For non-native Long Islanders unfamiliar with the lay of the land on the island’s East End, it’s not always evident that the Hamptons aren’t just the Hamptons. Long before the buttoned-up galas and the mask-free house parties, the hedge wars and the parades of vintage sports cars, the South Fork of Long Island was a rural farming community and, in certain spots it still maintains a distinctly agrarian, bucolic character.
In East Hampton, this connection with the surrounding land and waters is perhaps most evident in local Bonac culture, which is kept alive through local families descended from early English settlers in the area who, as legend has it, first arrived at Accabonac Harbor. The name of the harbor itself was derived rather appropriately from the Montaukett/Algonquian term for “root place.” Largely concentrated in the hamlet of Springs, these descendants, the Bonackers, have held on to, generation through generation, a distinctive culture that includes (clam-heavy) cuisine, an unmistakable dialect, and economic livelihoods tied to the surrounding bays. Over the years, however, these Bonac roots have been increasingly frayed and are at risk of being lost altogether.
The dissolution and disappearance of East Hamptons’ vernacular culture are at the center of artist Scott Bluedorn’s Bonac Blind, a temporary installation that’s one-part floating duck blind, one-part offshore micro-dwelling, and one-part homage to a vanishing way of life. Outfitted with a wood stove, solar panels, and what’s arguably enough domestic trappings to qualify Bonac Blind as a proper tiny house, the installation is presented as part of the Parrish Art Museum’s 2020 Parrish Road Show, an off-site creative exhibition series hosted by the Water Mill-based museum. Showcasing temporary work by regional artists in “unexpected places,” the annual Parrish Road Show, per the museum, aims to “redefine the traditional understanding of the function of an art museum by bringing art outside of its walls and into the community.”
In the case of Bonac Blind, Bluedorn has brought his artistic vision straight to the waters of Accabonac Harbor, where the installation can be found floating atop industrial barrels at a mooring located off of Landing Lane in Springs. Following a public viewing event held in October, tours of Bonac Blind can now be arranged directly with Bluedorn through November 8. (More info on visiting the space in-person can be found here.)
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and a self-described amateur builder who has long been interested in tiny homes and off-grid living (but not a Bonac himself), Bluedorn conceived Bonac Blind as a hybrid structure directly influenced by non-floating micro-homes and duck hunting hideouts. “I always thought they were interesting,” Bluedorn told AN of the blinds. “They’re out in the marsh, kind of mysterious and blending into their environment.”
The name of Bluedorn’s work most obviously signals its immediate function as a native reed-camouflaged duck blind, albeit a rather deluxe one complete with a trap door for bedside fishing and clamming. It also references the blindness exhibited by many of the well-heeled new arrivals whose presence has helped to exacerbate the fracturing of local culture. As affordable housing becomes more and more scarce on Long Island’s East End, many residents, including those with Bonac roots, have been driven out of the area and taking long-held traditions with them. With Bonac Blind, Bluedorn hopes to raise awareness of the often-overlooked affordable housing crisis—one accelerated by COVID-19—afoot in the Hamptons and its impact on long-established, working-class families in the area.
“You could say it’s been ongoing for decades here,” Bluedorn explained of the lack of affordable housing in the Hamptons. “It’s a situation where you not only have gentrification but massive houses being built that push real estate values ever higher, which crowds local people crowd out who now can’t afford it here. And, now on top of that, there’s a lack of actual housing—any kind of housing, affordable or unaffordable—due to the pandemic.”
In addition to commenting on the dearth of affordable housing in the Hamptons, Bonac Blind is also a celebration of Bonac culture and a “back then” East Hampton. Furnished with a homey mishmash of repurposed furnishings and found objects procured by Bluedorn along with his own art, the fully-functional dwelling is also adorned with numerous items that pay tribute to the Bonac way of life: seining nets, a clam rake, duck decoys affixed to the ceiling, a table lamp with a shade made from dried sea kelp from Montauk, and the aforementioned interior trap door. Bluedoor has even outfitted the space with a small library and “Bonac Toile” wallpaper—his own design—depicting local, flora, fauna, and industry. While Bonac Blind isn’t (yet) fit for permanent habitation, Bluedorn has populated it with basic necessities that, in his own words, “make it livable enough.” The grasses that camouflage the structure, including native switchgrass and bluestem, were collected by Bluedorn from local marshes.
The star design feature of Bonac Blind is a window fashioned out of plexiglass panels and a geodesic dome salvaged “from a kids’ jungle gym discarded on the side of the road that I found,” Bluedorn said. “I love geodesic domes and thought it would be really cool to turn that into a window. And that’s actually become the centerpiece of the whole thing—now it’s kind of a huge viewing portal.”
Bluedorn noted that the artistic narrative of Bonac Blind—converting a duck blind in a small, off-grid house—was conceived as a sort of “tongue-in-cheek kind solution to affordable housing.”
“You can move them around and they’re adaptable to rising sea levels,” he added. As for the more immediate future of the curious, grass-clad structure that’s currently moored in Accabonac Harbor, Bluedorn said he’s considering various uses for it after the close of the 2020 Parrish Roadshow including as a studio or camera obscura. He also said that visitors who have visited Bonac Blind as part of the exhibition “always want to stay—they want it to be an Airbnb.”
“I’m planning a lot of future uses for it,” he said. “It’s going to evolve a lot.”