There’s something truly special about making art part of your everyday life. Maybe you drink your morning coffee from a handcrafted mug made by a local artist. Perhaps your family has a hand-turned wooden bowl that’s just perfect for a big family meal. If you’re lucky, you keep warm on brisk winter days with a hand-knitted hat or mittens.
The town of Jay is known for some pretty awesome things: a scenic covered bridge, the winding Ausable River, and gorgeous, expansive views of the Adirondacks. It’s a special place to live and to visit, away from the bustle of larger towns. Jay is also known for being home to a number of talented artisans who live, work, and exhibit their arts in this sweet town, opening their studios to visitors year-round. One of the area’s most popular artists is potter Sue Young. From her studio and gallery perched on the hill that descends into town, Sue crafts an array of pieces that are beautiful and functional, perfect for bringing distinctive art into our everyday lives.
Sue Young is an Adirondack native and a longtime Jay resident. Her interest in art and creativity began right at home and it started early. To this day, growing up in Jay and the art around her has shaped who she is. "Making things by hand was instilled in me from an early age by my mother and older sisters, who were always knitting or sewing or exploring some new craft trend," Sue explains. As a result, "I was one of those kids who was always sneaking into the art room whenever I had the chance."
When she was young, Sue, like many other local kids, worked at the famed amusement park, Land of Makebelieve. Land of Makebelieve, which was sadly lost to flooding in the 1980s, was a beloved place where everything was child-sized: from the tiny railroad to the castle, the whole park was designed with imaginative children in mind. It was all the creation of Upper Jay native Arto Monaco (he also designed much of the nearby Santa's Workshop), who had a great influence on Sue. "The last year I worked there was the summer of '78, after my first year of college, where I worked In the paint shop and gave the ride operators their breaks," Sue shared. "Arto himself showed me how to properly clean paint brushes. He was so supportive of my artistic pursuits. I thought the world of him, as did many former employees. It was the best job I ever had with the exception of my current employment."
Sue's time at Land of Makebelieve and its signature whimsicality had an influence that she still incorporates into her art, whether it is the lid of a piece, a tiny bell shaped like a cottage, or a yarn bowl that looks like a sheep.
The lure of the Adirondacks — the beauty, scenery, and wildlife — stayed with Sue when she left for college. At SUNY Potsdam, where she studied studio art and quickly found her love of pottery, Sue found that she missed the scenery of home. To get some sense of panoramic views like those she loved in Jay, Sue would visit the top-floor observation lounge of the administration building known as the "power tower." After graduating in the early 1980s, Sue returned to Jay, where she set up an electric kiln in her parent's basement. Although she contemplated finding a pottery apprenticeship, Sue was determined to start her own business and she did. With her entrepreneur parents as inspiration, Sue set out to become a full-time potter within one year.
Although her parents were supportive, the electric bills run up by Sue's kiln were not as popular. When her father suggested she set herself up in a proper studio, she did just that. "He had an unused mechanic garage that was being used for storage and let me use the building to set up a studio. That was the winter of 1981-82 and so I had electric service installed and moved the kiln and homemade kick wheel there and started to work among the cases of oil and snowplows." Like so many other Adirondack artists who had their start in small town cabins, garages, and even old Grange halls, Sue got herself going and didn't look back, giving notice to her job and starting her business on April 1, making good on her pledge to be a full-time artist within a year. She's been in business creating art ever since.
Today, Sue Young, her studio and gallery are still in Jay, part of the dedicated and enthusiastic community of artists that live and work there. Her gallery is filled with her unique work. All of it is functional, from mugs to bowls to vases to jewelry. Everything is shaped and glazed by hand, right there at the studio, and Sue incorporates her love for the Adirondacks in every piece. "This region has had a big influence on my work," she notes. "From wildlife imagery of bears, fish, loons and blue herons to the wildflower pendant images I’ve done for Adirondack Life and my shop. All of these pursuits have a story and reason for my interest."
All of the photos in this blog are courtesy Young's Studio & Gallery, which you can visit (don't forget to wear a mask!) in the beautiful town of Jay. In addition to her own works, Sue also carries items from other local artists and crafters, featuring locally made yarn, jewelry, photography, and more. It's a can't-miss stop in Jay, and Sue herself is kind and generous with her time. At the studio, you’ll see first hand how important Sue’s love of the Adirondacks, of the natural beauty that surrounds her and the town of Jay is to her work. Her work is a beautiful way to bring that natural beauty into our homes. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go shopping.
When you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the other great attractions, restaurants, and natural wonders.