In the mid-1960s, Peter Waldner created his first oil painting of Shelter Island. It was painted from the balcony of his parents’ home in the Heights and was an image of the steeple of the little church on Wesley Avenue.
Waldner was 10 years old at the time … and he hasn’t stopped painting since.
Fans of Waldner’s work are well acquainted with his wit and often cutting commentary through his weekly Paw Print cartoon, which runs on the op-ed pages of the Shelter Island Reporter and other East End newspapers.
But many loyal readers may not realize that Waldner is also a serious artist. Over the years he has captured countless views of the Island though oils, acrylics, pastels and even colored pencils.
From marshes and summer beach scenes to quiet snowscapes, reflective water vistas and sailboats catching the breeze, Waldner has documented pretty much every pastoral view on the Island.
Now, he has compiled about 100 of his paintings and drawings into book form.
“Painting the Island” is a retrospective of 35 years of Waldner’s artwork celebrating Shelter Island. Appropriately enough, the image on the title page of the book is “The Little Church of the Heights” — the oil painting he created back when he was 10.
“My dad died a couple years ago. He had that first painting I ever did out here, I felt it was a great way to open the book,” Waldner said.
Over the years, Waldner has spent a lot of time exploring the Island and finding the views that he paints. For the record, he’s not one to work on site, rather all of his paintings are created from photographs that he has taken himself.
“For me, it’s about capturing moments,” said Waldner, who likes painting scenes depicting the early morning or late afternoon light. “The best ones are when there’s a certain light, no wind, and you get a nice reflection.”
Though many critics eschew painters who work from photographs, Waldner isn’t bothered by the naysayers.
“I’m also color blind. A lot of artists pooh-pooh working from photographs and say you don’t get real colors, but I don’t care because I see color differently anyway,” he explained.
By way of example, he pointed to the painting on the cover of his book, an image of a North Ferry boat plying the icy waters between here and Greenport. Someone who saw the painting in person pointed out that though it’s a winter scene, the trees in the background are green.
“I don’t worry about that sort of thing,” admitted Waldner with a grin.
When asked if he’s still getting out and exploring the Island in search of the next scene to paint, Waldner responded, “To be honest, I used to do that much more. With the book, it feels like I’ve done it now. I’d like to do something different, even if it’s something like sculpture.”
Waldner’s talents are not limited to canvas and paper, some of his other artistic endeavors, including sculptural pieces he’s already created, are also included in the book, as are several life-like objects he has created and photographed around the Island in recent years.
Among them is “Flat Bob,” the life-size painting of fellow artist Bob Markell. Waldner created “Flat Bob” on scrap wood back in 2014 and it depicts Markell from behind with his hands clasped behind his back. Waldner then photographed the cut out “interacting” with people at various locations around the Island. Throughout that summer, Bob got around, and images of him ran in the Reporter for several weeks in advance of the Artists of Shelter Island (ArtSI) studio tour.
Bob was spotted chatting up guests at a cocktail party, pondering the view as he rode the ferry, and lecturing a class of students at Shelter Island School. Many of those “Flat Bob” pictures are included in the new book, along with several of Waldner’s 2015 cutout (“Flat Deer”), and the 3-D shark, which made its rounds at water bodies and lunch counters throughout the Island just this past summer.
Whether it’s cartoons, cutouts or paintings, Waldner’s work points to a love for the place he calls home. When it comes to his paintings, beyond the beauty of the images and the quiet scenes they capture, there’s also a subtle sense of loss in the book.
In the book’s introduction, Waldner writes, “To those who only visit [the Island] on occasion it may seem to remain timeless, but to those of us who have lived here a while, the change is considerable.
“This book is a celebration of the beauty and serenity of the island that we cling to,” he continued, “if not the magic that may have faded with childhood.”
One of Waldner’s favorite paintings in the book evokes those long ago memories of childhood — titled “Summer Blues” it features a vintage blue station wagon parked at the beach with a blue umbrella in the sand nearby.
“I always loved that blue car, which you see around town in the summer,” he said. “And the blue umbrella was actually there, though it looks set up. “It reminds me of being at the beach at age 10.”
Coincidentally, the same age when he officially became an Island artist.
Waldner’s book is available now. If you’d like to see a copy, the library has one in its collection. If you’d like to buy a copy, call Waldner.
He’s in the phone book … that, at least, hasn’t changed.