Watercolorist Mary Endico recalls the early days of Sugar Loaf's art scene

She and her musician-husband rented a chicken coop in Scott's Meadow: Many of their creative friends soon followed

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  • Mary Endico in her studio (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • "Botanical Rain," a watercolor by Mary Endico

  • A watercolor by Mary Endico

  • A watercolor by Mary Endico

  • A watercolor by Mary Endico

“This house was a dump,” Mary Endico said about their present location, now her studio gallery and residence. It was so decrepit that when the wind blew, the house would sway and the candles would blow out.

By Ginny Privitar

— Sugar Loaf artist Mary Endico is famous for her direct wet-on-wet watercolor technique. Unlike the pale, diffused colors and blurred contours typically associated with watercolors, Endico’s paintings are vibrant and rich with color.

Her work covers a wide range of subjects: non-objective, abstract, cityscape, seascape, landscape, and floral. But she is best known for her non-objective abstracts in a style she calls “haute conduite,” a term that refers to the finished paintings as well as the creative process she developed, and the high control employed in their execution.

“You have to have extreme control of your tools and the media,” Endico said. “Haute conduite is a method that I developed. It’s a method that requires complete planning before the paint touches the paper.”

The youngest of four sisters, Endico always wanted to be an artist.

“When I was four years old, I made a little drawing and my grandfather gave me a quarter for it. And I was like ‘Whoa!’ My three older sisters had better talent in grammar school but weren’t interested.”

Perspiration and inspirationEndico was born in the Bronx, grew up in New Rochelle and attended Marymount High School in Tarrytown. There she took watercolor lessons with Barbara Nechis, who had studied with Ed Whitney, one of the main watercolorists of the last century. Another teacher, Mrs. Barstow, encouraged her to exhibit and she won first place at an outdoor exhibit in Tarrytown. She attended Boston University.

“When I went to college, I realized there were tons of people better than me,” Endico said. But she devoted herself to excelling.

“I read every book on watercolors," she said. "I studied. I worked to get better. It's a skill. Art is logic and science. There are reasons why people who don't even understand art will respond to what I'm doing."

There is an aesthetic response that Endico’s work elicits.

“I know good color, I know art theory, I know what works together,” she said. She sometimes finds it irksome when people tell her she was blessed with talent. She attributes her success to hard work.

After graduation, she “went right to the top” and furthered her skills by studying with Ed Whitney.

“He was such a wonderful instructor,” she said, “What he taught worked for everything: it worked for music, literature and painting."

In her early twenties, Endico was working at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and met musician Bob Fugett, who was to become her husband and an ardent admirer of her work. They were soon living together.

$500 loan leads to Sugar LoafFugett was teaching music to a family with three little girls. He came home one day and told Endico the family was $500 short of the amount needed to put a down payment on a house on Woods Road in Chester. Endico had $500 from her grandfather’s estate, which they loaned to the family to buy the house. Later, they invited Endico and Fugett up for a housewarming party and showed them around Sugar Loaf.

The couple went home and “woke up at three in the morning, looked at each other and said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’” Mary recalled.

The next day they were back in Sugar Loaf and rented an empty chicken barn in Scott’s Meadow. That was 1977. They put in studs and sheetrock, ceilings and windows and doors, and electricity. There was neither painter nor musician to be found in Sugar Loaf when they moved in. Mary put 12 paintings on display, and they started selling right away.

Mary and Bob were Sugar Loaf’s first and most fervent boosters. They promoted, supported, and revived the Sugar Loaf Guild over the years, and still maintain the guild website, sugarloafguild.org. They spent thousands of their own money to produce brochures to promote the arts and crafts hamlet.

“For the first eight years I was here, I ran the juried craft show," Endico said. "We had really good crafts people from all over the country. I ran the art show for I don’t know how many years. I ran the photography show — that’s how we got Nick Zungoli to come here.”

They befriended Zungoli at the show, and when they moved into their current residence and studio in 1979, they called him. He originally moved into Scott’s Meadow.

The couple also met pottery artist Ray Boswell and toymaker Jerry Ableman, and convinced them to move to Sugar Loaf in those early days.

“This house was a dump,” Endico said about their present location, now her studio gallery and residence. So decrepit was it, she said, that when the wind blew, the house would sway and the candles would blow out.

They had a wedding rehearsal dinner upstairs before marrying at the Methodist Church.

“When my friend went to open the window, I said, ‘Don’t touch the window!,’ and she touched the window, and it fell out of the house,” Endico said. “You couldn’t get the temperature higher than 60 degrees.”

But they went to work fixing it up with the help of Don Duke, the husband of Beth DuCharme Duke of My Sister’s Closet.

When asked to name her favorite panting, Endico says, “The one I do tomorrow. The excitement is in doing new work.”

Endico has exhibited internationally and has won awards for her work. Mary and Bob were also instrumental in the Orange County Watercolor Society becoming the Northeast Watercolor Society.

Sometimes, she’ll complete a work and might not feel fully satisfied with it. She’ll go on to the next thing and then come back and look at it, and ask herself, “Does it have good composition? Does it have a center of interest? Does it have a conflict of color? Does it have a warm spot, a cool spot? Are the shapes variable and unified? Does it do all these good things with color and design and spatial relationships?”

If the answer is yes, she’ll then compare it to her other works and price it accordingly. She is a highly successful artist, having personally sold more than 21,000 works, and knows the value of her art.

Why do people come to Sugar Loaf?

The closing of legendary The Barnsider restaurant did not affect Endico’s business one way or other, she said. In fact, the last four years were her best. “People come to Sugar Loaf because they can buy something that’s handmade and meet the person that’s making it and you can’t do that anywhere else," she said.

And the father of the three little girls? He was Steve Shortess, who paid Endico back and then went on to become Chester town supervisor.

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