Southold observatory hosts art exhibition centered on astronomy

By Nick Spennato

The Custer Observatory in Southold hosted an art exhibition where each of the pieces was centered on astronomy this past Saturday.

The observatory’s first art exhibition hosted three artists, Nick Cordone, Randall DiGiuseppe and Cynthia S Padgett, each of whom drew inspiration from a different part of astronomy.

One of the presenters, Randall DiGiuseppe, is a classically trained artist whose featured work for the exhibit was a series based around the traditional Zodiac signs, and has been interested in astronomy since first looking through a telescope at age eight. The intersection of his lifelong passions led him to Custer, where he holds a seat on the Custer Observatory Committee and helped form the exhibition.

“We spend half of our lives under the night sky and not nearly enough time contemplating it,” DiGiuseppe said.

The exhibition is playing another important role by helping the observatory get funding. The pieces featured in the exhibition will be available for purchase, with anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of those sales being donated to the observatory, depending on the artist.

As the treasurer for the Custer institute since 1980, Barbara Lebkuecher has seen the institute through high times and low, with funding being a particular issue for the non-for-profit institution.

“One of the ways we have of supporting Custer is the donations that we receive when visitors come, among other ways such as members’ dues and sometimes grants,” Lebkuecher said.

Custer’s board of directors is made up of volunteers who do not take a salary, and so the primary cost associated with Custer is its upkeep. The original observatory was established in 1927, with more wings in the years to come. The sheer age of the building is a typical source of worry, Lebkuecher said.

Donations sometimes come in forms other than dollars.

The artists have done a lot to ensure success of the exhibition. Cynthia S Padgett, whose work focuses more on the intense imagery of the night sky rather than the science of it, traveled from her home in Baltimore to attend the event and help support Custer. Nick Cordone, whose work features a look at what a space faring humanity might become, offered to drop the prices of his pieces so they would be more affordable and generate some revenue for the observatory.  

One incident in years past even led to a group of workers from Home Depot installing a new roof on one of the wings for no charge, Lebkuecher said.

Since she was a child, Anne Spooner has been at home in the Custer Observatory.

“I’ve been coming here since my father used to drag me here against my will. There’s a lot of good memories here. This place is a part of me,” Spooner said.

Now serving as Custer’s music director, Spooner is responsible for organizing many of the musical events Custer hosts, along with the exhibition.

“It started out as one of our artists’ asking if we wanted to display some of their pieces during a concert. We sort of figured it would be better to give the artwork its own event, rather than keep it in the background,” Spooner said.

Most of Custer’s events are free as a way to keep members and the community engaged, while some events are forced to have a ticket cost due to limited space.

It remains to be seen how much money sales from the exhibition will have raised once it ends in November, “though any revenue is a help,” Spooner said.