Remembering Watercolorist Arlene Cornell

 Remembering Watercolorist Arlene Cornell

By Katie McFadden

Rockaway became a little less colorful this week. On Monday, February 19, local watercolorist Arlene Cornell died. She was about a month away from her 90th birthday.

“I love watercolors,” Cornell told The Wave in 2017. “My paintings are an attempt to crystallize a moment in time…memories which perhaps remind us of special moments in our lives.”

For decades, Cornell crystallized beautiful scenes of Rockaway and Broad Channel in much of her watercolor work, with an occasional city scene or wintery wonderland in the mix. And it was impossible to not know Arlene’s work in the local art scene.

Arlene Cornell’s watercolor work became known internationally, having displayed her work in group and solo shows across the United States and Canada, and her work was recognized as award-worthy on many occasions. She won more than 150 awards at art shows all across New York City to New Jersey, Connecticut and Miami. She was a member of several international and local associations, including The Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club and The Brooklyn Watercolor Society, but most notably, at least to those around the peninsula, was The Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA).

Cornell was a founding artist and longtime member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, and her work was featured in both group and solo shows at the RTC galleries, dating from their days at the Park Theatre on Beach 116th Street to the T7 and sTudio 6 galleries in Fort Tilden, where she held her last solo exhibit, “Places Near and Far,” in October 2018. Many aspiring artists even got a lesson or two from Cornell through workshops at those very studios. She also regularly displayed and sold her work at Rockaway Music and Arts Council and Broad Channel Historic Society events.

It was at one of those events where Cornell left photographer and former RAA President Dan Guarino with a memory that reminds him of a special moment in his life. “I met Arlene more than 20 years ago through the RAA, but one time where I truly met Arlene that I can recall was at Broad Channel Historical Day where the Broad Channel Historical Society brings out collections for people to see at the VFW,” Gaurino said. “They suggested I bring some of my photographs and it would feature artwork of Broad Channel. I brought photos I had taken of the Channel and Arlene was there with her husband, Harold, and she had painting there. And she said to me, ‘those photos are beautiful.’ She gave me such high praise for those photos, and I was so knocked out, thinking who am I that award-winning artist Arlene Cornell is saying such nice things about my photos.”

Wherever Arlene went, her husband, Harold, wasn’t far behind. Guarino says he was also instrumental in the founding of the Rockaway Artists Alliance and as Sharon Gabriel said in a 2008 column in The Wave, “Harold is the man behind the woman. Harold helps frame Arlene’s work, arranges for her shows, drives the van and is hands-on husband, but never touches a brush, a pot or pan maybe, but never a brush.” Harold Cornell died in October 2020. The couple had two children, Ellen and Steven, and will be missed by several grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Cornell will be remembered through her artwork, which emanated her love for the community. “She was truly a Rockaway person. She loved this place, and you could see that in her work. That work of seaside places, sometimes houses, boats, the ocean, she really captured the spirit of Rockaway, of Broad Channel and you could see her love of this place deeply in her work,” Guarino said.

And the community loved her work. Many of her pieces can be found on walls of local homes and establishments. Guarino recalls seeing Arlene’s work at his former dentist’s office. “You walk into some place and her style is so distinct, you can look at it and say, ‘that’s Arlene’s work.’” Just last week, he came across her work at the JASA Center, along Shore Front Parkway, just around the block from where Cornell lived in Rockaway Park.

However, despite her work being so easily recognized by locals, Guarino says Cornell never let it go to her head. “For being such a well-known person, she was always so humble, so generous, so sincere. She was a good friend,” Gaurino said.

And perhaps even more notable than her artwork was a personal feature—her smile. “When I think of Arlene, one thing that comes to mind would be her smile. She had this beautiful smile that went from one side to the other and wherever you’d see her around the neighborhood, you get this beautiful smile across her face.”

Arlene Cornell will truly be missed. “When I think of Arlene, I will think of that beautiful smile and her work, creating these beautiful things. I will miss that beautiful person that I met and got to know so many years ago, and that was really Arlene Cornell, and it still makes me gloat remembering that time we met.”

Services were provided through Jewish funeral home, Boulevard-Riverside Chapels in Hewlett.

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