Sugar Loaf Mountain © photo by Sarah Hannon
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|Sugar Loaf, NY started its rise to prominence as a village of working
artisans in the late 1960's. The Sugar Loaf Guild began midway through the 1970's when the
town's artisans combined resources to solidify and increase the hamlet's promotional
presence...locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Sugar Loaf, by then, was
already a unique environment for creative work and early advertising routinely mentions
its status as "America's Foremost Crafts Village." It is a distinction Sugar
Loaf has held to the present.
Today there are numerous other art related localities; but, even though many have sprung from the Sugar Loaf tradition, the term "Crafts Village" has been diluted and altered until it merely refers to an assembly of retail shops. It seldom, if ever, refers to a place where working artisans actively pursue their trades. However, Sugar Loaf is still correctly called a true "Crafts Village" due to the presence of its working crafts-people.
Actually, since any distinction made between the best "artists" and best "crafts-people" serves only to indicate slight variances in semantic tradition, Sugar Loaf is more precisely termed an "Artisans Village." The word "artisan" is appropriately applied to both traditions.
The artisan spirit, at the core of the Sugar Loaf community, is the main contributor to the hamlet's success. This spirit is embodied by the residents' commitment to produce useful, durable and artistic products through an uncompromising pursuit of excellence while maintaining a firm dedication to extend the best possible service to all who enter their studios. It is this tradition individually applied daily, over many years, that has allowed Sugar Loaf to boast (in part) a landmark Candle Shop, an internationally acclaimed watercolorist, and a second-generation woodcarver.
The type of work described here is labor intensive in the extreme, and the scarcest resource available to true artisans is the time to talk about it. Often hundreds of hours go into the development of a single element in a process that combines with numerous others to insure "best" results. Those who are lucky enough to catch an artisan with a moment to describe their work are astonished at the care taken with every step.
Some have been privileged to hear Sugar Loaf's candle maker describe how a candle's wick is a tiny carburetor, and how best to keep it burning steady and drip-free. Few have been fortunate to observe the hand dipping that (due to the precise control needed to keep irregularities from the candle surface) defies automation. However, many enjoy the resulting "light" from these candles of unparalleled quality. It is small wonder that this little shop remains a major Sugar Loaf attraction and has never veered into titillating with wax figurines of little light. For the candle maker the character and integrity of the work is all important, the understanding of what it means to bring this type of light into people's lives is the driving force. This is representative of the best that artisanship provides and there are others.
The quality of life and work in Sugar Loaf is so profoundly "unique" that artisans often hear desperately misguided comments. An internationally known watercolorist, whose work hangs in permanent museum collections, can be asked, "So these paintings come on a roll and you put in the highlights?" This question is asked despite the fact they are standing in the artist's studio among more than fifteen hundred works (exclusive of the almost 20,000 sold world wide) while numerous signs state they are original watercolors, all by the resident artist and the person they are talking to is in fact that renowned artist.
Maybe the confusion is predictable due to the proliferation of so called "Artisan Villages" which are not even close to being one. Add the fact most people rarely get a chance to talk to those who create the significant images in their lives, and the question is not surprising at all. In any case, these comments are easily forgotten because of the large number of people coming into the studios who do understand.
The values expressed through the work of Sugar Loaf artisans is not a temporary fixture. The woodcarver passed these values on to his son. You will not be treated with more respect and kind consideration anywhere in the world than in the studio that produces hand carved wooden signs. The sign maker knows of no other way. He was born to it. While growing up, all around him were the basic elements, and providing top quality product and service was "just the way it was done."
As an adult this second generation craftsperson brought those basic elements to a wonderful new level of excellence and artistic integrity through better materials, better process, and a better vision by degrees, always better. There is no way to avoid the time and commitment it takes to achieve true excellence, no way to rush it and no way to condense two generations into one. Few places but Sugar Loaf can boast such results.
The focus in Sugar Loaf is on the working artisans—those who make their living through artistic endeavor. But these businesses could not exist without the past and present support of the interested local retailers. The involved retailers are artisans themselves, but it is not their primary focus. They do, however, run their businesses with the same high level of attention toward their customers, and they have a long standing involvement in making the hamlet a great place to live, work, and a terrific place to visit. Their deep understanding of artistic product brings a rich perspective to their shops. They add much to the diversity of the town's offerings by providing quality objects from outside sources.
One such valued proprietor is Sylvia Margolis, owner of Syms Gifts & Jewelry. Sylvia has been a cohesive force in a community of strong personalities for more than a quarter century. Her long lasting business is evidence of her care in providing excellent service and products to her clients. In addition to maintaining a strong business, she offers ongoing support and a genuine interest in the success and well being of her neighbors.
Sylvia's shop was the first of its kind in Sugar Loaf and focuses on hand wrought jewelry; though, due to her creative nature, it has always offered a broad range of items. Syms has continued in its position as a town "anchor" without pause. Sylvia creates some of her own jewelry and weavings, so she knows how to provide quality work; but lately she spends much of her time traveling around the world in search of special finds to display in her shop. She brings an artisan's eye to her search and an artisan's character to her involvement as member of numerous committees and boards.
Another solid supporter of Sugar Loaf activity is Sarah Hannon of Sarah's Gifts. Her shop has an incredible array of collectibles, chosen with Sarah's sensibilities honed as a doll maker. It is another of Sugar Loaf's "super shops" and has possibly the largest floor space in town.
Sarah is a founding member of the Sugar Loaf Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber supplanted the former Sugar Loaf Guild and enabled acquisition of non-profit status, which opened the door to a wealth of funding. Sarah was president during the transition to chamber and served three years as its President. She then served three more years as a valued board member until her business success, demanding more and more of her attention, finally overwhelmed her time.
Sarah's work in establishing the Chamber required twenty-five hours per week...time that might otherwise have been spent on her own business. Pile on the difficulty of establishing operating procedures while assembling the enabling documents for a fully functioning organization (from scratch), and it's easy to see the wealth such volunteerism adds to a community. It is no surprise that she is a past nominee to the ten outstanding women of America program. All who attended meetings orchestrated and directed by Sarah will confirm that without her there would be no Chamber. Sarah provided the photograph at the top of this page (which she took from her house in Sugar Loaf) to show, "not all rewards are monetary."
If not for the work of these people and many more (both artisans and shop-keepers) the stage would not have been set for the re-emergence of the Sugar Loaf Guild as a purveyor of professionalism in the arts.
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