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Sugar Loaf Guild : The Hidden History of Sugar Loaf, NY


       Sugar Loaf, NY 10981

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  Updated Dec 28, 2016 | By Bob Fugett

    Too Much of a Good Thing

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[  That Town  |  Candle Maker  |  Breakers  |  Four Step  |  Jon Baugh  |  Too Much   |  Startup   |  Cut   |  Art   |  Community   ]

"What is a beautiful girl like that doing way out here in a cow pasture?!"

The comment above was heard circa 1976 from a tourist stepping out of The Imagination Warehouse which was down by Fantasy Factory in Scott's Meadow.

Fantasy Factory was the original name for what is now Endico Watercolor Originals on main street.

The beautiful young woman being described was Susan Slater Tanner who went on to teach Art History at a number of local universities including SUNY.

At the time of the comment Susan was one of the central forces of the early Sugar Loaf crafts community and when told what was heard she chirped, "I'll tell them what I'm doing down here. I am making kites...and a living."

Susan looked great while Sugar Loaf looked rough, very rough indeed.

It was a place that took a swift and brutal toll on any who would enter as a start-up business with no clear focus, weeding them from the herd within a month or two.

Eventually the extreme energies poured into artisan self-guided efforts that promoted creative people living in Sugar Loaf allowed such comments to fade into the distant past as it became obvious why such a creative beauty would be found here.

However, the newly established shimmer of artistic cachet posed its own problems.

At first Sugar Loaf was nothing more than burnt out shells of broken down buildings.

Only the most rabid and focused of creative artists found it appealing, and they did so because it was a workplace without hassles (read: large spaces for rent cheap), but slowly Sugar Loaf became a place that even dilettantes found appealing.

The steady publication of group advertising (thank you Jon) distributed through every available outlet was helping focus public attention, and it was becoming less of a stigma to say you were from Sugar Loaf and more of a curiosity.

Monthly if not weekly events widely promoted the hamlet and it was causing frequent blockage of local automobile traffic: hence the Kings Highway (County Road 13) extension/bypass.

I once responded to somebody hoping for a quick fix remedy to the parking problem by saying, "Sugar Loaf could use all of Orange County for parking, and there still would not be enough. There is a lot worth coming here for, so people do."

Routine appearances by our local personalities wherever promotional events were being held elsewhere helped immensely.

I personally put together a display for a booth in a building at the Orange County Fair, paid for the space, and manned it single handedly for 12 days straight, 9 hours a day.

All the artisans in Sugar Loaf gladly handed me samples of their work saying, "Great. Take some of my stuff with you."

I spent the whole time talking to everybody who would listen (and some who wouldn't), handing them brochures for Sugar Loaf, telling them, "No, none of these things are for sale here. You have to go to Sugar Loaf. Here is the artist's card and phone number."

The next year the Fair gave Sugar Loaf an entire wing of a building for free and used us as lead-in to their radio and TV advertising (internationally known artisans), so others in town joined me along with some from outside town as well.

The constant tap-tap-tap of Joanne Sauer working on pewter mugs, bowls, and jewelry drove Jerry Ableman to distraction while he was more quietly assembling wooden toys pre-cut in his Sugar Loaf studio.

Maybe Jerry ended up bringing some power tools to compete with the tap-tap-tap, but I can't remember.

I do remember that Ray Boswell tried to keep his head in a pot.

My band played as just one more attraction, and I spent that week convincing Ray Boswell he could do well in Sugar Loaf, "Quit your day job, Ray."

[09/15/15: Today we found out that the final impetus bringing Ray Boswell to Sugar Loaf (four years after my conversations with him) was Vickie Stellmack who pro-actively tracked him down and reported that she had just lost a potter in Scott's Meadow, so an existing business location was already set up for him.]

By the next year, business was so booming in Sugar Loaf that despite the Fair Officials expanding the offer to an entire building plus using Sugar Loaf as the central focus for the Fair's own advertising (they wanted to up their game with another round of the internationally known artisans), everybody was too busy to take the time off.

Additionally there were the daily self-promoting conversations forcefully directed by renowned Sugar Loaf counter-culture hippies (and a musician) in the local diners, delis, and watering holes.

We demurred a Renaissance Fair offer for free booths by stating, "We are not show people, we are full-time working craftspeople," but we went out of our way to go to private parties and explain what we were doing.

It all served to cement the hamlet's reputation as a center for the arts, but it also set the stage for a mild decline.

A select type of artisan wannabe was starting to show up.

At one point I witnessed a series of pointless Chamber of Commerce discussions about the importance of getting highway signage in order to attract people into town.

They totally ignored the fact that the local gas stations in Warwick and Chester had already begun posting signs on their front doors (with an arrow and the words 'Sugar Loaf') just so people would stop asking directions.

I understood the new businesses were not doing very well, and I could see why: stop talking, and start making something.

They were oblivious to what the solid businesses in town were doing and didn't even think to ask why those businesses flourished.

