Beach-Scrap Sculptures Thrill Some, Irk Others

September 5, 2009 at 10:20 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

148406_w407Some New York State scavengers are doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing. It’s part of my lifelong beachcomber fantasy. But not everyone appreciates their creativity, as Erin Schultz reports in the Riverhead News-Review:

“For years now, two displays of ‘driftwood art’ on local Long Island Sound beaches — complete with beach huts and collections of memorabilia like discarded sandals, bikini tops and Barbie dolls have wowed passersby — or at least made them turn their heads.

“Both displays, one located on an isolated stretch of Reeves Beach in Riverhead and the other on a higher-traffic section of Bailie Beach in Mattituck, have guest books containing signatures from people all around the world. And for both of the men who continue to cultivate their driftwood creations, the commentary in these books has been nothing but positive.

“Up until recently, that is.

“To Ed Flanagan of Mattituck, the display on Bailie Beach is a ‘monstrosity.

“‘This collection of driftwood and garbage may be considered art by its builder,’ he wrote. ‘But in fact, it is an eyesore, a magnet for local children and an accident waiting to happen. The structure is unsound, an arsonist’s dream and a serious fire hazard.’

“The creator of the Bailie Beach display is Garret Cutler. He’s spent the last five years placing dozens of pieces of driftwood in the sand, curving them this way and that outside his home overlooking the Sound.

“Some logs look like people. One is clothed in a bikini top. Another serves as the body for a toy horse head. A bamboo hut sits next to all this, and Mr. Cutler and his friends often relax under its shade. And a circle of upright driftwood logs called the “Sanctuary” houses a bench, a bucket of Barbie dolls and the guest book Mr. Flanagan decided to sign early last month.

“‘I don’t want trouble,’ Mr. Cutler said after reading Mr. Flanagan’s comments. ‘It would be heartbreak for me to have to give this up.’

“Riverhead resident John Gadzinski [depicted above in photo by John Neely] and his girlfriend, Tee Hadley, have spent the last four years cultivating a driftwood beach hut between two boulders on Reeves Beach in Riverhead — land along the Sound that was recently acquired by the Peconic Land Trust.

“‘Welcome to John and Tee’s Beach Hut,’ reads the sign at the entrance. ‘Please enjoy, but do not destroy.’

“Mr. Gadzinski, a 62-year-old employee of the Southampton Golf Club, said he’s spent only a night or two in the hut, which incorporates a tiny living room and bedroom — but nobody, including himself, has ever tried to live there.

“License plates from different states that Mr. Gadzinski has collected over the years line the walls of the tiny enclosure.

“‘Some are mine off my vehicles, and some people brought others from out of state,’ he said. ‘The kids love it.’

“He said that visitors often leave sandals, bottles of bug spray, beach glass and seashells to enhance the display. They also occasionally help decorate a nearby ‘driftwood tree’ with buoys from old boats.

“‘People have been really receptive to it,’ Mr. Gadzinski said.

“John and Tee’s Beach Hut does not have electricity or water, nor does Mr. Cutler’s creation. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Mr. Flanagan, a 63-year-old retiree of the Air Force and Grumman Aerospace Company who often runs on Bailie Beach for its natural beauty.

“‘It is a curiosity, but I don’t think it should be here,’ he said of Mr. Cutler’s Sanctuary. ‘It’s not safe. It could fall down … My concern is that there are more and more of these things going up, and it just gets me annoyed. Besides, don’t you need a permit for a bungalow?’

“Southold Town Councilman and former Trustee Al Krupski said he was not aware of Mr. Cutler’s creation, but he said that if it qualified as a ‘structure,’ as defined under town code, it would need a permit.

“‘But if it’s something innocuous like driftwood art … It’s hard to say without looking at it,’ Mr. Krupski said.

“In Riverhead, Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale said that as long as the beach displays are above the high water mark, it’s not disturbing public land.

“He added that since no one lives in Mr. Gadzinski’s creation, it’s considered temporary, so a permit is not required by the town.

“In defiance of claims made by Mr. Flanagan in Mattituck, Mr. Cutler said that his shack and sculptures are well above the mean high tide mark.

“Though he said he’s not a sculptor or visual artist by trade, Mr. Cutler, a Massachusetts native and a financial advisor in Manhattan, said he is a beach bum and environmentalist by nature. It was while walking on the beach that he started to wonder what to do with all the unattended wood washed ashore, he said.

“‘I began to see forms, scenes and beings in the wood,’ he said.

“Soon, Mr. Cutler found himself traveling the beach with his dog, collecting the wood to display as art. He said that everything else displayed with the wood — the dolls, chairs and clothing — was also found on the beach.

“‘There are some macabre scenes with the dolls,’ he said. ‘But it’s a joke. It’s a display of exuberance.’

“Born and raised in Riverhead, Mr. Gadzinski said he has always visited that particular spot on Reeves Beach to fish, swim or just get away from it all.

“After a ‘good winter storm’ about five years ago, he said he filled a bucket with nails, drove his pickup truck up and down the beach and “just went to it.”

“‘It’s an ongoing beach cleanup,’ he said of his hut. ‘All of the wood that we found had been washed up on the beach. [The beach hut] is not hurting anything.’

“Though he’s not yet seen it, Mr. Cardinale said that Mr. Gadzinski’s work sounds like art — and a good way to recycle driftwood.

“But, he added, not everybody is going to like what they see when they pass by.

“‘Some might argue that this isn’t the most attractive thing they’ve ever seen, but some also argue that the Mona Lisa isn’t attractive,’ Mr. Cardinale said. ‘It sounds like a creative recycling project for the driftwood, and it probably enhances the beach for everyone.'”

I want to see the “macabre scenes with dolls”!!!

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