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Editor's Letter: Holiday/Winter 2013
Cristina Cuomo | Photo: Carlos Ruiz | October 24, 2013
I first met the late poet and artist Robert Dash in my parents’ Southampton living room when I was 10 years old.
Behind him hung a new, 6-foot-tall painting with a vast pink sky that was called “Strawberry Pickers,” which my parents had just bought from him. That day Dash was invited to join a new preservationist club, as it were, the South Fork Land Foundation (today part of the Peconic Land Trust), which local farmers Lee and Cliff Foster and John White had founded, along with my father, Rainer Greeven. My father always respected farmland, ever since his childhood in the Bavarian Alps, a place where farmland is sacred. So my father, White and the Fosters were hoping to bring this concept to the East End.
Dash, too, had a vision for eastern Long Island. It consisted of preserving open space (and in particular, farmland), cultivating friendships among a very select few—he put a high premium on intelligence—and creating his own world of artistic expression. He had bought land in Sagaponack, a private space that he called the Madoo Conservancy, and turned it into a magical garden. He embraced creativity and nature, and would later write, “Painting is closely related to gardening, but closer still is poetry.”
Thirty years later, I spent time with Dash at his studio. I would arrive in the morning to an offer of vodka—after all, Queen Elizabeth drank a gin and tonic at 10am every morning and her clarity of mind was renowned. We spoke of the fertility of nature, the fragrance of the air, the hum of crickets and the chill of winter’s breath. It was as if I was in a poem, being nudged toward an awakening, an appreciation of my surroundings. He’d ask me to join the board of his conservancy, and after we spoke about my fascination with the color gray, he gave me a print titled, “Today is the Color of a Teaspoon.”
It wasn’t until his death this past September that I realized he knew the secret to this beautiful place. He lived to preserve it and glorified it through his art and poetry. I went to sleep last night feeling winter’s chill, and was reminded of a truth in Thoreau’s Walden: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn... It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
As the year draws to an end and a new one begins, I hope to be just a little more awake each day. Happy holidays.