|Exploring Roots of East End Farm Families|
It began, Ms. Chamberlin said, eight years ago when, disenchanted with New York City, she moved to the South Fork. She found an affordable, year-round rental in a two-apartment 19th-century farmhouse here. Ms. Chamberlin, who was born in California and grew up in Connecticut, took any jobs she could find to support herself.
She was a personal assistant to an architect and an entrepreneur. She worked for a woman who created indoor gardens, and eventually establish her own garden design firm. She designed jewelry that cost as much as $20,000 a piece.
''Annoyingly, a lot of different things interest me,'' she said. ''I'm pulled in so many directions that it's hard to find time for all of it.''
The latest direction surfaced in 1998 when a friend asked her about soil compacting. Since Ms. Chamberlin does not enjoy unanswered questions, she asked Dean Foster, a farmer in Sagaponack, for the answer.
''I had to go way back on the property to see him, behind the farmhouse, and found myself surrounded by giant silos and huge tractors,'' she said. ''It was like standing in the midst of a science-fiction scene.''
Mr. Foster introduced her to his father, Clifford, a descendant of English settlers who came to Southampton in 1650. The Fosters paved her way to meeting John and Tom Halsey of Mecox, brothers whose ancestor was an original founder of the town, and Paul and Richard Corwith of Water Mill, cousins whose roots go back to 1644 and who claim a forefather in the early 19th century who, using 12 oxen, moved his windmill from North Haven to where it stands on the village green in Water Mill. Everybody helped her make contact with the William Zaluski family of Water Mill, the third generation descendants of a Polish soldier-turned-farmer who arrived in 1898.
''I was so taken with those beautiful farms and the people I met, I decided that, short of becoming a farmer myself, the best way to immerse myself in their way of life was to document it -- to do a book about it,'' Ms. Chamberlin said.
This book, she knew, would require photographs. That was her first major challenge. She did not have a camera and had never taken anything more than casual snapshots. Undeterred, she went to Hampton Photo Arts in Bridgehampton, told them about her proposed project and asked to borrow a camera. ''Without ever asking me if I had ever shot a photo before, they lent me two Nikons and four lenses,'' she said.
Two rolls of film later she realized that she could take meaningful photographs. ''After all, I was a landscape painter so I know how to compose a landscape,'' she said.
She next had to sell her would-be subjects on the proposal. Once she assured them that she wasn't about ''to paint some dismal picture of farmers -- portray them as millionaires or struggling peasants as so many other writers had,'' she said, the families agreed.
The book took form almost immediately with Ms. Chamberlin deciding to zero in and record the seasons on the farms: spring as the families prepared for and began the hectic chore of planting; summer with the orchards and fields at the height of their growing season and the extreme measures needed to keep them healthy; fall with harvest time for all, ending in Thanksgiving celebrations; and winter, a time for the land to rest and the farmers to repair and maintain their equipment.
Ms. Chamberlin also needed to put the farmers and their families in historical perspective. Helped by Richard Barons, the director of the Southampton Historical Museum, and David Goodard, a historian who is writing a book about Southampton, she began researching the families. ''Surprisingly, it came easy,'' she said. ''I'm very organized.''
Ms. Chamberlin spent months in the stacks. Since local history tends, she said, to really be ''more folklore than fact -- one writer makes a mistake and others in the future pick it up and perpetuate it'' -- she and her researching colleagues uncovered information that the farmers did not even know.
For instance, she said, ''everyone thinks that the first Thomas Halsey's wife was named Phoebe. The founder's wife was actually Elizabeth.'' Then, no one had ever satisfactorily explained what brought the English settlers to Southampton in 1640 from Lynn, Mass.
''We found mention in an 1890 Sag Harbor newspaper of a journal kept by one of the founders in which he wrote that the settlers had come to Conscience Point because Lion Gardiner, who already lived on Gardiner's Island, told them it would be a good place to land,'' she said.
Ms. Chamberlin became so immersed in her subjects' history and current lives that at one point she realized she had written 72 pages about the Halseys alone. ''I write well enough to say what I want to say,'' she said, but her work needed cutting and polishing. Enter an editor, Harvey Loomis, who helped her shape the manuscript into about 120 pages of essays accompanied by approximately 250 photographs that she is taking around to publishers. She realizes that the book is a tough sell because color photographs are very expensive to produce.
Meanwhile, Ms. Chamberlin has fashioned an exhibition called ''True East: Farming Ancestral Lands on Long Island's East End'' on display at the Southampton Historical Museum through Sept. 4, and at the Bridgehampton Historical Society from Oct. 13 through Dec. 24.
''It was a daunting task -- trying to show these inventive, resourceful, sophisticated people; trying to capture the beauty of the subject matter,'' she said. ''I just hope that any talent I have was up to it. And I'm not being self-effacing. I really mean it.''