I had the pleasure of visiting with Emily (EM) Czaja– an extraordinary lady. She knows Bellport like, well, let’s put it this way. She was born and raised here and was the Village historian for more than 20 years. If you want to know anything about Bellport, Em probably has the answer.
But there is the other side of Em – the artist. And this was the reason for my visit. Mrs. Czaja very generously donated a large collection of her watercolors, pen and inks, paintings, and artwork to the Bellport Brookhaven Historical Society.
When Did You Begin Painting?
I began drawing as a child but had no formal training. I took lessons from local artists such as Ruth and Jerry Grace and Jody Love. Then it was my turn, and I taught classes to local ladies who met in Olga Roe’s home. What Mediums Do You Like or Dislike? My favorite mediums are pen and ink and watercolors. I now work with markers; they are so handy, and they dry instantaneously.
I disliked working with oils. It’s not the technique, but the smell of the paint and turpentine that bothered me. It’s a good medium because you can cover any errors easily, but the smells were too much, and they take a long time to dry.
Have Any Favorite? It is hard to choose a piece that is my favorite. I really don’t know. I have done so 6 many it’s hard to say. But, I guess my favorite subjects are fish and sea life. I just love to draw shells of any kind.
Awards? I’ve won a few awards, mostly from the South Bay Art Association in Bellport and Wet Paints in Sayville. I am very proud of them.
Any Advice? My advice to any artist is to keep on drawing. You need to keep drawing to keep you going. And use all kinds of mediums. Try them all to find which one you like best. Remember that drawing IS the work of the artist. And always have a sketchbook and a couple of pens or pencils with you. You never know when inspiration will strike. Who knows, your work might also be highlighted in Bellport’s Museum Complex.
I asked Em to tell me about herself, and, in the course of the conversation, learned a bit about old Bellport. These are her words: My mother was Helen Read, from Bellport, and my father was Harry Ferrier. He was born in Italy and came to the US when he was about 6; he was raised in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, one of seven brothers and two sisters. I should add that my mother had one sister and three brothers.
Riches to Rags – There was an old horse named Jack. He knew exactly which houses got milk and would move onto the next house while my grandfather was delivering to the previous house. I attended the old wooden school on Station Road in Bellport for the first two grades. The school then became too small, so, while the new school was being built, I attended 2nd grade in Villano’s Store in the Village, which belonged to Mr. Smyth, the plumber. It is now the Tailor Shop on Bellport Lane, north of Porters.
Speaking of school, I remember that Nina B. Corwin, was my first-grade teacher, and Ruth Peck Corwin (Wilbur’s wife) was my 4th-grade teacher. There were four in the Peck family, and she told me “4 pecks make a bushel.” I never forgot that. The grammar school was completed in 1929, and Em finished school in the new high school, which also faced Station Road, graduating in 1939.
My Dad was stationed at Camp Upton on Long Island and was performing with the Yaphank show created by Irving Berlin. It was called Yip Yip Yaphank. When the show was performed at the Comet Theater (now Wallen’s Market), my mother served cake and coffee. That’s how my parents met – at the Comet Theater. In fact, after they met, he would walk about 12 miles from Camp Upton to my grandparent’s farm which was at the east end of Head of Neck Road so he and my mother could court.
They were married in October 1920. After my parents were married and before I was born, my mother followed my father all around the country while he was touring. But, when the time came, my mother returned to my grandparents, and I was born on their farm on January 27, 1922. I was joined later by my sisters – Anna Ferrier Terwilliger and Marion Ferrier Hawkins.
My grandparent’s farm (the Read farm) was located past Vander Zalm’s near the end of Head of Neck Road by the old laundry, west of Mott Brook. The property went to Beaver Dam Road, approximately where the Bellhaven Nursing Center is today. In addition to growing vegetables, my grandparents also had a dairy farm and delivered milk. They sold eggs and vegetables. I remember a field of asparagus. Most of the income, however, was from milk and eggs.
Em Czaja continued, “Emily Read (my aunt and namesake) worked for the telephone company as an operator. The building was located on the west side corner of New Jersey Avenue and South Country Road, next to the present Fire House. It used to be Skip Albin’s house and the wing on the side was for the telephone company. Skip had a store on Bellport Lane, south of Carla Marla’s. He would sell you anything! And he would always call the young girls ‘sis’, which is, I suppose, pretty common for people of Irish descent.
Anyway, my Aunt suggested that I become an operator too, which I did, working at the company for about 12 years. I remember sitting at my board, watching people walk up and down the street. One day, Mort Czaja was riding his bicycle (he used to deliver groceries for Bohacks, which was where the Deli is today). I said to my friend, “I’m going to marry him” And, of course, I did.
Mort was living on Brown’s Lane with his sister in Connie Thompson Borntrager’s house. I met Mort at a blackout party at the Thompson house, and, that was it. We began keeping company and “went together” all summer before Mort was drafted into the Air Force in 1941. Rev. Jones (Uncle Rev) was the minister at the Southampton Methodist Church. He was previously the minister of the old Bellport Methodist Church that was on the corner of Browns Lane and Maple Street.
We called him to marry us, and he performed our wedding ceremony on October 27, 1945, in Southampton. We were married for 50 years; sadly Mort died in 1995, shortly after our anniversary. In the ‘50s I took up golf because my husband played and would leave me each weekend to play golf, so I took it up and became very good at it. I joined the Bellport Women’s Golf Club in the 1960’s and was president of the club in 1965 and took my turn on all the committees. I wrote the first bylaws and put some substance and rules into our club.
I became the club champion in 1967 and continued winning eight championships and played until 2001 when I had a triple bypass. It was just too much to continue to play anymore.” Today Em is still sketching and painting, like the true artist she is. Thank you, Em.