A new art exhibit in Greenport seeks to tell an exuberant, untold piece of local history through illustration.
“Fashion: A Hidden History” is now on display at the Natali/Keyes gallery on Main Street and will be shown through Aug. 15.
The collection features drawings and collages by Jerry Schofield, a fashion illustrator and artist who was commissioned by iconic brands and designers including Lord and Taylor and Henri Bendel, where he met his partner, Frank McIntosh.
The two lived in a majestic captain’s 17th-century mansion along Main Road in Greenport, according to acclaimed art historian and curator Alison Gingeras, who organized the exhibit at the Greenport gallery.
“At first glance, without knowing all of the history, 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 who quote this style. There’s this campy citation in the work.”
The evocative ink drawings, collages and gouache paintings are a peek into Schofield’s influence on the fashion world, but also a glimpse at the hidden history of artists obscured by the homophobia of their era.
As Gingeras began researching the history and organizing the drawings, she drew a connection between other hidden stories and artists of the time.
“We were going deeper into the history and certainly the hidden queer histories of the North Fork and found a connection between these artists, intellectuals and creatives who, since the 19th century, have been coming here, living here and working here,” she explained, also noting that it was challenging to research Schofield’s life. “It was very difficult to find anything in print on him, even though he had this illustrious career.”
The drawings evoke a high-fashion catalog from the 1950s to early 1980s, a time Schofield was drawing for Chanel, Chloé, Halston, Estee Lauder and Diane von Furstenberg. Admiring the pieces, you can find telltale references like a chinoiserie robe and bouffant hairdo throughout the work.
“It’s like this pre-history of the influencer,” Gingeras said. “Instagram feeds off of the beauty and fashion industries and here, their work is completely influencing the zeitgeist.”
One woman who popped into the gallery on a recent afternoon remarked that she felt transported back to her youth: playing with Barbie dolls, flipping through fashion magazines or looking at displays at Bendel’s.
“Here are these people living these oppressed lives and at the same time, they’re informing popular culture,” said gallery co-owner Julie Keyes, who also operates 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 home was just elegant and chic. Every inch was interesting,” Keyes said. She recalled meeting McIntosh in the 1980s. He was best known for his work at the Henri Bendel department store, helping establish the brand as a leader of luxury retail and later channeling his talents into tableware and home accessories, working alongside masters like Dale Chihuly and Jack Lenor Larson.
As a budding ceramist, Keyes said McIntosh helped launch her career when he purchased some of her work for the Bendel department store, which closed its remaining stores in 2018 after a 123-year run.
“He was like a combination of Winnie the Pooh and Coco Chanel,” Keyes said. “Frank changed my life.”
Though she did not know McIntosh personally, Gingeras said she had unknowingly visited their home during the estate sale.
“I remember it so vividly,” she said, describing the stately, majestic architecture decorated with flamboyant, groovy wallpapers, mirrored walls and chic furniture throughout. “It was this incredible time capsule.”
In addition to the trove of drawings, the exhibit also features photographs, treasures and other objets d’art discovered in the Schofield-McIntosh home, amassed over both their careers in the New York City fashion industry.
In the gallery window, you can also see a large folding screen Schofield painted that features a pair of winged female Griffons, references that conjure Schofield’s travels and cultural sophistication.
The pink walls are a creative reimagining and homage to Schofield’s Greenport studio with the selection of drawings hung salon-style with magnets.
“Knowing how artists work, we wanted to give this feeling of the work being in a studio, being part of the process,” Gingeras explained.
A Mattituck resident whose impressive résumé includes curating at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Gingeras also drew inspiration for the exhibit from Justin Spring’s nonfiction book, “Secret Historian,” a look at the hidden life of poet and novelist Samuel M. Steward.
In the book, Spring argues that pre-Stonewall histories of LGBTQ Americans deserve to be excavated from attics and basements to more fully divulge the longstanding diversity of our communities.
“This pre-Stonewall history probably exists in every community,” Gingeras said. “We need to write those histories, and projects like this are part of that process … There’s something very inspiring about archaeology of the past.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post identified a man in one of the photos as McIntosh. Instead it is a friend of Schofield.
The Natali/Keyes gallery is located at 207 Main Street in Greenport and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.