The world became a little less beautiful, as did the future covers of Dan’s Papers, when East Quogue and Baldwin Harbor artist Daniel Pollera died unexpectedly at age 68 on Friday, March 4.
Known to readers for painting some of the most gorgeous and iconic Dan’s Papers covers in his lush, realistic style, Pollera recently submitted this week’s cover, “Passing Time.” It now serves as a bittersweet memorial to our longtime friend and collaborator who always brought warmth and charismatic banter when he visited the office or attended our events and gatherings. Like his art, Pollera’s presence could not be denied, and his loss will be deeply felt by all of us and anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.
His spirit lingers as we contemplate this week’s cover, featuring a pair of Adirondack chairs and a bay house porch looking out onto the water and a solitary sailboat. It’s classic Pollera, even as those empty chairs and the serene, seaside setting take on new meaning, and a melancholy tide rises.
Pollera’s imagery often included the sea or elements of life on the water, which was his other great passion — he was a zealous fisherman who loved being on the water with family and friends aboard his Boston Whaler.
Born in Freeport in 1953, adopted from a foster home at 9 months old and raised by loving parents in Valley Stream, Pollera’s interest in art began at a very young age. He always gravitated toward drawing and painting Long Island’s coastline, and he studied commercial art for a year at SUNY Farmingdale after graduating high school. But Pollera left college to join the family business, precipitating a nearly 15-year break from painting
Like his art, the South Shore beaches and bays sparked Pollera’s lifelong love of fishing, leading him to earn his captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1977. He then worked as captain of a fishing charter, taking passengers out onto the open ocean for striped bass, tuna and other catches.
Pollera married his wife Nancy in 1978 and they were together over 43 years, sharing a love of clamming, and fishing for fluke, flounder and striped bass in Baldwin Harbor where they lived. While at home, Pollera enjoyed restoring simple, flat-bottom Garvey work boats and other vessels, a hobby he continued throughout his life.
His affection for, and deep connection with, the sea eventually led Pollera back to his art. He photographed historic bay houses and coastal scenes to inform his often tranquil and always breathtaking oil paintings. Mostly self-taught, Pollera had an immense natural talent, and in the 1980s he began selling work at the Sea Horse Gift Shop in Freeport.
He worked with noted portrait and mural artist Frances Norris Streit, assisting her on a large historical mural for the Roslyn Savings Bank. He also studied at Nassau Community College with Everett William Molinari, an accomplished painter and president of the National Mural Society whose murals hang in the U.S. Capitol building.
In the decades since Pollera returned to the easel, he grew to stand among America’s most respected contemporary artists painting coastal scenes. His work is part of international collections in London, South Africa and Australia, as well as permanent museum collections, including the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, Guild Hall in East Hampton and the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook (where he had a solo show), among other institutions. Montauk TV personality Dick Cavett, whose home Pollera loved to paint, also collected his work, calling the artist, “my favorite paint applier.”
Pollera’s paintings have been displayed at numerous galleries, such as the Sorrell Gallery, Spa Fine Art, Sheldon Fine Art, Ric Michel Fine Art in Southampton and William Ris in Jamesport, to name a scant few, and he was a primary advisor to filmmakers Barbara Weber and Greg Blank on their 2020 documentary A World Within a World: The Bay Houses of Long Island, bringing the filmmakers to various area bay houses in the winter of 2019. He is featured in the film.
Perhaps more than even his unforgettable art and his standing as a family man and revered figure in the local fishing community, Pollera is remembered as a kind and generous human being who made friends easily and brought joy to the people in his orbit. Following his death this week, a gargantuan outpouring of love and sadness continued for days on social media as people who knew and admired him processed the hole left by his outsized personality and artistic achievements.
Pollera regularly contributed to charitable events for organizations including East End Hospice, the Cancer Research Fund, the Guardian Brain Foundation and the South Shore Estuary Reserve Stewardship Awards. He was good to people in his community, and liked to feed area wildlife such as swans and other birds. Pollera sat on the board of Long Island Traditions, a regional nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving local traditional culture — a group that would also help him learn the history of the bay houses he painted — and he donated a bay house print for their raffle each year.
He is survived by his wife Nancy, daughter Valerie, son Daniel Jr. and five grandchildren.
You can see more of Daniel Pollera’s art at danielpollera.com.
Thank you to Nancy Solomon for contributing to this remembrance.