Accomplished Author, Professor Dennis Longwell of Sag Harbor Dies

Curator Alicia Longwell and Dennis Longwell
Curator Alicia Longwell and Dennis Longwell

Dennis Patrick Longwell, an active member of the community, published author and art history professor from Sag Harbor, died in his sleep on April 24 at home with his wife by his side. He was 83.

Longwell was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1938 to two physician parents, Charles Longwell and Edna Mae Longwell. A proud New Yorker by choice from the 1960s, he settled on the East End with his young family in 1983.

He attended public schools in Herrin, Illinois and graduated from Yale University in 1960 with a BA in philosophy. He earned an MA in film studies from Northwestern University and an MFA in the history of photography from SUNY Buffalo University’s Visual Studies Workshop. He also completed coursework towards a Ph.D. in art history from the Graduate Center of CUNY.

He studied acting under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in the 1960s and was co-author, with Meisner, of Sanford Meisner on Acting, a seminal work of acting instruction that has been translated into Chinese, German, Danish, Italian and Spanish and has remained in print continuously since 1987. An accomplished actor himself, as a young man Longwell played the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT as well as the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival alongside a teenage John Lithgow.

While serving as Assistant Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York he wrote the monograph Steichen: The Master Prints 1895–1914, the definitive book on the early photographs of Edward Steichen. His varied professional career also included work as a real estate agent and, in later life, as a Visiting Professor of Art History at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and an instructor at The Graduate Center, and Parsons School of Design.

Longwell was a longstanding parishioner of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Bridgehampton. An enthusiastic avocational choral singer, he sang for many years with groups including the Choral Society of the Hamptons and New York Choral Society as well as the Riverside Choral Society.

He was also active in politics and labor advocacy, serving as treasurer for Sag Harbor’s Common Sense Party, and as a member of the first contract bargaining committee for adjunct instructors at Parsons. He had met his life’s great love on a picket line, at MoMA, when he was dissuaded from crossing by a convincing registrar named Alicia Grant. For the near half century to come, they would be inseparable. He was a fixture of the East End arts community, faithfully accompanying his wife to events at the Parrish Art Museum, where she has worked since the 1980s.

He was happiest close to water, at Long Beach or Sagg Main Beach and under sail on Peconic Bay. He was an accomplished cook who loved ice cream and simple foods prepared well, none more than the summer bounty of our local farms. He was also a committed member of the Sag Harbor meetings of the Friends of Bill W. His nearly 40-year commitment to prioritizing personal health and family welfare served as an inspiration to many.

Longwell is survived by Alicia, his devoted wife of 46 years, and his two children, Julia, of Lake Worth Beach, FL and Oliver, of Portland, OR. He was the loving grandfather of Milena and German Lopez-Longwell, also of Lake Worth Beach. Sabrina, a rescue cat from ARF, is the last in a long line of pets close to his heart.

The family thanks East End Hospice for the comforting and expert care he received in his peaceful last days. Deep appreciation is also extended to Angelo Bagnoli, of Sag Harbor, for his unwavering devotion to Longwell’s wellbeing in the last chapter of his life. The family suggests a donation in Longwell’s name to Doctors Without Borders or East End Hospice as an appropriate legacy for those so inclined.

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