Amid Sandy’s destruction in Chelsea’s art gallery district, some Maine artists counted their blessings.
The news from Betsy Eby’s art dealer the day after Hurricane Sandy whipped into New York City was dire: She had found several of Eby’s paintings floating in six feet of water in the basement of Winston Wächter Fine Art. The sodden paintings represented five months’ worth of work completed over the summer in Eby’s studio on Wheaton Island near remote Matinicus Isle. “They told me not to get my hopes up,” Eby says. “Everything was being considered a loss.”
The Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan was hit particularly hard by the mammoth late October storm. The Hudson River spilled into gallery-lined streets that comprise one of the world’s most influential arts districts. In the days that followed, the neighborhood rumbled with the sound of water pumps and generators, while gallery staff performed the sorry work of hauling soggy furniture and artworks to the curbside. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art were destroyed.
Artists with Maine connections were among those affected. For some, like Portland-based sculptor and printmaker Charlie Hewitt, the storm proved to be merely a nail biter. Sandy’s high winds did not tip his aluminum street sculpture, Brooklyn Swing, into the glass façade of Jim Kempner Fine Art as he had feared it might, and his prints “held up pretty well” despite the floodwaters.
Painter Elise Ansel, who also lives in Portland, was similarly fortunate. “Sales were not as robust as they might have been,” says Ansel, whose show at the Phoenix Gallery was disrupted by a lack of power. “The conditions that family and friends in Brooklyn were living in was much more disturbing.”
As the process of assessing the damage unfolded, Eby, too, would find herself among the lucky ones. Her works, which explore the rhythms of nature and music, are encaustic paintings. Their pigmented wax had repelled the water, preserving Eby’s layers of mark-making. A conservator said they would need new stretchers, but the paintings themselves seem to be fine. More evaluation is needed, but Eby is hopeful her paintings will go on show in March as scheduled. “An artist’s favorite work is always the new work, the ones that haven’t been shown yet,” she says. — Virginia M. Wright
Painting: Betsy Eby’s Thais Meditation