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Hamptons Life

Oct 3, 2017 10:38 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sabina Streeter Draws 'The Five Wives Of Captain Hand' In Sag Harbor

Sabina Streeter presents
Oct 3, 2017 10:45 AM

It all sounds very peculiar, Sabina Streeter says, and a bit cinematic.

The story begins with Captain David Hand VI, celebrated Revolutionary War hero and five-time prisoner of war before the age of 20—the real-life inspiration behind James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leather Stocking Tales.”

He returned to his Sag Harbor cottage after the war and started a new life as a shore whaler with his wife, Susannah Sayre Stewart.

She would die soon after.

So, he married her sister, Mary, who also died.

Then, he married Hannah Miller, who died, followed by Charlotte Havens, who—no surprises here—died as well.

All of this happened in less than 10 years. And each woman was age 30, or under.

“What’s even stranger are the gravestones,” Ms. Streeter pointed out. “They are of identical design with epitaphs that have identical font, identical lettering, just different content. First of all, it’s unusual to have an epitaph, and then it’s unusual that you have the identical stone. It’s almost like they were all made at the same time.”

Captain Hand’s fifth and final wife, Hannah Sayre, would die in 1835, five years before Captain Hand was laid to rest beside his wives in Oakland Cemetery at age 81. As to whether these women would have wanted that, it is uncertain.

“No one knows how they died, but we do know it wasn’t childbirth. The birth of their children never coincides with date of death,” Ms. Streeter said. “Four, one after another. It’s really unusual.”

With the story in mind, Ms. Streeter took to her Sag Harbor studio—located just in front of Captain Hand’s former cottage—and lost herself in her imagination.

As there are no photographs of the five wives, she cast them as contemporary characters—models she found within her circle of friends on the East End—and painted them as they could have been.

The subsequent collection of pastel and charcoal portraits on linen and sandpaper she calls “The Five Wives of Captain Hand: A Maritime Mystery,” which opens Saturday, October 7, at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum.

“I don’t want to say it’s a reenactment, but the models are in costume and sit for me. In previous work, I used Dan Gasby as a harpooner, and all the five wives are young living women, friends of mine,” Ms. Streeter said. “It’s not classic portraiture, it’s more gestural. I’m trying to make as much as possible with as little strokes as possible.”

The modern spin on this slice of history keeps it fresh—a juicy story that could have otherwise faded away with time, the artist said. Instead, it is timely and relevant.

“I’m trying to bring these characters to life somehow and make them a little more accessible,” she said. “If you’re not deeply vested in history or read a lot about it, it can be a bit difficult to access. If they’re presented in a way that people relate to, they hopefully get interested, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my artwork.”

“The Five Wives of Captain Hand: A Maritime Melodrama,” featuring artwork by Sabina Streeter, will open with a reception on Saturday, October 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, and remain on view through Tuesday, October 31. For more information, visit sagharborwhalingmuseum.org.

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