Widgets Magazine

Q&A with Bob Kuhne, North Fork Artist & Old Town Arts Guild President

Q: Did you grow up on the North Fork? A: I moved here 30 years ago. I was born in Brooklyn, moved to Nassau County—near Levittown. After I graduated I moved to Suffolk County. My wife and I always used to come out East to the farm stands; we moved here 30 years ago and love it. Everywhere else got really developed and this area was one of the last hold- outs.

Not knowing anyone out here, we did a couple of things—we volunteered at the Cutchogue Library, my wife had an antique store, and I joined the Art Guild. That’s how we met a lot of people.

So no I wasn’t born out here—that was a problem for a while I admit, trying to get work done on the house, handymen and the like, but it’s not really an issue any more. Once you’re out here long enough it gets easier so far as that goes.

Q: What do you appreciate most about the North Fork?

A: We like the people here, the secure environment—you know your neighbors, it’s very safe. People are friendly. Real peace of mind.

For us, we live in New Suffolk. We have no mail delivery there, so we all go to the post office. It’s a center, everyone knows everyone, even though you may not know their name you recognize their face. Little things like when the kids had that fad with their pants down below their bloomers, that wasn’t out here.

We’re still a small town out here; it’s not like the South Fork where they have all those celebrities. I’m hoping that the North Fork will remain the way it is.

Q: Have you always been an artist, or is that something you picked up out here?

A: I was an artist before I got here, but when I came out here I changed my M.O. a little, because I saw what was selling most was local scenes. So I paint more of that now.

Also, as president of the Old Town Arts Guild for the last 15 years or so I’ve worked with a lot of people and my name is more recognizable in the community.

Q: Tell me about the Guild...

A: The Guild is a nonprofit organization. It started in 1948; there were quite a few famous artists here back in the day.

The guild has the oldest gallery on the North Fork. It was originally housed across the street, but the building we’re in now was eventually purchased by the artists, and maybe 20 years ago now put the addition on back.

Basically we operate the building from April through the end of December. We close just before Christmas for the Winter, as we’re not equipped with heat. Plus there isn’t as much traffic in the winter. So it’s a double whammy: higher costs and fewer sales. So we close the building for those few months. During that time however, members still get together and make plans for the whole year.

Q: Who’s in the Guild?

A: The guild members are mainly artists and crafts people. Anyone who makes handmade items from jewelry to wood carving and crochet as well as fine art and photography. Recently we had a debate: should we be Old Town Art and Crafts guild or Old Town Arts Guild. Either way, we’re starting to branch out to music, and theater.

Everything has to be original and hand done. Membership is juried; we have a standard of excellence. We want real craft, and we want tasteful, kid-friendly. We have a lot of programs for children, such as Art Classes and Contests. We also offer guitar lessons and piano lessons.  One of our members gave chess lessons to children too.

Our summer classes are essentially free—kids pay a nominal fee for materials, but that’s it. I think it’s important for kids to have that opportunity, that foundation. Plus the those kids end up giving back to the Guild. I like to see that happen. We have some kids who’ve been through the program who are more involved with the community and help with the younger kids.

Everything we do is volunteer. I don’t get a salary, nobody does. The problem with volunteering is it takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s not a charity organization like a hospital or animal rescue thing; our members are artists who want to sell their wares.

Q: You just had a big show on the Village Green. Do you have other events coming up?

A: Yes, that was our big fundraiser. The whole community comes together. Local businesses and our Guild Members donated all the prizes for our Chinese Auction. But we do have a couple of other events coming up. We have one antique show scheduled on the grounds in October, two art and craft shows, one in September and one in October. We do a bake sale with the antique shows.

Our events calendar starts in April. In April we put on different types of shows. This last spring we sponsored a cartoonist show. We had Don Duga, creator of Frosty the Snowman. One was Rob White, the Suffolk Times cartoonist, another was a young college kid, Mike Gerver. We also had internationally known artist Van Howel who has published thousands of cartoons, etc. in the NY Times, Marvel comics, and Newsweek, to name a few.

We also have functions with disadvantaged and developmentally challenged or disabled individuals in April too; we try to reach out, show there’s different sides to people.

Mid-May is when the Guild fills up. After that events are outdoors, on the grounds and the Green. Antiques in June, Arts and Crafts too. Once a month we feature a member in the shop, and if the individual wants, we hold a reception. So we have two or three receptions a year.

Always the first weekend in August for the major fundraiser on the Green.

Q: Where have you lived on the North Fork?

A: We pretty much always lived in New Suffolk. For a short period of time we were in Southold but it didn’t suit us, because the neighborhood we were in was deserted in the winter and was really party central in the summer. I understand that, people are out for the weekend, having fun. But in the summertime your windows are open a lot and I got tired of being up at 2 am. So we moved back to New Suffolk.

Q: What do you like so much about New Suffolk?

A: It’s a combination of everything—it’s off the beaten path a little, it has some nice history—the first submarine base and all that—plus it's centrally located. Twenty minutes to Riverhead one way, 20 minutes to Orient the other way. It’s centrally located but out of the way. And the scenery is so lovely.

Of course, the people. Just even saying hello and recognizing the faces over the years—you may not even know them but it just feels great.

I jog. This winter I was out jogging, it was the middle of the snowstorm, the photographer was fumbling with the tripod, and she was taking a picture of a clammer. She’s the one that used to work for the Suffolk Times and now works for Newsday. She saw me and took my picture, and people know me as the runner in New Suffolk.

Q: You do so much for kids, do you have any?

A: We never had kids, yet I always enjoyed them, teaching them stuff. We have lots of nieces and nephews, both sides.

I happen to be fortunate, because I happen to be talented in a variety of areas—I do stained glass, woodworking, paints, guitar, keyboards—jack of all trades, master of none, and it’s just great to get to teach kids. Kids are fun to teach in part because their face just lights up; they’re not hung up in the stress of the job, whatnot. We hang their prize work, they love that.

Every year at the village green event—whether permitting—we display the kids’ art—they get a whole wall.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I’ve looked, I’ve traveled, but you think about it, we have so much here. It’s just such a great place to live. People say: what do you do out there, it’s so desolate. But I always find lots to do.

And we have so much history. On the Village Green we have that really old house, they say it’s the oldest house in NY State—1649.

I remember in Nassau County the history book said Cutchogue is the sunniest spot in New York State, and I thought that was so cool at the time. I remember looking it up on the map, but having no idea what the place was about.

This area has always been really good for artists; the Peconic Bay impressionists—we have great light, it’s so beautiful. It’s just a great place.

There’s been a lot of changes, but we intend to stay here.

Check out more of Bob's work here.