A new sculpture in Port Jefferson is meant to reflect the village’s shipbuilding past, but visitors and residents are split over its design and placement.
The gleaming new tribute to the shipbuilding industry towers over the Long Island Rail Road parking lot in Upper Port Jefferson.
The 22-foot tall, stainless steel sculpture installed in early January is called “…the vast and endless sea…” and it features three ships supported by 52 boat stands.
The artwork was commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, according to a post on AModernLI.com, an MTA website that publishes news and information about the LIRR Modernization project.
“This was a great opportunity to commission art that speaks directly to a community’s heritage, while providing a contemporary gateway for LIRR and the community,” Lester Burg, deputy director of arts & design at the MTA, is quoted as saying in the post.
The three ships are a schooner, a yawl and a sloop, which the website says are a “modified recreation of ships that were built in Port Jefferson during the mid-1800’s.”
Port Jefferson Village Historian Chris Ryan said that shipbuilding is very much in the bones of this area.
“This was a major shipbuilding port that produced some of the finest vessels,” he told GreaterPortJeff.com. “Over 500 major ships were produced here and many smaller ones.”
Ryan said there were over 40 different shipbuilding yards in the village over the course of its history.
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The sculpture was designed by artist David McQueen and fabricated by KC Fabrications.
In the MTA post, McQueen said that the shipbuilding process was an inspiration to him.
“First, there is the outright beauty of the lines and the rigorous engineering that draws the curves of a ship,” he said. “Second is the potential that imbues the building itself. All building carries potential, but there is a specific romance in the building of ships, especially the schooners and yawls of Port Jeff’s past.”
According to the MTA website, the title of the piece is derived from a quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery, the author of The Little Prince.
“If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”
The ships in the sculpture twist and turn as if shaped by the water and the wind.
Reaction to the sculpture has been mixed. Some took to Facebook to deride the design of the sculpture and said that it takes up much-needed parking spaces.
“If most people drive to a parking lot they probably would be happier to find a parking space than a sculpture,” Harvey Garrett wrote.
Kate McPartlan called it “an eyesore.”
Lisa Marie Szeto, of Port Jefferson Station, said she is all for artwork but thought the necessity of the public should be the first priority.
“I thought it was nice in photos,” Szeto said. “But perhaps a wood tone would have been more fitting [than stainless steel].”
Others changed their feelings about the piece after learning how the artwork harkens back to the village’s history.
Jill Lepore from Port Jefferson said she drives by the station every day, and didn’t understand the vision behind the sculpture until she read about it in the MTA post.
“Happy to read about it and PJs history,” she wrote on Facebook.
Narisa Cheslock said that she saw how the long poles holding up the ships might represent a number of different things related to Port Jefferson and the place the sculpture was placed.
“Maybe (the) lines are for structural support, or maybe to represent railroad lines?” she wrote. “Or maybe to represent all the paths each of us to get here to Port Jeff!”
Others really appreciated the new art and how it enhanced the neighborhood.
“I think once it is surrounded by an updated area and those dilapidated buildings are removed it will be more appreciated,” said Alice Tomasello who said she liked the sculpture. “Right now it’s very ‘out of place.’”
“I love it, it’s obvious, it’s tall, it’s boats. Works for me. Says, Welcome to Port Jeff!” said Darcel Weldon.
Stella Tessler also calls herself a fan.
“It’s so fluid and looks different each time I see it.”