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Old Westbury Gardens

Featured Artist Jessica Shoupe

By Damien Monaco

There are so many forms of art that surround people every day and, for the most part, it is all overlooked. A lot of people don't realize or think about the hard work and creativity that goes into designing everything you see. This could be anything, from the car you drove to work or the coffee mug you drank out of this morning. To cover all the magnificently crafted items out there would take too long, but for right now we will focus on the mansions on Long Island and Jessica Shoupe's work in relation to them.

No, Jessica Shoupe is not an architect. She didn't design these mansions. But she does have a passion for photographing them and sharing their beauty with others before they all meet the same fate of being destroyed.

"I remember going to the Vanderbilt Mansion in Centerport when I was younger and being in awe about how those people lived the way they did, and that was less than a century ago. Then, four and a half years ago, when I worked in Huntington, on my way to get lunch everyday I would see this huge mansion popping out of the hills not too far away. So curious little me did some research and I learned that it was Oheka Castle, which is the second largest privately owned mansion in the US (the first one being the Biltmore in Asheville, NC). Ever since I saw that, I've found about over 50 remaining mansions and ruins, and the number kept growing. I have books upon books about the estates, and what really intrigues me is how these homes were built. The architecture is top-notch quality and you don't see that precision in newer homes built today. I like to preserve that quality in my photographs, especially since many mansions have met with the wrecking ball and have been demolished. Out of over 700 or so mansions, there are about 100 left on Long Island. I respect Long Island and its history, and if it were up to me, none of those masterpieces would have been destroyed, but that involves lots and lots of money ... which I lack," Shoupe commented.

Despite the difficulties in finding a good job as a graphic designer and not having a lot of money, Shoupe still tries to give back to the art community. She is a member of the Friends of Oheka, Planting Fields Arboretum and the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. This may not be enough to save all the mansions but it will still help out.

Jessica Shoupe

The historical mansions on Long Island are not the only things being destroyed. It is also the profession of the artist. Forget about ever becoming a fine artist and making a living. For a lot of those who have already abandoned that idea have instead turned to becoming a graphic designer, a more mainstream job. But even that idea has flopped. The field of graphic design has become flooded with potential employees, all fighting for the same few jobs and getting nowhere.

"It seems like now-a-days everyone is a graphic artist (and apparently someone who has a computer with Photoshop on it automatically qualifies them as a graphic designer), but there's simply not enough firms or companies to work at because it seems that there is always someone with more experience than you or 'better' than you ... which is depressing for all of the struggling graphic artists on Long Island and everywhere else. Since it is ridiculously expensive to live on Long Island, most of the artists I know are living their lives by the skin of their teeth and/or leaving Long Island, which I have chosen to do because I simply can't afford it," added Shoupe.

To agree with Shoupe, even graphic designers who go to college and earn their credentials don't seem to find it as much help when trying to find a job, though other benefits can still be achieved.

"I received my BFA in graphic design at Briarcliffe College," said Shoupe. "As far as the educational experience goes, I pretty much learned a lot more on my own and with the help of friends. The professors didn't get too involved, but they were there if I had a question about something. As an artist, [college] was great because more creativity spilled out of my brain and into whatever I was working on."

Even though so many artists are struggling on Long Island, most of them continue with their art, trying to make life a little better for everyone by creating beauty in the world or by getting important messages across.

Check out Shoupe's websites to see more amazing photographs of the historical mansions that are located throughout Long Island. Also be sure to visit the Long Island Gold Coast website to find out interesting facts about many of the mansions and where they are so you can see them in person. Enjoy the beauty before it is gone.

Knollwood-Charles Hudson Estate, demolished in 1959.
Also referred to as the King Zog estate.

Photos by Jessica Shoupe

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