The pumpkin ales are being poured in the taverns, the smell of burning firewood curls down tree lined lanes glowing red, yellow, and orange, the children go swishing to the bus stop in woolen sweaters, and there’s been a mass hanging on Main Street in Islip.  As you might well imagine, hangings are a delight to witness, but they are not all fun and games.  Indeed, there’s more to a hanging that just plucking a few random faces from the crowd.  Yes, indeed, you must select the correct people to hang, and beforehand ask them politely if they would enjoy being hung in broad daylight, for all to see.  And you must let these obliging individuals know that once they are initially hung, they will continue to hang there for a month, for the continued pleasure, contemplation, and delectation of the masses.  I must say, once the deed has been done, I found myself laying in bed at night and reflecting, thinking “That fellow truly deserved to hang.  Would have done more, ’twere it in my power.”  And though the event happens in just one day, planning a hanging is a long, drawn out process, with many twists and turns, many obstacles to surmount with each step of the journey.  All told, to hang a newly found friend is a joy- here is the story behind the Autumnal Hanging of 2013, or, the “Eight Faces of Islip.”

Ten months ago, I set to work ordering canvases, designing the exhibition layout of the canvases, buying paint.  After a few conversations with my wife, we identified eight people who embodied of the town of Islip, each in their own way.  I approached five of them, and received a hearty response from each one.  And I began to paint.

Four months later, my portrait sitters and I had logged scores of hours in the studio.  Some walked slowly up the steps with a cane, some bounded up the steps two at a time, some climbed the steps slowly with the assistance of their spouse.  The days had passed quickly, and I felt that this project had pulled out of me some of my very best work.  In fact, I was approached by many people who felt that a few of these portraits were among my best paintings.  Walking down Main Street in Islip, I was regularly approached by people I’d never met, saying they were following my website, and were thrilled to see how Erhardt’s portrait turned out, or how Jack’s smile was captured.

Along the way I encountered a difficult scenario, in that the original destination for my exhibition fell through.  It posed a problem, but I held fast to a favorite verse, a verse which has floated me through numerous circumstances: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  I don’t take that verse as meaning “everything I touch will turn to gold.”  Instead, I understand that if I am in covenant with God, and a diligent steward, that failures can mean new direction.  Small or large, daily or life altering, closed doors give direction.  And when I lose my fear of closed doors, the word failure loses its sting, and I am now simply a steward of a gifting.

And a new door opened.  Or I should say, somebody came and knocked on my door at eight in the morning, and I opened up my front door.  A shop owner had heard of my story, viewed my paintings on my website, and was so excited that she came to my house to see how she could be involved.  Shortly thereafter, this woman connected me to the Islip Chamber of Commerce, and the president of the chamber asked me how the town of Islip might get involved.  Margaret had the idea of hanging the paintings in window fronts of various shops along Main Street, and the president enthusiastically agreed.  Without even being solicited, numerous shop owners came and requested to participate.

The paintings placed in various window fronts, I attached to the bottom of each portrait a condensed biography.  Newsday ran a small article, the Islip Bulletin ran two articles, and the event began with a small walking tour in which I narrated the unfolding of each painting.

Not a day has gone by without a complete stranger approaching me on the street, and telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the portraits and the biographies.  Oftentimes as I drive down Main Street, I see somebody pausing in front of a window, reading a biography, looking at the painting.  At my son’s soccer match today, many strangers approached me with their enthusiasm for the work.  And every other day or so, I get an email from a stranger.  And on several occasions, I have been politely scolded, with inquiries as to why I hadn’t selected them as a face of Islip.  The paintings will be up until the 19th of November.

I’ve been told by Newsday that this January, Steve Parks is running an in depth article, featuring all eight of the portraits, telling a bit of their story, describing the artistic process of painting from life.  Join me this January, the 12th, at 1:30 p.m., for a free portrait demonstration at Islip Public Library.  I’ll be painting a portrait for a couple of hours in front of an audience, while my friend and well known performer Mitch Kahn journeys from Manhattan to play classic American tunes on the grand Steinway piano.  And there, in the library, for the first time… all eight portraits will hang side by side.


To reserve a free ticket to the portrait painting demonstration/piano performance, you can either reserve online, or call.  To reserve online, click the link below.  Online, as I understand it, you may have to enter your library card ID number, as a New York State library card holder.  Order tickets fast, as I’ve seen the pianist Mitch Kahn sell out his solo performances, let alone being accompanied by a brush wielding blatherskite.

Tickets for Islip Library Portrait Painting Demonstration

Or call the Islip Public Library at 631- 581- 5933