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Voices and Votes: Democracy in America Makes its New York State Debut at Preservation Long Island

March 08, 2024 2:58 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Old Methodist Church building, headquarters and exhibitions gallery for Preservation Long Island. Photo courtesy of Lauren Brincat, Curator, Preservation Long Island

The Museum Association of New York is the designated partner for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street Program, circulating Smithsonian-created exhibitions across New York State. From March 2024 to January 2026, MANY will travel the exhibition “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” to 12 museums in 9 NYS REDC regions. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, MarketNY, and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, MANY will help the museums attract visitors, expand their programming, and grow their donor base.

Each museum will host the exhibition for six weeks as well as the creation of a responsive exhibition telling the story of democracy in their communities using objects and location-specific stories. Museums will use the Smithsonian exhibition as a launching point for “A New Agora for New York: Museums as Spaces for Democracy” humanities discussion series to explore the context and main controversies behind our democratic system including the principles and events that inspired the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the struggle for civil rights, voting rights, and equal participation in our democracy. This project will support the work of each museum and their communities as they explore, reflect on, and tell the story of their role in the evolution of American democracy.

“Voices and Votes” opens at Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor this March. We spoke with Preservation Long Island Curator, Lauren Brincat, to learn more about how the exhibition will impact programming, museum capacity, and amplify Long Island’s role in American democracy.

Museum Association of New York (MANY): Why did Preservation Long Island apply to host Voices and Votes?

Lauren Brincat: It was the connection between the exhibition themes and the work that Preservation Long Island is doing, particularly the story of Jupiter Hammonand the larger enslaved community at Joseph Lloyd Manor where we’re seeing an increase in dialogue and discussion that is bringing people together. It’s become a main focal point for us 

We saw connections between our local story of democracy to the Smithsonian’s exhibition. The Smithsonian exhibition will provide greater historical context to what's happening on Long Island –especially as we move towards the 250th, Jupiter Hammon is certainly, for New York, someone to talk about as a voice who is writing about speaking about liberty and freedom during and after the American Revolution. 

MANY: Can you tell us more about the story of Jupiter Hammon and how Preservation Long Island hopes to amplify this story while it hosts Voices and Votes?

Lauren Brincat: Jupiter Hammon is the first known published African American poet. He was one of only two enslaved individuals to have their works published in North America during the 18th century, so he provides a really rare perspective on this critical moment in our country's founding. He was born into slavery on Long Island and did some of his most well-known and significant writings that confront these ideas of liberty, freedom, and enslavement in the new nation on Long Island. 

We will incorporate Jupiter Hammon's story into our responsive exhibition that I'm curating. Our responsive exhibition will include two original copies of Hammon’s published works. The first, “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York.” was written in 1786 and Hammon references the American Revolution and how many lives were lost. It was the Patriot's calls for liberty that inspired him to advocate for the freedom and citizenship of Black New Yorkers. The second published work, “A Winter's Peace,” was written while Hammon was in exile in Connecticut during the war because Long Island was occupied by the British during the Revolution.

Our Project Scholar, Dr. David Waldstreicher, Professor of History at City University of New York, will deliver a free, public lecture about Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley 

MANY: What other objects are you going to have in the responsive exhibition that will be from your collection?

Lauren Brincat: It's a little bit of a mix. The two Jupiter works we’re borrowing from the East Hampton Library. 

We will include a bracelet and a ring from our collection made by a female factory worker at one of the large aircraft plants on Long Island during World War Two. While men were fighting for democracy abroad, women were filling factory jobs at home and gaining greater agency in their lives, albeit for the short term. After the War, women were expected to give up their jobs for returning veterans but foundations were laid for future calls for equality.

Other objects include a silver tankard made by Elias Pelletreau who was a Long Island silversmith. Referred to as Captain Pelletreau, he was an older man who led a militia of senior citizens in Southampton during the Revolutionary War.

