Eric Fischl’s Saints of Sag Harbor: Part VIII

Saints of Sag Harbor Lanford Wilson by Eric Fischl
Lanford Wilson by Eric Fischl Gary Mamay

The religious past and the art-as-religion future have intersected within the walls of the Sag Harbor Church, with famed artists/activists April Gornik and Eric Fischl as the founders and Sara Cochran as executive director.

The soaring Sag Harbor Church is home to 20 windows; the center of each a large square of glass; it is there, explains Fischl, where the “arts saints of Sag Harbor, the dead saints, will be canonized.”  For more information about programs, visit sagharborchurch.org.

Dan’s Papers is spotlighting two windows a week, with Fischl’s lighthearted responses when asked the irreverent question, “What would this luminary be the patron saint of, besides Sag Harbor?”

Lanford Wilson (1937–2011)

Fischl says: “Lanford Wilson is the saint for those playwrights who are willing to take pliers and wrench to the leaky plumbing of doomed romance, always with the understanding that without humor, tragedy is a farce.” 

Lanford Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and the co-founder of Circle Repertory Company. Some of his best-known plays are 5th of JulyTalley’s FollyBalm in Gilead, The Hot l Baltimore, and Burn This.

Lanford Wilson was born in Missouri, moving to Greenwich Village in 1962. After 1970 he spent half the year in Sag Harbor, and lived there full-time after 1998.

In 2010, he was presented the Artistic Achievement Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards “in recognition of his brave and unique works that helped establish the Off-Off-Broadway community and propel the independent theatre voice as an important contributor to the American stage.” He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980 and was elected in 2001 to the Theater Hall of Fame. In 2004, Wilson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a Master American Dramatist. He was nominated for three Tony Awards and won a Drama Desk Award and five Obie Awards.

Wilson was also a collector of outsider art, and an avid and accomplished gardener. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor.

Saints of Sag Harbor James Salter painting by Eric Fischl

James Salter (1925–2015)

“James Salter is the saint of writers who, like a fighter pilot, fly their missions with a compressed language of erotic description that is deadly accurate. His epitaph is the guiding wisdom of The Church: Art Is Life Rescued From Time,” Fischl says. 

James Salter was an American writer and U.S. Air Force pilot. He attended West Point and during WWII was stationed in the Pacific theater. He flew more than 100 combat missions, using his later Korean War experience for his first novel, The Hunters (1956). Salter’s 1961 novel, The Arm of Flesh, drew on his experiences flying with the 36th Fighter-Day Wing at Bitburg Air Base, Germany.

Salter came to disdain both of his “Air Force” novels and took up screenwriting, first as a writer of independent documentary films. His most famous film work is Downhill Racer with Robert Redford. After moving to New York City with his family, his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime was published to acclaim. It received his kindest self-critical review, saying that it came close to living up to his standards.

In 1976 he began living with journalist and playwright Kay Eldredge. Eldredge and Salter co-authored a book entitled Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days, in 2006.

His 1997 memoir Burning the Days chronicles the impact of his experiences at West Point, in the Air Force, and as being an ex-pat in Europe. A collection of short stories titled Dusk and Other Stories, published in 1988, received the PEN/Faulkner Award. Salter was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000.

His last book, All That Is (2013,) received wide acclaim. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor.

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