With spring now fully underway and pre-season beautification in order, the man tasked with restoring late artist Linda Scott’s iconic “Stargazer” sculpture in Manorville is getting back to work this month, and he finally has the funds to do it — mostly.
Scott’s longtime boyfriend David Morris helped realize her unprecedented vision of erecting the 50-foot red sculpture of a deer looking to the heavens with a branch in its mouth at the gateway to the Hamptons back in 1991, and he remained its steward, patching holes and fixing damage as it came. But the sculpture fell into serious disrepair over the last 30 years, and when Scott died of cancer in 2015, Morris became even more motivated to keep his girlfriend’s legacy alive. The full restoration effort has been monumental, and things are looking more promising than ever, but a few hurdles remain.
Last fall, Lindenhurst-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harvey Manes of the Manes American Peace Prize Foundation presented Morris with a $100,000 donation to help cover the bulk of the badly needed restoration, which will be funneled through the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Arete Living Arts Foundation. The FLAG Art Foundation in Manhattan also pledged $50,000 (half of which will be paid later), Sherwin Williams donated paint, GO Solar gave lighting, and additional pledges have trickled in through the “Stargazer” GoFundMe page and the artist’s website, lindascott.org.
Arete Living Arts Foundation executive director John Whiteman said his organization keeps excellent accounting of how all donations are spent, and they have been an instrumental part of ensuring “Stargazer” and Scott’s legacy continue long into the future. “I see what’s being spent on a weekly basis,” he said, noting that Arete has overseen “Stargazer” since before Scott’s death.
Morris has applied numerous temporary fixes throughout the decades, but this latest work, now backed by significant funding, aims to fully restore the sculpture and make it more solid and structurally sound than the original build, essentially redoing everything from the ground up. He began this newly funded restoration last year, working through mid-December on framing and plywood, in preparation for the stucco outer layer, before the winter weather forced him to stop.
“I haven’t started it yet (this year) because of the weather — you don’t know what’s going to happen in March,” Morris said this week, explaining his plans to resume work on the sculpture by mid-April. “I don’t want to take the material out and then we have a storm and everything is blowing all over the fields out there. So I’ll probably start in a couple of weeks, full blast, again.”
Unfortunately, not everything has gone according to plan.
“I thought this was going to go three times faster than I predicted. But it was very difficult to keep the shape, cutting the stucco. I had to prop things up to keep the shape, and I want to keep it exactly the way it was, the profile. I had to trace everything. … It’s quite complicated,” Morris said, pointing out that the cost of materials has gone up about 30% since he set the budget for repairs.
Morris said he’s applied most of the plywood on one side, which he may end up painting red so “Stargazer” looks presentable over the summer as he works toward getting it done properly, complete with acrylic stucco, which will protect it for many years to come.
When he and Scott first built “Stargazer,” Morris said the acrylic stucco was a new product, and they didn’t anticipate the water problem it created when condensation got caught behind the panels and couldn’t escape. “And to compound it, I had the birds getting in there. I never saw it on top, but the woodpeckers pecked holes in it,” he said. The new build will include ventilation, and Morris plans to add a metal layer on top so the woodpeckers can’t peck holes that would allow water to seep in.
“The way we built it originally, it was never going to last that long, as long as it did,” Morris said. After “Stargazer” is properly restored, when it’s finally complete, he said it shouldn’t need another serious repair for 10 years or longer. Adding a fresh coat of paint annually would also do wonders for maintaining the sculpture, Morris noted.
It appears inevitable that more funds will be needed for materials and to rent the expensive articulating construction lifts he needs before the last stucco panel and coat of paint are applied. “The worst-case scenario, I might not get it all stucco-ed this year, it all depends. And I might have to raise a little more money, but I’m really optimistic. It’ll have the whole shape to it,” Morris added.
And of course, even more money will be required to keep “Stargazer” going in perpetuity. After he dies, Morris said he has a friend who could potentially take over as steward, but nothing happens without funding, which would continue to be managed by the Arete Living Arts Foundation. “We have an ongoing, 20-year contract for the land,” Whiteman said. “It’s definitely a long-term plan for the ‘Stargazer.’”
“We have to get some more money for the future. Once it’s all done and looking great, we’ll just raise money for that, like a pool of money so if anything happens it’ll keep it up,” Morris said.
For now, however, the mission remains focused on making “Stargazer” as good as new. Morris admits he’s a bit crazy for continuing the difficult job, but it’s about honoring Scott, who he thinks about “all the time” — especially while working on her sculpture. “If I think of her, I can hear her voice, just the way she would talk and everything, metaphysically, through my mind’s eye,” he said, describing their close relationship with a deep connection fueled by shared interests in topics such as quantum physics, the stars and, of course, art. “Her son Morgan called me his stepfather,” Morris added.
Along with managing the funding for “Stargazer,” Whiteman said Arete is hoping to make a documentary film about Linda Scott and her sculpture. He pointed out that Scott was an important female figure in the New York Abstract Expressionist scene, and her story should be told on film. Meanwhile, he and Morris will talk soon about what’s needed to complete the “Stargazer” restoration. “I keep a close watch on it,” Whiteman continued, adding, “We do have another grant coming in for the ‘Stargazer’ in the next six months.” But only time will tell how far the funds will go toward completing the job.
If the money runs out, it seems likely someone will step up to help save the beloved sculpture that welcomes drivers to the Hamptons. “I never thought it would become like this. This big. I never thought it would become a landmark the way it did. It has its own life,” Morris said. “People love it so much.”