A new art exhibition in Greenport attempts to tell an exuberant, untold piece of local history through illustration.
Fashion: A Hidden History is on view now at the Natali/Keyes Gallery on Main Street and runs through August 15th.
The collection includes drawings and collages by Jerry Schofield, a fashion illustrator and artist commissioned by iconic brands and designers such as Lord and Taylor and Henri Bendel, where he met his partner Frank McIntosh.
The two lived in a majestic 17th-century mansion on Main Road in Greenport, according to acclaimed art historian and curator Alison Gingeras, who organized the exhibition at the Greenport Gallery.
“At first glance, without knowing the full story, it looks like contemporary art,” Gingeras said in a recent interview at the gallery, where the walls were recently painted bright pink. “They look like the work of Karen Kilimnick or other painters I’ve worked with before that cite that style. There’s this campy quote in the work.”
The striking ink drawings, collages and gouache paintings provide a glimpse of Schofield’s impact on the fashion world, but also a glimpse into the hidden history of artists obscured by the homophobia of their day.
As Gingeras began researching the story and organizing the drawings, she made a connection between other hidden stories and artists of the time.
“We dug deeper into the history and certainly the hidden queer history of North Fork and found a connection between these artists, intellectuals and creatives who have been coming, living and working here since the 19th century,” she explained, and also found that researching Schofield’s life was challenging. “It was very difficult to find anything in print about him despite having such an illustrious career.”
The drawings are reminiscent of a high fashion catalog from the 1950s to early 1980s when Schofield drew for Chanel, Chloé, Halston, Estee Lauder and Diane von Furstenberg. As you admire the pieces, you’ll find telltale references throughout the work, such as a chinoiserie robe and a puffy hairstyle.
“It’s like this influencer’s backstory,” Gingeras said. “Instagram feeds on the beauty and fashion industry and here her work completely influences the zeitgeist.”
A woman walking into the gallery one afternoon remarked that she felt like she was back in her youth: playing with Barbie dolls, flipping through fashion magazines, or looking at the windows at Bendel’s.
“Here, these people are living a repressed life and at the same time they are informing popular culture,” said Julie Keyes, co-owner of the gallery, who also runs Keyes Art Consulting in Sag Harbor.
The archive of Schofield’s work was discovered after his partner Frank McIntosh died in 2020 and his family began sorting through his estate.
“The house was just elegant and chic. Every inch was interesting,” Keyes said. She recalled meeting McIntosh in the 1980s. He is best known for his work at Henri Bendel department store, where he helped establish the brand as a leader in luxury retail and later channeled his talent into tableware and home accessories, collaborating with masters such as Dale Chihuly and Jack Lenor Larson .
As an aspiring ceramist, Keyes said McIntosh helped her launch her career when he bought some of her work for department store Bendel, which closed its remaining stores in 2018 after 123 years.
“He was like a combination of Winnie the Pooh and Coco Chanel,” Keyes said. “Frank changed my life.”
Though she didn’t know McIntosh personally, Gingeras said she unknowingly visited her home during the property sale.
“I remember it so vividly,” she said, describing the stately, majestic architecture, which is decorated with flamboyant, groovy wallpaper, mirrored walls, and chic furniture. “It was this incredible time capsule.”
In addition to the treasure trove of drawings, the exhibit also features photographs, treasures, and other artifacts discovered in the Schofield-McIntosh home that have accumulated over the course of their two careers in the New York fashion industry.
In the gallery window you can also see a large screen that Schofield painted depicting a pair of winged female griffons, references that evoke Schofield’s travels and cultural sophistication.
The pink walls are a creative restyling and homage to Schofield’s Greenport studio with the selection of drawings hung with parlor style magnets.
“Because we know how artists work, we wanted to give that feeling that the work is happening in a studio and is part of the process,” Gingeras explained.
A Mattituck resident whose impressive resume includes curating the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, the Center Pompidou in Paris, and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Gingeras was also consulted for the exhibition by Justin Springs non-fiction book Secret Historian,” a look at the hidden life of poet and novelist Samuel M. Steward.
In the book, Spring argues that the stories of pre-Stonewall LGBTQ Americans deserve to be unearthed in attics and basements to more fully reveal the longstanding diversity of our communities.
“That pre-Stonewall story probably exists in every community,” Gingeras said. “We have to write these stories, and projects like this are part of that process… There’s something very inspiring about the archeology of the past.”
The Natali/Keyes Gallery is located at 207 Main Street in Greenport and is open daily from 11am to 7pm