Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Martha Watson Sauer

It was without doubt a splendid day Sunday in Key West, as warm as you like and humid but the skies were clear and all was well with the world. And downtown was filled with cruise ship visitors.
My wife noticed this extraordinary attraction as we walked past Clinton Square Market, a pretty decent place to shop for souvenirs and toys the last time I went in, a long time ago as I am not by nature a shopper. The point being you can ride an escalator in Old Town Key West. Fancy That!
And there was music of course to soothe the fevered brow and persuade shoppers to shop:
They got a bit of an audience and I was prompted to wonder if there was an equal or similar number of women inside spending the cruise ship dollars:
 We weren't the only ones enjoying downtown Key West though I didn't see them at the Tropic watching Tel Aviv On Fire. It was a busy Sunday as I am hinting here. Starting of course with an extended dog walk followed by a ghastly bicycle racing exercise class called Spinning which my wife signed me up for, without my consent. It was so hard I fell asleep in the movie and the only way to wipe out that shame is to take more classes and come to terms with Spinning. Which invovles pedalling like a maniac not standing around like these two:
The Custom House was designed by the Federal Government as  aborder post along the Canadian line where snow predominates for half the year. Down here the Federal building looks slightly absurd, ready to shrug off any possible snow that has never fallen in Key West. But the large wide porticos provide excellent spots to sit and watch the world go by. Or make a phone call I suppose.
The people ahead of us in line looked ready to mount a major expedition on the exhibits but I went in hoping things hadn't changed too much since my last visit as I was only carrying a  camera and had no other survival equipment along for the visit.
It turns out there were two splendid visiting exhibitions  and as I have far too many pictures, apologies, I'll showcase the other one this weekend in a separate entry on this page.
The watercolors on display were deft and bright from all over the place, Mexico, Martinique, Paris and even Key West. There was a potted biography on the wall for those reading this on a  large screen. The rest of us I found the signage on the Art and History Museum website and copied it below:
 With her sketchbook and paints invariably in hand, Martha Watson Sauer (1912-2006) created an incredible body of artwork while also serving as a teacher of watercolor painting and weaving in the Key West arts community.  A Key West resident for nearly 70 years Surroundings: Watercolors by Martha Watson Sauer pays tribute to more than half a century of Sauer’s work, which also include her personal effects and sketchbooks.  Her plein air watercolors spread beyond the island, they highlight architecture, landscape and people from her extensive travels around Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and across the United States.
“My aim is to transmit to paper the delights of nature and the out-of-doors; the sun’s heat and the deep cool of shadow,” she explained prior to her death in 2005.  “My paintings are not puzzles.  I like what I see and try my best to present the scene so others may share in the enjoyment of it.”
Born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Sauer came to Key West in 1936 during the Great Depression while the city was clawing its way out of its economic malaise by encouraging tourism with the help of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), later called the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Key West had not been her intended destination.  “My mother and I stopped by accident in a travel agency in Miami,” Sauer remembered.  “We saw these watercolors by [FERA artist] Avery Johnson with scenes of Key West.  It was such a dear little town.  So I said, ‘Let’s go to Key West,’ and we did.”
Arriving at a time when a number of the WPA artists remained active in Key West’s economic recovery efforts, Sauer’s innate watercolor technique was noticed by the professional artists.  She received early tutelage from members of the WPA, particularly F. Townsend Morgan.  Sauer was asked to create lino-block prints for tourist brochures promoting tourist destinations including the Key West Municipal Aquarium, the Hemingway House, West Martello and the Peggy Mills House.  
Sauer became one of the original members of the Key West Art Center that was known as the WPA’s Key West Community Art Center in the 1930s.  Her very first sale was a painting purchased by the eminent pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, once a Key West resident.  Today, her works hang in private collections in Switzerland, Japan, Great Britain, Canada and the United States, including the Key West Art Center located at 301 Front Street.
The Helmerich Trust paid for the exhibit which will be at the museum through November 10th. Well worth a  visit.

The artist's easel is preserved  and is part of the exhibit. It looks pretty much as you'd expect:
She was apparently a close of observer of the world around her.
The paintings are not usually labeled by location which is annoying, but people do that on Instagram forgetting to add time and date.

The artist and her spouse presumably around the time Key West was struggling to survive the Depression and was being described in all sorts of detail by various artists and writers of the period:

70 years in Key West is bound to give rise to a memory or two...
With journeys faithfully recorded in watercolor:

Apparently beyond the artistic exhibitions she also produced commercial work such was her versatility:
And the figure in the middle is herself, teaching:
Key West enjoyed her skill on the cover of the guidebook created to teach the visitors about the city they were being encouraged to visit. It seems extraordinary now but Key West was very nearly evacuated for lack of money in those desperate years when 80% of the population was on assistance from the government. 
And then Julius Stone dreamed up tourism and the city has never looked back. Rum smuggling didn't hurt either during prohibition. 
This one below looked like an Italian city to me but who knows...
And I am going to put this one squarely in Key West:
You'll have to go for yourself to figure all this out. Front Street awaits you.