by Stefan Lonce
As the editor of The Montauk Sun, I occassionally receive submissions, most of which just smell of, “I’ve got something to sell and I “Googled” publications on Long Island.” They usually have nothing to do with Long Island or the East End, or, as my mom used to say, “What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?” I usually just delete them, while mumbling under my breath something along the lines of, “If you want advertising, you can pay for it like everyone else.” Well, this gentleman contacted me…and he wasn’t looking for anything free! He just wanted to tell his story…and…it actually has something to do with Montauk! Not only that, I had an instant connection with him. You see, we are alike that we use our creative talents as an outlet in dealing with pain, both physical and emotional.
I’d like you all to meet Anthony Desiato and let you know how he discovered the “Seven Sisters” of Montauk, and how he recreated them, “painting” them on his computer, eventhough he suffers from Peripheral Neuropathy and has lost the use of his legs and most of that of his hands.
First, for those who don’t know, the “Seven Sisters” is a collection of large shingle style “cottages” built for wealthy New York City families’ summer use, designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White within a site plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1881 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976…but more on that later.
Now, I said that I had a connection to Anthony. I spent my childhood drawing houses! The old fashioned way, with a pencil and a ruler. I grew up in a small apartment with 5 brothers, so, as you can imagine, it was noisy and hectic. My way of creating peace and quiet was to sit and draw. There could be a pillow fight going on around me and I would sit there with my pencil and pad of paper and be all alone! One of my favorites was the house from “The Waltons.” I always liked big porches and dormers.
My drawing became my haven from the turmoil. Santa even knew how important it was for me to have an outlet. When most 12 year olds were getting new bikes and footballs for Christmas, I got a drawing table, set of drafting tools, and a mechanical pencil set…but I digress…LOL. Anyway, I still do this today. Over the past two years I’ve had to have a series of surgeries on my hip and I’ve used the opportunity to recreate the Mario Cuomo Bridge spanning the Hudson River, as well as a rendition of FDR’s home in Hyde Park. Before that, I had recreated other buildings, after the death of my wife, to deal with the pain and anxiety. After a couple of hours at the computer, the anxiety and pain just seemed to go away. Anthony did the same thing. Yeah, Anthony and I have a lot in common.
Anthony lives in Rochester, NY, where he grew up. He is 55 years old. Before neuropathy reared it’s ugly head, he worked as a Tool & Die operator, set-up technician, and programmer. He’s always loved drawing…facial profiles, people, and especially houses. Of course, back then, he was using pencils, paper, rulers and two-point perspective…as did I.
1. Can you describe what Neuropathy is and how it has affected you and for how long?
Neuropaythy is a peripheral disease affecting your nerve endings. Your brain shoots out signals in the form of burning, tingling, numbness, and throbbing to the feet and hands. It’s debilitating. It’s been 12 years now. I can no longer walk. I can’t draw with pencils or brushes anymore since I can’t hold them properly. Not only have I lost my house and job, believe it or not, I’ve lost a lot of friends. You see, before I was diagnosed, I missed a lot of friends’ events because, “My feet hurt.” Not to mention, when you’re in pain you just want to isolate.
2. Can you describe how your artwork began and how it helped you work through the tragedy of your wife’s passing? Well, I’m a diabetic and I remember being on hold with the American Diabetes Association and I had my tablet in front of me. Somehow an MS PAINT window popped up, so I just was doodling around waiting for some assistance on the phone. I drew this house that a five-year-old could draw…just a square with a triangle roof…LOL. Anyway, my first “creation” developed from that pic. I wanted to try any means other than medication to deal with depression and anxiety from my wife’s passing. I have nothing against medication, but I’m already on medication for my pain and I didn’t want to add to the list. I noticed when I was drawing for 4 or 5 hours at a time, not only did I have a tremendous sense of relief when I was done but it also kept my mind off it the whole time I was drawing. Of course the shopping for the house to draw is also part of the process of meditating. But, getting lost in the detailing is the ultimate meditation, without medication.
