The North Fork's restaurants and wine tasting rooms are becoming a venue for artists like Eileen Sanger, who are successfully showing and selling their paintings on the East End branching out from the galleries where their work was first shown.
Sanger has been exhibiting in galleries on the East End for years. She inadvertently gravitated to her new venue at the on Route 25 in Aquebogue after she showed some of her paintings to chef Ari Pavlou. Now Sanger's paintings are gracing the walls of the dining room. Better yet, the paintings are selling.
"We sold one already," Sanger said from her studio in Miller Place. "The Bistro is a perfect place to exhibit my work. The decor is so beautiful and its style suits my paintings."
Sanger describes herself as an impressionist. She said she favors Long Island landscapes and beach scenes depicting warmer climates.
"I love her work. It blends in with the décor of the restaurant," said Bistro owner Theresa Dilworth. Sanger's paintings fit in with Dilworth's philosophy emphasizing local talent and local food.
"My mother was an artist who worked in watercolors," Dilworth said. "So I was very receptive to the idea of having art on the walls."
Pavlou, Pavlou said he is a big fan of Sanger's too. Pavlou was quick to point out the merits of having an artist hang her paintings on the walls free of charge.
"My parents had to pay a lot of money to have art on the walls in their restaurant," Pavlou said.
Sanger's landscape paintings capture the feel of the East End and have been a welcome addition to the walls.
"People really enjoy her work," Dilworth said.
Sanger has exhibited her work in the Chrysalis Gallery located at 2 Main Street in Southampton Village. The Chrysalis has been owned and operated by Agnes and Martin Ehrenreich of Greenport for more than 20 years. Elsewhere on the North Fork Sanger's work can be seen at Leib Vineyards where one of the artist's large abstract paintings is on loan.
The artist, who teaches drawing and painting, once spent an afternoon giving private painting lessons to Jean Kennedy Smith and her grandchildren at Smith's Southampton residence.
"We all sat on her porch," Sanger said.
A Sanger painting made its way into the Clint Eastwood movie Mystic River a few years ago when one of the producers saw her work in a gallery in Milton, Mass. where the movie was being filmed.
Sanger likes to paint outside in the warm weather and is one of the founding members of the Long Island Plein Air Painters which she helped establish four years ago. The group composed of eight members gathers at a scenic location, weather permitting and paints for two or three hours before adjourning.
"The idea is to finish the painting while you are there working outdoors in the natural light. We get together and set up our easels. When we are done we go to a bar or restaurant and talk about painting," Sanger said.
Sanger does not like the cold weather and does not paint outdoors when the temperature drops, although she has on occasion worked from the front seat of her car when the cold wind blows.
The Plein Air Painters frequent locations around Greenport Harbor and the Roanoke Vineyards when they head outdoors, many times packing a picnic lunch or snacks. Onlookers are encouraged to speak with them and watch them work. These groups once a rarity have grown in popularity among artists over the years.
"When I started painted outdoors in Bridgehampton more than 20 years no one was doing it," landscape painter Terry Elkins said.
Elkins has seen the plein air movement grow steadily over the decades he has been painting.
"You are looking at an actual object," Elkins said. "Your eye starts to remember what it sees when you keep looking at it."
Elkins stressed the importance of the quality of light on the eastern end of Long Island as one of the lures for painters.
"Painters go back to the same spot at the same time of day to capture the light. Sometimes I keep working when I get back to the studio so I don't lose what I am doing," Elkins said.
Sanger has been painting since her third grade teacher noticed her talent and went to the principal's office and recommended private lessons. She did not attend art school opting instead to study with a series of painters including Don Demers, Charles Movallo and Charles Sovek. She attended Nassau County Community College and spent time studying at the Cape Cod School of Art.
She has been painting for 35 years with no signs of stopping. The landscape painting of a North Fork vineyard that was literally sold off the wall at the Bistro ended up in the hands of a grateful art lover who sent the artist a thank you note.