As the force of Hurricane Sandy struck the Jersey Shore, Mary Tantillo’s thoughts were fixated on her art studio. The days following were spent trying to reach the area, but roads full of debris prevented her from getting very far.
After receiving permission from the mayor of Long Beach Island to be driven by police to her shop, Tantillo saw through the door, which was forced open by water, that the ceiling had crumbled and the space was flooded.
“I didn’t go back for 11 days after that,” Tantillo said. “At that point, I basically took everything out of there in a day and a half. I threw a lot of stuff away, it was pretty heartbreaking.”
The Jersey Shore is still suffering from the impact of the hurricane, a problem that may make it difficult for some vacationers to visit this summer. To celebrate the beach’s importance and help Tantillo return to normalcy in the place she calls home, Bluestone Fine Art Gallery in Old City is hosting a benefit exhibit titled “Rebuilding the Jersey Shore: One Artwork at a Time.”
About 75 photographs and oil paintings by Deborah Mix and Linda Ramsay, who are both New Jersey artists and beach enthusiasts, will be featured at the Old City gallery. Tantillo, a glass artist, will also be exhibiting some of her work. The show’s opening reception will be April 5 from 5-9 p.m.
“Although the hurricane only slightly impacted my Long Beach Island studio, many other businesses and residences along the shore were not as lucky,” Ramsay said.
After the hurricane, she and Mix met with Bluestone gallery owner Pam Regan to create an exhibit focusing on Jersey Shore images and paintings, from Cape May to Long Beach Island.
The artists also took the show as an opportunity to help fellow artist and friend Tantillo. Mix and Ramsay each chose a work that, when sold, its profit will go to Tantillo; a percentage of the sales from the exhibit will go to the Long Beach Island native.
“When [Ramsay] first approached me, she was like, ‘We’re having this benefit show at a gallery and, by the way, you’re the benefit,’” Tantillo said. “I was like, ‘That’s so nice, I just don’t know, are you sure? I’m sure there are people in more need than I am.’ I donate so many things to auctions, it’s just weird to be on the receiving end. I’m very grateful for them. It’s such a nice thing they’re doing, I’m just in a different position than I normally am, but I’m accepting what people want to give me and am grateful for it.”
On April 21, Ramsay will make a plein air painting, which will be done outside during the Artists’ Reception from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A silent auction will also be held during the exhibit.
“These two women have really worked the whole Jersey Shore,” said Pam Regan, Bluestone Fine Art Gallery owner. “They have reached out to just about anybody on the Jersey Shore – all the different art communities, art galleries. We’ve contacted the marinas and anyone we can think of to attend or support the exhibit. I’ve been working with them for a while, and they’re friends and wanted to do an exhibit together…They wanted to do the two-person exhibit about Hurricane Sandy, because they do mostly beach-type art. It just worked.”
The artists’ works depict familiar beach scenes, such as a Ferris wheel, a crowded boardwalk landscape or a child crouching next to a pail, staring at the ocean.
Mix gives her photographs of the shore more depth by taking the shot and printing it on metallic linen, then tinting it by hand with oil pastels. The process gives the photograph the texture of a painting.
“Local landmarks or icons of a community are a recurring theme, along with beach bikes and beach umbrellas, because they are so colorful and fun to paint,” Ramsay said of her artwork.
Regan said that the atmosphere the two artists evoke in the exhibit is ideal for the coming months and sunny weather.
“[Ramsay’s] art is warm, it’s welcoming, it brings memories to everybody. [Mix] enhances her photography, but you wouldn’t recognize it’s been altered. It just has this comforting feel to it. You could picture it in your house, in an office or anywhere, and I like that about them. With their art, you see what you get.”
When not getting ready for the exhibit, Tantillo is also preparing to reopen her shop. Now that the space has electricity, and plumbing will soon return, she hopes to get back to work by May.
“The worst thing now is that a lot of the people who work for me don’t have anywhere to live, so I may have staffing issues this summer until houses get renovated,” Tantillo said.
Despite the difficulties, she remains optimistic. “It’s going to be tricky, but I feel good about the summer. A lot of people really want to be down here.”
Cheyenne Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.