A new kinetic sculpture by Susan Buroker was installed at the Arthur Dove and Helen Torr Cottage in Centerport, NY. The sculpture was inspired by the work of Helen Torr and celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Heckscher Museum’s stewardship of the property. A soundwalk and an exhibition, Salt Life: Arthur Dove and Helen Torr, will open on November 19.
“A Vision Against Context” is a collaborative sculpture project that emerged from a weeklong summer camp organized by the Heckscher Museum of Art in conjunction with Girls Inc. The project’s aim was to draw inspiration from the life and work of Helen Torr, particularly her diaries, her home, and the natural surroundings that influenced her art. The outcome of this creative exploration was a large-scale kinetic sculpture dedicated to Helen Torr by Buroker.
The sculpture, measuring 4 feet in diameter, 6 feet in width, and 10 feet in height, is constructed from stainless steel. This choice of material holds symbolic significance within the artwork. The stainless-steel bar, which runs through the core of the sculpture, serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it symbolizes the social barriers that Helen Torr encountered as a woman in her time. On the other hand, it also functions as a representation of the support and strength she provided to her partner, Arthur Dove. The juxtaposition of the two upright metal shapes, symbolizing confinement, and the desire for exploration, adds depth to the narrative. It speaks to the tension in Torr’s life and her aspirations for creative expression beyond the limitations she faced.
Curved metal bar wrapped around a metal plate which appears to float within the structure is reminiscent of the water that played a significant role in Helen Torr’s life, as she lived on the Mona sailboat and in her home by Titus Mill Pond. Metal flora shapes throughout the sculpture pay tribute to the natural world that influenced Helen Torr’s art. These organic forms evoke the plants and elements of nature that inspired her creative work. The sculpture concludes with a circle of metal leaves, which move in harmony with the wind. This interactive feature serves as a celebration of Helen Torr and her enduring legacy. It symbolizes the ongoing influence of her art and the impact she had on the artistic landscape.
The renowned American modernists Helen Torr and Arthur Dove lived in Huntington from 1924 to 1946. For many of these years, they lived aboard their 42-foot yawl, Mona, in Huntington harbor. In 1938, they purchased a cottage on the banks of Titus Mill Pond in Centerport, just three miles from The Heckscher Museum of Art, where they lived for the rest of their lives. The Heckscher Museum acquired the property in 1998. It is part of Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios, administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and part of Artists’ Sites of Long Island, an initiative of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.
The Heckscher Museum of Art Soundwalk, located at the Dove/Torr cottage and in Heckscher Park, was created in 2023 with support from a Dorothy C. Radgowski Learning Through Women’s Achievement in the Arts Grant, a joint effort of Where Women Made History (WWMH), and HAHS. Special thanks to Susan Buroker, Evangeline Knell, Girls Inc. Long Island, Monica Ortiz-Menier, Helen Keller National Center, and the Heckscher Museum Accessibility Advisory Group for their work on the project. Tactile Maps and Signage for this project, at Heckscher Park and the Dove/Torr Cottage with generous grant support from the Town of Huntington Environmental Open Space & Park Fund Advisory Committee.
“The most exciting part for me working with the girls was reading excerpts from Torr’s diaries (1925-1938). The girls began to grasp the cultural difference for women in different generations. This experience seemed to empower them when they discovered that women didn’t have their own bank account, or own their own home, and many other inequalities,” said Buroker. “The girls became inquisitive to Helen’s color palette, the sophisticated understanding of tone and rhythm in her work. The world that myself and the young ladies of Girls Inc. discovered at the Dove/Torr cottage was the inspiration we used to create sculpture maquettes. Our collaborative effort is a celebration of an unrecognized woman artist. May every visitor to the cottage now know and recognize Helen’s contributions to the art world.”