Breaching Whale Finds Home At Museum

John Scarola’s breaching whale sculpture at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum.

John Scarola’s breaching whale sculpture at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

Next time you drive by The Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor, take a look at the large whale rising into the air. The whale is built from wood and comes from the creative mind of sculptor, John Scarola.

The large wooden sculpture outlines the silhouette of a whale breaching the water and stands at 15 feet tall, making it an eye-catching display that sits at the front of the museum. Scarola fondly remembers childhood days spent at The Whaling Museum, learning more about Long Island’s connection to the water and its creatures.

“I wanted something that had a really big visual impact so when people drive by the museum, it catches their eye and makes them hopefully want to come in and see what’s going on,” Scarola said.

After completing a large sculpture, named Two Schools of Thought, for The Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding that now stands in Billy Joel park, Scarola knew he enjoyed making large pieces that made a big impact. He was looking for his next project when Assistant Director of The Whaling Museum, Cindy Grimm, suggested he apply for the NYSCA Decentralization Grant. Scarola was instantly on board and knew he wanted his work to go the museum.

“I felt the Museum was an obvious choice for my sculpture because I am passionate about environmental issues,” Scarola said. “The museum provides great programs in that direction.”

John Scarola at work on his Breaching Whale.

John Scarola at work on his Breaching Whale.

Scarola began to work on the application for the grant that had many questions as a way to determine a project’s merit. The grant is distributed by the Huntington Arts Council to two projects in Suffolk and Nassau and had over 400 applicants.

“Only the projects with the highest artistic merit and community service receive funding,” Marc Courtade, Huntington Arts Council’s Executive Director, said. “The grants not only validate the artistic merit for the recipients, but allow them to further explore their creative visions and enrich the cultural landscape of the Long Island community.”

After Scarola received the letter that his project was chosen, he began to work on the sculpture in March and just recently finished this past Sunday by applying the final coat of stain.

“My work comes pretty much out of my head so when an idea hits you, you kinda get fired up and want to get it started,” Scarola said.

The idea to construct a massive whale comes from Cold Spring Harbor’s history of having a large whaling industry that existed from the end of 18th century to mid-19th century.

“Whales are just a part of what Long Island is, whales used to pass by,” Scarola said. “Even during the 1960s and 70s, you could see whales on the beach from the South Shore, it was not a rare thing.”

But Scarola knew he could not construct a horizontal whale because of the small amount of property he was working with. Instead, he choose a whale emerging from the water to give it magnitude.

“It comes with a lot of challenges and problems but that’s all part of the deal that you have to sort it out,” Scarola said.

After working with wood for many years, Scarola knows what it takes to complete. Even from his childhood, he enjoyed carving wood and gained more experience by working for a carpentry company and doing tree work. He now has a studio in San Remo and works on smaller projects that could one day be used for an art show.

“Art is something you just do and feel like you have to do it,” Scarola said. “I know that when I’m away on vacation for a week, I start to get antsy about not making something. I think a lot of artists would say the same thing, you don’t really think about why you’re making it but you’re drawn to it and want to make it.”

The Whaling Museum will be having a dedication ceremony for “Breaching Whale” at their annual SeaFaire & Festival on Sept. 29, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Scarola will be there demonstrating on his workbench how to use 19th century woodworking hand tools and will allow people to try.

“Great public art fosters a pride of place and enhances a community’s identity,” Whaling Museum Executive Director, Nomi Dayan said. “John’s sculpture indeed accomplishes that as this mammoth whale celebrates our Island’s deep ties with the sea.”

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