Throughout its 99 years on the South Fork, the East Hampton Historical Society (EHHS) has focused on preserving and celebrating East Hampton’s past. Now, for its 2020 antiques show, EHHS is reimagining the annual event to better fit today’s reality, not yesterday’s. The Virtual Antiques Show Party arrives on Friday, July 17, with an online auction running then through July 24.
EHHS Executive Director Maria Vann explains that the goal of the reimagined event is to “keep things in the same rhythm” as previous years and “bring some normalcy and happiness to people in the community who are used to these events.” With this mindset, the annual Preview Cocktail Party at Mulford Farm has been transformed into the Virtual Antiques Show Party. East Enders can purchase tickets to receive a limited-edition swag bag replete with Wölffer rosé, local brand cookies a nautical canvas tote bag and more. South Fork ticket holders can have their bags personally delivered to their home, while those on the North Fork and beyond must schedule a pickup date once the EHHS office has reopened.
The online auction that follows is the historical society’s first foray into the like so they’ve partnered up with Doyle Auction House to make the inaugural East Hampton Historical Society Online Auction a success. “It’s a learning curve, but it’s not one we’re not up for,” Vann says.
East End designers, many of whom have supported EHHS for many years, were quick to step up and offer their pieces for the auction, resulting in a cornucopia of exciting items to win. Design luminaries include Aerin Lauder, Jonathan Adler, Charlotte Moss, Kim Seybert, Marshall Watson and others. The historical society has also put some if its prized artwork by Thomas Moran, Claus Hoie and David Arbus up for auction. Lavish experiences are up for grabs as well, such as Marshall Watson’s COVID Cocktails, at which he will host a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception then give a socially distanced tour of his impeccably decorated home and garden.
During these trying times, the EHHS team has done what they can to support those on the frontlines. At the beginning of April, they donated roughly 1,500 pairs of leftover house tour booties to first responders, and now, they’ve included an item in the online auction that allows bidders to buy local restaurant gift certificates for the East End Ambulance Corps. “We thought this might be an opportunity to give them something of a thank you, and now that the sun is shining, a lunch on their own, wherever they want,” Vann says. “Just so they know they’ve been appreciated and their efforts haven’t been forgotten about.”
While the online auction is certainly a first for the historical society, it’s not their debut digital offering. Since March, EHHS has offered a plethora of online educational programming and live virtual events, “engaging well over 10,000 folks, which is typically the amount of people who actually venture through our doors during the year,” Vann notes. “I think people tend to think of historical societies in general as these old houses and old places, but I’ve always felt that this society has really moved with the times,” she says, noting that EHHS has been developing its new online programming for a few years. “When we had to pivot because of COVID-19, like many organizations did, it forced our hand, so to speak.”
With much of the historical society’s annual revenue coming from summer museum admission and events, the last few months have been difficult for EHHS, but Vann remains optimistic. “We are a very strong organization, and we continue to forge forward. We’ve been here for one hundred years—celebrating our centennial next year—and we’ll be here for 100 more,” she says. “We’re just a positive group of people, and despite the things that have impacted us, we’re moving ahead. Onto the next hundred! We have to reinvent ourselves constantly in life anyway, so this is an opportunity for us to do that and celebrate that.”
Looking ahead, two of the historical society’s five museums will reopen in August—The Thomas & Mary Nimmo Moran Studio and the East Hampton Town Marine Museum—and a new exhibit will debut to coincide with the reopening. The annual lecture luncheon will also take place in August, with this year’s reinvented digital version featuring a live video lecture with a top East End designer and a luxury lunch to be picked up at Mulford Farm.
To purchase tickets to the Virtual Antiques Show Party, to peruse the online auction when it goes live and to learn more about East Hampton Historical Society, visit easthamptonhistory.org.