Far from farmed out in Saugerties
When Jeanette Sauer was 75 years old, she put her foot down. There was going to be a change.
“I told my husband I’m going to paint and I’m going to play the piano,” said Sauer, who spent the majority of her adult life working the family farm and raising five children. Today, at 82, Jeanette has become an artist. She plays one hour a day and paints for several more. That’s in addition to the farm work.
Sauer Farm sits on a quiet stretch of Kings Highway in Saugerties. The long dirt driveway curves between fields and a cemetery to the clapboard house, its weather-beaten sheds, silos and long red barn close by. Purchased by Jeanette’s in-laws in 1939, the original farmhouse dates back to 1880. Numerous additions to the house ramble off in smaller iterations. On the big front porch, a sign announces the price of eggs and invites customers to knock.
Inside, Sauer sits at the piano and belts out Cab Calloway’s “My Mama Done Tol’ Me,” her high voice full of vibrato. In her bright pink blouse and lavender slacks, wavy white hair glinting, Jeanette herself could be one of the vibrant zinnias she likes to grow and paint.
A cane in each hand, she leads the way to her studio, its wide wooden floorboards and cream-colored walls full of light. Flowers, fairies, ladybugs and dragons, painted on card stock, hang from the walls and line the shelves. Most of her creations are painted cards in which you write your own message. They make the quickest sale, Sauer said, adding they go for $3 to $5 apiece. She doesn’t really know about the “ins and outs” of galleries.
Her gallery is her vestibule. There’s a knock at the front door, and Sauer shrills “Hallo,” telling the customer she’s coming. A tall woman in a winter coat enters. The foyer is stacked and racked with her cards, pillows and crafts. The customer is looking for eggs — large brown. She points to a basket of lumpy vegetables. “What’s that?”
“Potatoes,” says Sauer over her shoulder as she goes for the eggs, leaning on her canes. “They’re funny-looking because of all the rain we had.”
Years of unloading wagons, climbing up silos to rake the silage and pushing the hand cultivator have left Sauer’s back in bad shape. Her canes don’t seem to slow her down much, though. In a concession to age, Jeanette now gets up at 7 a.m., an hour later than before. Although she still does farm work — weighing and “candling” the eggs (using a light to look through the shell and check for blood spots or air pockets), planting some 4,000 seeds in six-packs each spring and selling produce — the work now takes a back seat to art.
“That was always in me, ready to bust out,” Sauer said. “I just had to make the time.”
Time is a precious commodity on this sprawling, third-generation dairy farm. The Sauers’ two sons, Clifford and Joseph, both in their 50s, live in homes less than a mile away and come to the farm seven days a week before dawn to care for the cows and the crops. When asked when he last took a day off, Cliff looks into the far distance and says, “Hmm.” Continued...
Most of the farm’s acreage is planted with feed for the animals: hay, corn, oats. Some of the land, though, goes to the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables that Jeanette Sauer sells on her front porch in season. And, of course, there is the flower garden.
“Jeanette grows incredible flowers,” said David Radovanovic, a customer who has been buying fresh vegetables and flowers at Sauer Farm for 10 years. “She has very artistic things on her porch – gorgeous flower arrangements, really amazing bouquets.” Radovanovic, a graphic designer, sometimes brings his camera and follows Jeanette around in the garden. He calls her flowers “exotic.”
Flowers were Sauer’s first compositions when she returned to the passion of her youth. As a child, she loved to draw and studied drawing at Kingston High School and in college. Once Jeanette decided to make time for art, she found herself in a flower-painting class.
“You’re supposed to put a dot or two, then paint,” said Sauer, describing the Donna Dewberry method of flower painting she learned when she was 75. “But I can’t do it that way.” More comfortable with a pencil in her hand, she draws first, then paints with acrylics. These days, her compositions feature fantasy creatures as well as flowers.
It seems imagination always inspired the women on Sauer farm. When Sauer first arrived, her mother-in-law, instead of teaching her how to can vegetables, showed her the fairy circles in the garden — a tradition echoed by Jeanette’s daughter, Susan.
“Mom would take me out very early in the morning,” said Susan, recounting her favorite memory. “It was early spring and the dew covered everything. There would be these circles.”
She added that the first green shoots of irises create them. “You would have to go out very early to see them. And if you went out early enough, you might see the fairies dancing there.”
Susan, who was a music and art student in high school, was inspired by her mother to start painting landscapes again. “She shows us you shouldn’t let your dreams dwindle away.”
Jeanette Sauer confided that she has yet another secret ambition. There is one thing she is still planning to do. But she won’t tell anyone what it is — it wouldn’t be a secret any more.
“It’s never too late to try something new,” she said. “I’m 82 years old. I feel like I’m 18. It’s all in your mind.” Continued...
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