3. How did you end up picking the “Seven Sisters” to recreate?
I was “Googling” a house to draw and I wanted it to be pretty old, very big, and definitely with a wrap-around porch. Well up came Tick Hall also known as Orr House. I didn’t know any of that yet but I Googled some more angles of that same house and also the inside that’s when I found out talk show host Dick Cavett owned the house, and that’s why there was so many pictures of it on the internet because he was selling it. Now there was a documentary, “Tick Hall From the Ashes…The Life and Times of Tick Hall.” I looked all over for that on the internet it was either discontinued or sold out, and then I stumbled on Scott Morris’s email. He’s the person who made the documentary…a very nice guy. He had a few DVDs at his house and he mailed me one. I must have watched it 10 times or more by now. I’ve emailed with him once in awhile. He has a picture of Tick Hall…he was going to show it to Dick Cavett and his wife if he ever spoke to him again…I’m sorry I got a little off course…but anyway…then I started drawing the rest of the houses. One by one…taking me a total of 6 years. I’m still learning how to draw that wood shingle look. I have no special program or tools. I have to come up with that look from nothing using a mouse with chronic neuropathy in my hands, and I’m using my right hand, originally I’m a left-handed artist. But I just love the look of the wood shingles. Stanford White and his partners were the architectural firm and Frederick Law Olmstead was the genius that placed those houses exactly where they are.
4. Can you describe the technique you use in recreating houses?
Some houses I create right out of my head. I just start out with a line and go from there.
Others, like the Seven Sister Houses, I have them open in a photo program that I have on my taskbar and I’ll click back and forth to look at it as I recreate it.
Another technique that works well is Google Maps. I’ll use the roadside tool, basically, just take a virtual drive down roads and find a house that I’d like to draw. It’s perfect that way because you can choose the angle. I’ve virtually been in Cape Cod, Finland, Ireland, Scotlandand a few other places in Europe. If I’m going to draw a random house I always change it around. I may put a chimney on it if it doesn’t have one, add steps going up to a porch, extra windows, fewer windows, etc…
5. How long did it take you to master the mouse as a paint brush? I know you were left handed and needed to train you right hand to take over.
I kind of trained it as I was going along…that’s why my houses havw improved over time. It’s not like I was great at drawing with the mouse with my left hand either. Drawing with a mouse is just plain old not easy. I’ve been incorporating a lot of stones in my work. That was something…learning how to draw rocks and stones from nothing. Fading…it’s more of a trick than a tool…and it brings things to life, in my opinion.
6. What program do you use to “paint” your houses?
In the beginning I was just using MS Paint and my mouse. Now I use Lunapic. It’s not very much different than MS Paint, except the lines are smoother. I draw the house, any type of sidewalks, gardens, driveways… I have drawn the grass and sky, but in most cases I “Google” the background and just drop my house on it. Remember, I use just a basic low profile mouse. I really don’t think anybody else is using this type of procedure I use. Believe me, I’ve looked around, I have really no choice because I can’t hold anything like a computer pen stylus. I spoke with the gentleman that developed Lunapic and I sent him a few of my houses. He could not believe I drew them in his program because it’s geared for photos. First off I draw the shell of the house…the “frame.” That takes me a day or so…8 hours maybe, and I wait until it’s perfect. Then I start on the siding and the roofing and all the detailing. It could take me anywhere from a week to a month to draw one house.
7. Do you have any plans for a next project?
Name something you’d like to report on…LOL. Actually, I been working on a rendering of “Second House.” (Are you listening Montauk Historical Society?)
8. Is there anywhere, besides here, the public can view any of your creations?
Yes, Andrea, the Historic Librarian at the Est Hampton Library has published my Seven Sisters drawings in ‘Digital Long Island.’ (https://www.digitallongisland.org/)
9. Would you like the public to contact you?
Yes, of course! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Seven Sisters: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Montauk Association Historic District is a 100-acre historic district that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It is a complex of large Shingle style cottages for wealthy New York City families’ summer use, designed by McKim, Mead and White within a site plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1881. In 1976, the district included nine buildings deemed to be contributing to the historic character of the area, and two other contributing sites. It is bounded on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by the hamlet of Ditch Plains, and on the north and east by marsh and scrubland.
It includes seven large Shingle style homes that, together with a clubhouse and other supporting buildings, comprised the Montauk Association, and which were built during 1881–1884. The Montauk Association as an entity no longer exists. The district also includes the sites of two former buildings of the Montauk Association, a community laundry and a community stable, which remain as archeological sites. Another former building, the casino and clubhouse of the association, was burned in 1933 and has been replaced by a modern house, the Tweed House. Another modern house, the Wright House, stands separately to the northwest of the complex of cottages. There are also several small sheds and garages which are unobtrusive and do not unduly detract.
The seven cottages are: Agnew Cottage, Benson House, Sanger House, Hoyt House, Andrews House, de Forest House, Orr House (Tick Hall)
All seven were designed by McKim, Mead and White and are placed carefully in the natural landscape, conforming to a site plan designed by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted (You know…the Central Park designer). They were placed into the natural landscape and linked by pathways, leaving the natural landscape mostly undisturbed.