Merrall Hildreth is adjusting to his new-found fame after the recently noticed the contents of his Sagaponack barn.
Society personnel fell in love with Hildreth’s woodworking accomplishments and the volume of items. Now, an entire exhibition of Hildreth’s wood carvings and model houses are on view at the society’s Archival Center through June.
Hildreth's wife, Mary Lewis Hildreth summed it up this way: “Words can’t describe it,” she said of her husband’s woodworking. “It’s just amazing what talent he has.”
During the exhibition opening on May 6, Hildreth smiled and tried to get comfortable with a crowd admiring his work. He said the whittling is something he’s always done — it came naturally since his father and uncle were carpenters.
“This is just something I fiddle around with in the basement,” he said. “It keeps me busy and out of trouble.”
If that’s true, Hildreth hasn’t seen a spot of trouble in decades.
The barn is reported to be floor-to-rafter with woodcarvings plus farm equipment and more. The show, "Merrall Hildreth Woodworks," puts a selection of his work on view. Included are birdhouses and tabletop sculptures of dogs, farm animals, birds and more.
There’s a folk art toy and a jewelry box. There are floor sculptures of bears. There’s a bike with a wooden frame. Hildreth built the bike after seeing a similar one in a local shop window decades ago, he recalled.
Most carvings are based on things he’s seen that inspired him to carve something similar, he said. His wife and his sister, Mimi Hildreth Leonard, each recalled observing him noticing an item while traveling or around town. Later on, something similar would appear in the barn.
The models are noteworthy for their craftsmanship, historical accuracy and level of detail, remarked those at the opening. On view is a Bradford dollhouse and models of the one-room and the Hildreth & Co. general store.
Each is built using actual construction methods, Hildreth said. The roof shingles, wood flooring, newel posts and stairs were made as if an actual house were being built.
A model of the Ezekiel Sandford House from the Bridgehampton Historial Society’s collection is in the show. While not made by Hildreth, it is a replica of the home of Hildreth’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, said the society's executive director, John Eilertsen.
Hildreth’s family history in Sagaponack is a subtle part of the show. A family tree and brief history are relayed on wall panels. Hildreth and his wife owned the Sagg Main General Store and the post office. A glass case with family Bibles recalls Sagaponack roots that stretch to the 1600s.
Leonard recounted some Hildreth family history: Creativity runs in the family, she said. Merrall is a woodcarver and can sing, if pressed. Mimi plays piano and sings. Their late sister Ruth loved embroidery. Betty loved quilting. Ed was a carpenter. Wilbur was a technical director for NBC.
Taken together, the exhibition allows visitors to experience a time when life was slower, family ties were central and individual talents were celebrated, Eilertsen said.
"Merrall Hildreth Woodworks" will be on display at the Bridgehampton Historical Society's Archives, 2539A Montauk Hwy, Bridgehampton, from May 6 through the end of June. The hours are , 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.