The gentrification had begun.

I stopped going to group meetings, and twelve years later when Sylvia Margolis (Syms Jewelry: now the location of Pisces Passions) begged me to come back to a meeting (to present this), I heard the exact same conversation about signs being repeated almost word for word by an even newer group.

It was like something from the Land of the Lost.

Now there are highway signs, so too bad those people are already gone and missed seeing how the signs would not help them at all.

Signs, banners, gee-gaws, meetings: how 'bout some product, people!

The standard three month period that earlier Sugar Loaf circumstances would grant to the unwary (yet hopeful) had expanded to many months in which someone could remain here without having to face the fact they had no true interest in being an artisan, nor in making anything, nor in developing the ability to deal with the more than full-time commitment required to succeed.

The primo reputation of The Loaf had become too much of a good thing.

Although the rigors of success had not lessened any, the attraction to be part of it had grown exponentially.

It had become a feather in the hat to show up to a party somewhere (didn't have to be local) and casually mention, "I have a shop in Sugar Loaf."

I remember slumping in disbelief as a local Home Owner's Insurance Rep began a quote by checking off their rate sheet mumbling:

Type of Neighborhood - Upper Class

I just stared at them blankly and thought, "Upper class? What fucking Sugar Loaf are you talking about!?"

Thus continued the steady growth of people coming into the village hoping to share the reputation without even a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a working artisan.

Soon the newer shop owners were taking the gloss of the promotions at face value, feeling the need to maintain an ongoing list of events but for the sake of the event itself (and the bragging rights being part of it), not for the goal of encouraging high quality work while reinforcing the fact that a living could be made (a good one) by doing such work.

The quality of events and the items in them dropped off as if in a race of skydivers.

It got so bad a would-be glass artist accused their blown glass teacher of hiding secrets from them (as if the craft did not demand years of careful work and study), and they made the comment while sitting outside the Barnsider smoking cigarettes and complaining their husband (feverishly hanging sheetrock alone in full view directly across the street) was failing to finish the build of their shop in a timely manner.

That wish-I-was-an-artisan glass blower then took over the town advertising and mashed it into a farce.

They never produced a single piece of blown glass.

The faux artist lasted much longer than they should have, certainly far longer than they could have in earlier times, but their leaving (two husbands later) only cleared space for the next of their kind and another.

The earlier massively ubiquitous volunteer work and promotions had rewarded Sugar Loaf with a shining image, and it was now drawing individuals to live in town who brought enough money with them so they never had to face the fact they had absolutely no desire to be an artisan, nor a shopkeeper, nor really much of anything.

Except they did a pretty loud job of proclaiming they were part of an arts community, whatever that meant to them.

Due to the fact I only knew about the police shooting through stories, I found it easy to feel this shallow takeover of events was worse.

A number of those types still strive to control the advertising and obviously have done their homework regarding how commonplace strip malls and trendy shops everywhere promote themselves.

The true artisan shops are merely a footnote aside and rarely mentioned.

Or at least that is how it must seem to a casual observer who lacks understanding that our quiet enduring robust little engines of artisan commerce set the stage in Sugar Loaf by providing an attraction on a level which anywhere else in the world could only be provided by an entrance into a National Forest, or Historical Monument, or one of the Wonders of the World.

Happily, the earlier brutal requirements of commerce were tempered by the extreme frugality with which property owners accepted very low rents as being adequate: so the cheap rents back in the day acted as counterpoint to the harsh realities of commerce allowing a group of extremely competent businesses to start poor and grow their gardens to a size and quality found nowhere else.

A number of artisans built sea worthy business vessels strong enough to weather the ensuing sad sideshow of storms.

If not for the existence of these full-time unique shops with the types of product and service they provide, Sugar Loaf would truly be nothing more than just another strip mall (good luck making that work way out here in a cow pasture).

Unfortunately many people who benefit directly from the presence of the artisan shops have no understanding how any of it works.

Just as a Cheetah needs no knowledge of mechanics in order to run faster than any other creature in the world, the local regular businesses do not have to know anything about the artisan community they thrive amongst in order to profit from it.

Likewise the artisan shops do not need the slightest recognition or support from those who are thriving around them by virtue of their presence, because the artisans are doing their work for its own intrinsic reward, and the fact they have built solid lucrative businesses (which are also a boon to those around them) is just a byproduct.

In any case, things are a lot better in town.

Now that much of the noxious counterproductive rind has been sloughed off, an insane number of people are revealed who do understand and continue to pile accolades, and a living, onto the artisans.

It has always been that way.

I guess that explains why I am the only one among them who feels (and only mildly) that there should be at least this one tiny review and explanation provided by the Sugar Loaf Guild website.

But after all, I am Sugar Loaf 's writer and historian: it is what I do.

To the rest of the world I can only say, "Do yourself a favor. Shop Sugar Loaf."

Manon Von Uchtrup
18th Century Furniture







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Sugar Loaf, New York  10981