stephens said that in the fall she would be looking to invite six to eight additional artists. She emphasized, "Membership is by invitation only. Only serious professionals need apply." Upon signing an annual lease, each artist is presented with a gold key on a silver key chain sporting a big "S" for Studio, and will have entrée to the building on a 24/7 basis so they can come and go as their creative schedules require.
The high caliber and variety of the art is what strikes one immediately upon entering the gallery. Current offerings include oils, watercolors, and murals in a wide range of styles, including traditional, modern, and fantasy. Betty Stephens said, "These are some of the most creative people I have known. They are the cream of the Gold Coast crop."
The artists-in-residence with whom we spoke all were unanimously enthusiastic about the opportunity to work in and exhibit at My Studio. Betko used the opportunity that the studio/gallery provided to quit his "day job" and set about becoming a full-time artist. (He typically spends 40-plus hours a week working at My Studio.) He thought the studio was a "great idea" and aptly described it as "grassroots, Gold Coast style." The visibility has provided him with a number of commissions, as well purchasers for his existing paintings. Betko's works, one of which, a portrait of his fiancée, hangs in the front window, include landscapes, cityscapes, still lifes, and portraits. They are all very powerful and have in common what Betko describes as "staunch determination a belief in the strength of the individual." Of Betko's work, Betty Stephens said, "It will hang in a museum one day,"
Another artist, Janet Hanchey, whom Betty Stephens called "unreal," is a full-time artist who works with architects doing restoration and preservation of old buildings and paintings. Her company name is Farris Howell, after her two grandmothers' maiden names. Some of her commissions include the Trump Park Avenue building, Fraunces Tavern, and major hotels for the Helmsleys. Janet's recent paintings include some very powerful images of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, one of which hangs in the gallery. This talented artist also does oil portraits and landscapes which she describes as in "the classical tradition." Betty Stephens said, "When I saw her work my heart beat faster." Hanchey said of the studio, "I see a lot of potential. This is the kind of place that Port Washington needs. It will take a lot of effort, but we will pull it off." Hanchey, who was born in DeRidder, Louisiana, moved to Sands Point from SoHo about seven years ago. She said, "I love it here, and I love that Betty is doing something for Port Washington. It is wonderful to be in the tradition of great Long Island painters like Warhol and Pollack and so many others." Of Betty Stephens, Hanchey said, "I feel like she's a long-lost aunt. I love working with older people that have been in the business for a long time. This society is so youth-oriented. I want to sit down with someone with years of experience." Hanchey added, "I would like to help her to make her dream come true; she is trying so hard to make everyone else's dream come true."
Piper Lyman, another member artist, is a Great Neck resident who creates powerful images of plants and landscapes using oil on canvas. The series that is hanging in the gallery now, and those that are displayed on her website, are part of what she calls the "journey." It began, Lyman said, when she was training for the Avon three-day breast cancer walk. She took photographs of all the places she passed and used the photographs as inspiration. She said, "There is always a path in the painting. I want to create the impression that the viewer is there." She commented, "I take my camera everywhere. I work primarily from photographs; I use them as inspiration. A lot of my paintings are from my travels: Atlanta, California, Woodstock, Costa Rica, and all over." Speaking of My Studio, Lyman said, "It is the perfect setting for someone who is not necessarily a full-time artist." (Lyman, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, is a full-time graphic designer.) She added, "When I heard about it, I just jumped on it. It is wonderful to be with other artists who are working with all different media."
Richard Strautman, another artist-in-residence, works primarily in stained glass. He is also a collector, and some of the paintings in the gallery come from his collection. He helps the studio with publicity, and provided some of the information for this article. Betty Stein, whom Betko described as "cool," is president of the Port Washington Art Guild. Stein, who holds a BFA in art education from Carnegie-Mellon and an MA in Art Education from NYU, has taught extensively for over 25 years, on all levels and in many different settings. She works in pastels and watercolors, and does some batik and fabric work. Lynne Engstrom, another Port Washington resident, has worked in a variety of executive creative and marketing positions in the New York area. According to Stephens, Engstrom is responsible for introducing Martha Stewart products into K-Mart. She is an accomplished artist who creates imaginative paintings with ink and watercolors. Engstrom is active in the Port Washington community; she recently loaned her collection of autographed Dr. Seuss books for a children's display in the library. She said, "My Studio is like a private club for artists."
Betty Stephens has a lot of visions for the future of this endeavor. She plans to vary the kinds of art offered, to present different types of arts programs, and is planning monthly receptions for the community to meet the individual artists. One of the possibilities she sees is to create a "nautical mile" stretching from The Graphic Eye to Haven Art. (She said, "I clocked it in my car; it's exactly a mile.") All the galleries, she suggested, could have their reception on the same day once a month. "We have a lot of art going on here," she said. "We could be the Gold Coast kickoff point." As a member of the BID board, Stephens is very interested in things that can attract visitors to Port Washington. She commented, "My Studio will continuously offer many unique and interesting artists and art programs with special opportunities for the public to collect and amass private collections that will increase in value over the years."
You can stop by My Studio almost anytime and find one or more artists working there. Or, call 516-944-9600 for an appointment,. The web site is www.mystudiopw.com, with a link to Hanchey's site, www.janethanchey.com. Artists interested in requesting an invitation to become a member should e-mail Executive Director Betty Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org in the fall.