Every Summer, Sara Pfau Leaves Brooklyn to Make Sculpture and Jewelry in a Lakeside Cabin
Ever since Donatello moved his studio from Florence to the Tuscan countryside for the summer, artists have made annual migrations from the cities. But rather than taking a hiatus from art, they create summer studios where they can continue to work without the distractions, discomfort and expense of the city.
Lake George alone has drawn Harry Watrous, Robert Melvin Decker, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, Childe Hassam, Thomas and Weber Furlong and, until he moved to Bolton to live year-round in 1940, David Smith. Smith, in turn, drew Mark Rothko to Trout Lake and Kenneth Noland to Bolton Landing. If the artists lacked Lake George studios of their own, they visited others who had already set up shop in barns and outbuildings.
In 1990, that tradition inspired an artist named James Goss to curate a show for the Lake George Arts Project titled, simply, “Summer Studio.” He featured the work of several artists who maintained studios in the Adirondacks, some of whom are now well- known: Brower Hatcher, Bruno LaVerdiere, Shirin Neshat, Joel Shapiro, Rebecca Smith.
Sara Pfau was only seven years old at the time, and however precocious she may have been, it’s unlikely she was aware of that exhibition.
Nevertheless, she’s following in the footsteps of all the artists who preceded her.
For a few months every year, she occupies Cabin Number Two at The Point, a 1950s cottage colony in Bolton Landing, next door to The Sembrich, which was itself a summer studio for opera singer Marcella Sembrich.
For the rest of the year, Pfau works in a studio in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, Worth Russell.
Worth’s family owns The Point, and in exchange for work space, Pfau acts as site manager, at least in Worth’s absence.
Fortunately, she’s familiar with all that’s required to maintain a cottage colony. Her
family owns Carey’s Lakeside Cottages, directly across the bay from The Point, which her grandparents purchased in the 1950s. But if a challenge exceeds her expertise, she can always call on her uncle Bill Pfau, who runs the resort today.
On the day we visited her, Pfau had just completed and shipped to Chicago some one dimensional sculptures that were to be installed in a new hotel.
Much of that work was done outside the cabin on picnic tables, between the woods of Sembrich Point and The Point’s boathouse on the lake.
We asked her if the artists she knew in New York were envious of her lakeside cabin, which is made of logs and has a small stone fireplace behind her work table.
“Do you mean, do they say, ‘I hate you, you have a cabin on a lake?’ They don’t say it, but they may feel it,” she quipped.
Perhaps they have other reasons to envy her. Pfau must be among the few people of her generation able to make a living by, as she puts it, “my ability to make things.”
On Lake George, Pfau is best known for her silver and gold pendants, rings and bracelets inspired by maps of Lake George and its islands.
“The jewelry signifies the places we love, that we consider home, that give us our identities and the communities that we feel part of; the more transient everything and everyone becomes, the more important those places become,” she said.
Pfau grew up in the Hudson Valley, attended Pratt and graduate school at SUNY New Paltz, but she spent most of her summers on Lake George.
She said she didn’t quite realize the depth of her attachment to the place until she traveled abroad, including a stay on Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne, which only reminded her of the Adirondacks.
During the summer, she not only returns to Lake George, but to the self-contained worlds of the cottage colonies.
“I like being part of a community; I wouldn’t want to be isolated. And New York can be so difficult. So many of my friends have scattered; some stick it out, others don’t,” she said.
Having two studios is a challenge, though, she concedes.
“Twice a year, I travel with a Subaru Outback-sized load of tools and materials. And it’s guaranteed that I’ll lose something, something not easily replaced,” she said.
Despite the often welcome diversions of the cottage colony, family and childhood friends, Pfau said her summers are among her most productive seasons.
“In the winter, I go to my studio and think a lot, or sketch and make prototypes. Here, I’m able execute those ideas,” she said.
And if stumped, or just tired, she can always work in her garden or sit outside her cabin, listening to music carried by the breezes from The Sembrich.