David Morris knew this day was coming. All it took was the right gust of wind.
When Tropical Storm Isaias cast a glancing blow on the South Fork in early August, it not only downed trees and power lines, wrecked cars, and knocked out power to thousands of homes, its hurricane-force gales also swept away half of the façade of “Stargazer,” its steel frame now exposed like a skeleton on County Road 111 in Eastport.
But this time, after a series of repairs that have kept “Stargazer” standing as the gateway to the Hamptons since 1991, the damage is just too much for a quick fix, explained Mr. Morris, who built the nearly 50-foot-tall sculpture with artist Linda Scott nearly 40 years ago. It will require a complete rebuild, from the ground up.
“We thought it would only last about 10 years, and it’s been way over that,” Mr. Morris said. “It really has extended its time.”
To construct a new version of “Stargazer” that will withstand all four seasons — not to mention the blizzards, hurricanes and heat that come with them — Mr. Morris estimates he will need to raise about $100,000.
“It’s a lot of money, and in this environment, with COVID, there’s a lot of people in need and I just can’t see …” he said, trailing off. “I don’t know what to do. It’s just not a repair now.”
Before any fundraising efforts can start, Mr. Morris said he wants an extended lease from the property’s owner to guarantee that the steel-and-wood sculpture of the “Stargazer” deer, looking to the sky, with an antler in its mouth, will remain there for years to come.
“I need something on paper before I get big money from people,” Mr. Morris said. “I would hate to rebuild ‘Stargazer’ on a year-to-year lease without a guarantee, and then all of a sudden, they want to sell the property. They say they can’t do it, because it’s in the Pine Barrens, but who knows? I haven’t seen any documentation or anything, that’s just hearsay from them.”
Brookhaven Town officials have previously confirmed that the land is indeed part of the Pine Barrens core area, and preserved for agriculture use, eliminating any risk of being developed. But that is not good enough for Mr. Morris, he said.
“I’m sure they’re confident nothing’s gonna happen, but if something does and they have to sell the property, there could be one person that wants it taken down,” he said. “I’d hate to have it rebuilt and up for two years, and then it has to be removed. It wouldn’t be fair to the general public putting a lot of money in.”
It wouldn’t be fair to Mr. Morris, either, who plans to take on most of the endeavor himself. “I’ll rebuild it before I get too old to do it,” he said. “I’m getting up there. I’m not any spring chicken anymore.”
As it stands today, “Stargazer” is comprised of a steel frame covered by a wood frame and plywood skin that is stuccoed and painted over. At the time, this was a leading construction practice and ultimately what sunk the sculpture. First, the synthetic stucco proved to be tremendously flawed and incompatible with the plywood.
“The second thing that happened, that let water get in there, which I didn’t realize, is woodpeckers putting holes in the top of it that I couldn’t see, at the very top,” Mr. Morris said. “So water got in there and really couldn’t vent out properly, so that caused the plywood to deteriorate even quicker. Woodpeckers! Can you believe it?”
Originally intended for the entrance of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons shelter facility, the deer sculpture proved to be too short for large trucks to drive under and so tall that it jeopardized planes at the adjacent East Hampton Airport. It found a new home and a willing host in Harvey Pollock, who, as part of an estate trust, owns land on the side of County Road 111 that is currently in use as farmland.
“Stargazer” was set there with a 150-ton crane in 1991 and almost immediately became a beloved local landmark. Even in its current wrecked state, catching a glimpse of the red sculpture is an immediate indicator for eastbound travelers that they have reached their destination, and they can start to relax. But when Mr. Morris looks up at the deer, he thinks only of Ms. Scott — a fascinating woman he met decades prior, who died in July 2015 at age 77 after battling cancer.
“She had all these wonderful ideas on outrageous sculptures. If we had had the money,” Mr. Morris said, interrupting himself with a laugh. “I mean, she had more ideas, giant sculptures.”
Though the deer is the most famous of Ms. Scott’s “Stargazer” series, it was not her first. She previously made similar sculptures — one with the head of a man, and another with the head of a woman. They each mark the connection and tension between the heavens and the earth, and the deer is no different.
“Basically, she knew we were nothing more than stardust. So that’s what it represents, looking to the sky, this phenomenal stuff that’s happened. Just, not to take everything for granted and it’s not just material, it’s conscious energy. It’s made out of energy. She was an amazing person.”
To preserve what is left of “Stargazer,” Mr. Morris plans to make a tracing of the head and, if time and money allows, temporarily replace the damaged sections with plywood as he decides on his next move.
“I just need to get the shape now before we have another storm or hurricane, and everything flies away,” he said. “Then it will really be tricky to rebuild the shape.”
While reconstructing “Stargazer” out of steel would give the sculpture its best chance at survival long-term, it is simply cost prohibitive — more than double the quote of using more traditional construction materials.
“We got a price from [sculptor] Hans Van de Bovenkamp — he’s a real good friend of mine — and we talked about how to do that and with the price of stainless steel, it would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Mr. Morris said. “Stainless steel is very expensive and that stuff is heavy. A piece of stainless steel, a 4×8, has to weigh close to 250 pounds or more, so you can imagine how that would add up. You would need a crane, it would be very dangerous. One little slip and there goes your finger, sliced off in a second.”
Keeping the same steel frame, which will be stripped and painted, a complete rebuild would still involve wood, but this time pressure-treated ACQ lumber covered with a waterproof material and a drainage system before reapplying stucco. The sculpture will also be vented and reinforced with metal flashing at the top, to prevent pesky woodpeckers from doing any damage.
“I’m gonna do it in a different way altogether,” he said. “It’s been, what, over 30 years? So if I rebuild it, it will last at least 50 to 70 years — longer than that, probably. People just love it. Kids were brought up with it. It just represents something. It’s like coming home.”
For more information on supporting “Stargazer,” email email@example.com or visit lindascott.org.
As published in the Southampton Press