The view from Pollock and Krasner’s house in East Hampton
We all know of The Hamptons as a place to which Manhattanites escape the city heat in the summer months, but the natural beauty and isolation of Long Island’s East End has also historically provided refuge to more than just the Wall Street set, playing home to a very different group of urban escapists. Throughout the twentieth century, it served as a haven for some of New York’s best and most hermetic artists. While some may already know the stories of Jackson Pollock’s relationship to the area, fewer know of the other equally influential talent who found their homes in The Hamptons. Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Roy Lichtenstein, John Chamberlain, Kurt Vonnegut and, for a time, Mark Rothko each found solace and inspiration in the quiet woods and salty waters—something about the confluence of fantastic natural beauty and the solitude it offers is magnetically attractive to those artists who rely on an isolated process of expression to create their work.
Next time you find yourself planning a trip to East Hampton or Montauk, it might be worthwhile to consider exploring some of these better kept secrets of Hamptons life. Shelter Island, the small plot of land sandwiched between the north and south forks, is one such location. Besides its famous ‘Sunset Beach’ restaurant, this small island isn’t very well known by the weekend crowds who often bypass some of its greatest natural treasures. Accessible only by ferry from Sag Harbor and Greenport, Shelter Island is where metal artist John Chamberlain made his studio/home. Chamberlain, who died in 2011, was making work in this studio until the end of his life. His work hangs in some of the most prestigious museums in the world including the MoMa and the Met. Similarly to the bay front sections of East Hampton, much of the island’s waterfront and forestry is protected by The Nature Conservancy, so development is greatly limited. This allows not only for the fish and birds to proliferate, but for local fishing economies and cultures to survive as well.
Inside Pollock’s Studio (photo taken from Museum)
Front view of Pollock and Krasner’s studio
Jackson Pollock’s distinctive style, which became emblematic of the abstract expressionist movement, was developed in the woods of East Hampton. The house where he and parter Lee Krasner lived and worked has been protected as a historical landmark and public museum. His paint-splattered studio and beautiful wood-frame house on 830 Springs Fireplace Rd. in East Hampton are open for viewing Thursday through Sunday throughout the summer. Before their deaths, Pollock, Krasner, and Rothko would often spend summers working together.
Just a stones throw away is the the home of Willem de Kooning, another iconic artistic who found comfort in the dense scrub-oak forest of the northwest woods. His studio, which has been maintained exactly as it was when the artist died, appears to have been frozen in time. Brushes lay covered in paint on the table, surrounded on all sides by giant half-painted canvases. His unfinished paintings stand like monoliths around the large white room awaiting completion.
The Door of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s Studio
A pattern that can be found amongst these artists is that, in their search to remove themselves from social milieu, they landed in the most secluded of the most secluded spots in the area. From Shelter Island to Sagaponack, they built their homes in locations far removed from the traditional Hamptons hubs. Off the beaten track, the pockets of countryside to which the artists flocked are, to this day, some of the most breathtaking and under-appreciated parts of the landscape.
Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by the incessant sociality of the city, or just want to get some fresh air, come explore the neighborhood of the East End. Take a walk along the beaches of Sagaponack, the preserved marshland of Shelter Island, or through the magical woods of Eastern East Hampton. Who knows, you might just feel inspired.
All photos by Cornelia Channing