There's a good chance you've run into Tim Lee at yard sales, making his weekend buying rounds, or maybe you've noticed his striking displays of vintage industrial wares at the Springs Fisherman's Fair or an event at Mulford Farm. Antiques dealer is just one of Lee's roles; he is also an art photographer and sculptor, and has a longtime party design business. The loft-like house he designed for himself in Springs is, he says, "like a prop shop." This week, journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg
talks with Lee about his extraordinary eye and wide-ranging endeavors.
You're a photographer as well as an antiques dealer, an event designer, a lighting designer, and general creative genius. I'm assuming you have an art background?
Not really. I studied liberal arts at Old Westbury and had Lisette Model as a fine art photography teacher at Parsons. But I worked for ten years in commercial photography, shooting catalogues. I never considered that art.
How long have you lived in Springs? Did you grow up in the area?
My parents bought a house here in '53, when I was born. I spent every summer of my life here. I have childhood friends here; I don't have childhood friends in the city. Between here and Mott Street in Chinatown, it was an amazing upbringing: from the tour bus scene in Chinatown to Maidstone Park, which was dirt roads. I've been here full-time for twelve years. I have a 22-year-old and a 20-year-old; I moved out here to raise them.
What are you most excited about now?
What I'm doing now are shell sculptures as specimens, then photographing them, and sculptures made of vintage dolls-head molds. Those are the most fun. They're mounted on casters and spin on metal bases. I like taking things that are already made, mounting and presenting them. An eel rake mounted on a piece of recycled teak becomes a sculpture.
Where can people find your work?
The sculptures are sold at Fishers Home Furnishings in Sag Harbor and through my blog. I used to have a studio in Springs, but I don't have a regular spot now. I'm thinking about it; I'd love to have a corner of somebody's shop.
Tell me more about the party design.
Party design is one of my hats. It's a seasonal thing and each situation is different. For one party, the clients wanted something extra-theatrical, so I designed a rubber jewelry-display hand molded to hold a flashlight under a photography umbrella. It was a nighttime party, and they were suspended, floating. You never knew how they were rigged. I enjoy the party design because it's literally coming in and making magic, mostly with lighting.
Do you travel far and wide to shop, or do you stay local?
Source-wise, it really is all over the place. I buy at shows from other dealers, go to estate sales out in Montauk, look on Craigslist. A lot of the vintage industrial stuff [a metal blimp, cultivator wheels, glassblowing bowls, metal silverware stamps] comes from the Brimfield (Mass.) flea market. It's a fun place to go. But it's getting harder to find stuff. I'm getting more and more picky as my eye has become more refined.