A tea table that was owned by William Floyd, a Long Island Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Needlework done by the daughter of Henry Packer Dering. He was one of the first customs and postmasters for the port of Sag Harbor, the Custom House is one of our historic houses. It was also a location where they administered oaths of citizenship. Her needlework was done at the Litchfield School in Connecticut. It’ll focus on the idea of Republican Motherhood and what that meant in this period.

We also want to focus on the building where the exhibition will be located. It was built in 1842, and shortly thereafter visited by Sojourner Truth during her time on Long Island. We’re looking forward to exploring her connection to this actual site.

We are including an 1860 signature piece quilt done by members of the Dutch Reform Church in Manhasset. We’re not sure why this was made but lots of signature piece quilts were made during this period and were done to support the ongoing Civil War. This is the inspiration for a larger program, our community quilt project that we are doing with North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art. Members of our community are making blocks which will then all be signed and sewed together and will be on display in the exhibition and then will become a part of our collection.

Some more contemporary things we will include are a protest blanket that was made by an artist in 2020 that was part of an outdoor art memorial to Black Lives Matter. The exhibition was organized as a way for people to show support while continuing to social distance during  the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a way for people to participate and show support through creating art which created a living memorial. This blanket was a part of that installation.

A big part of our mission is advocating for historic preservation. We want to focus and highlight ways that people can advocate and use their voices to support historic preservation in their communities. 

We’re including three photographs in our exhibition by Shinnecock Fine Art Photographer Jeremy Dennis. Called the Sacredness of Hills, these photos confront the  desecration of a sacred Indigenous burial site in Southampton due to development on the East End prior to the passing of the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act in New York just last year.. It's a  powerful series that connects the history and experiences of the Shinnecock People on Long Island with preservation advocacy work. 

MANY: You mentioned a walking tour with Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum and getting items loaned from the East Hampton Library, tell us more about the partnerships you’re forming as part of the exhibition. 

Lauren Brincat: Yes, the Cold Spring Harbor Library will host our scholar lecture. The community quilt project is a partnership with the local businesses here on Main Street and they are supporting that entire project.  

MANY: What are some of the goals for Preservation Long Island, short-term and long-term?

Lauren Brincat: It's exposing more people to the wide variety of work that Preservation Long Island does. We have an expansive mission, and people know us for the different kinds of work that we do whether it’s our preservation advocacy, exhibitions, or our publications. This is an exciting opportunity to bring all of this work together, especially through a Smithsonian exhibition and a responsive exhibition that will explore  historic preservation and ways to join advocacy efforts on Long Island and beyond.

We want to generate more interest in what Preservation Long Island does. We’re a regional organization and we’re also a local institution and a place where people can go to have discussions about different topics and learn about history.

MANY: In addition to hiring gallery attendants, how are you and the Preservation Long Island team preparing to host Voices and Votes

Lauren Brincat: We are boosting our part-time staff who will work in the gallery so that we can be open more regularly, consistently, and reliably. I think that this exhibition has gotten all of us to work more collaboratively than we have before. For example, I’m working with our preservation director to give a presence to the work she does in the exhibition itself. 

MANY: How many staff members does Preservation Long Island have?

Lauren Brincat: We have about 10 people on staff, 8 full-time.

MANY: What is something that you hope a visitor might take away with them after visiting this exhibition?

Lauren Brincat: We hope that it will spark curiosity to learn even more. It’s an opportunity to have a hyper-local focused exhibition in response to a Smithsonian exhibition where we can highlight Long Island alongside the larger history of democracy in America. 

I would hope that it will inspire visitors to learn more and to seek more information.

MANY: What are some other changes that are happening because you are participating in this project?

Lauren Brincat: Partnering with more community organizations for programming and events to increase our capacity and their capacity as well. It’s  been very much an all-hands-on-deck kind of project for us. Being part of this project has been an exciting way for us to all work together towards the exhibition’s success, requiring us to think more strategically and to plan further in advance, which is great!

Learn more about Voices and Votes: Democracy in America and “A New Agora for New York: Museums As Spaces for Democracy” at Preservation Long Island.

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