Sag Harbor is best known as a charming village in the part of Long Island that is colloquially referred to as the Hamptons, or, if you are a local, the East End: summer residence to New York’s wealthy. Most people are less familiar with Sag Harbor’s history as a whaling town, from the early 18th to mid-19th Century. At the time, whale oil was used as fuel for lamps. Until alternatives to whale oil were discovered in the 1850s, Sag Harbor was a commercial port so booming that it was declared the official first Entry Port in the state of New York by an Act of Congress in 1789.
Remnants of Sag Harbor’s golden age can still be seen in the village today. In 1845, whaling merchant Benjamin Huntting II, who owned most of the town’s fleet in the early 19th Century, commissioned renowned architect Minard Lafever to build him a home. This beautiful mansion in Greek Revival style was deeded to the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum in 1945. Initiated by the Clintons, the building was accepted as an official project for the Save America’s Treasures Program in the late 1990s.
One of the museum’s aims is to promote the culture of Sag Harbor. It does this nicely with the exhibition currently on show: ‘Our Town’. Both Michael Butler and Barbara Hadden are self-taught artists who live in Sag Harbor. Butler’s narrative folk-art style conveys a sense of history that is reminiscent of the town’s whaling days. Hadden’s fascination with local architecture documents Sag Harbor’s current identity as a high-end tourist destination. The exhibition succeeds in conveying a sense of the town’s past and present in both subject matter and style.
The exhibition ‘Michael Butler & Barbara Hadden: Our Town’ is on show until 15 October at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, 200 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.