By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Maureen Sausa thought opening an art gallery and small studio in the historic train station in Niskayuna’s Lions Park would be a relaxing project to pursue in retirement. It was rewarding, for sure, but not necessarily as soothing as she had thought.
“It got so busy that I never got any work done,” Sausa said Tuesday, the day after the train station officially closed for the summer. She can’t stay away, and plans to reopen informally for some classes and perhaps another exhibit in the fall — but for now, she’s going on vacation, on a camping trip to the Adirondacks.
Labor Day Weekend was the final official weekend for the gallery. As she tidied up the train station in preparation for a couple of weeks away, Sausa reminisced about the successful summer she’d had there.
“This is my favorite part of the whole place,” she said, gesturing to two kid-sized desks with sketchbooks open on top. She even framed the work of a sixth-grader named Shilun, who drew a blue heron, an owl and a pencil sketch of an alligator. Sausa loved welcoming kids to the gallery, and even made a ribbon for the youngest competitor in the Art-Out plein air competition a couple of weeks ago, a 4-year-old named Isabella.
The view didn’t hurt, as it provided the inspiration for dozens of beautiful landscapes that now adorn the inside of the station. Sausa’s final exhibit — there were five in total — featured the work of the resident artists who reserved a week each of studio time there. She said she couldn’t pick a favorite piece of art.
“It’s really hard because there are all different styles,” she said. Artists used a wide variety of media and approached the landscape image from different backgrounds. Some were abstract; others were more impressionistic; photographers cornered the market on realism.
The train station-turned-community art hub has gotten quite a bit of attention even in its first year, gathering more momentum than Sausa expected.
“The public response has been so cool,” she said, leafing through a guest book where people had left notes about how much they loved the art and the overall idea of the project itself. As it turns out, the building harbored quite a lot of community intrigue.
Passers-by said they had been peering in the windows of the empty station for years. It had been used a couple of times for brief projects, but to use it continuously for an entire season brought the building new life.
That life will continue. Sausa recently got confirmation from Joe Landry, Niskayuna’s town supervisor, that she would be welcome to use the building again next summer. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said.
She’s not quite done with this season yet — Sausa said she’ll hang her “open” sign on the door whenever she’s in, and possibly even hold some classes in the fall. Planning for the next season will likely occupy her through the colder months when she’s forced out of her unheated home away from home.
“I think I want to do a little more with the kids next year,” she said. Each gallery exhibit this summer was accompanied by a reception; she hopes for a kids-only show in the future. She also plans to add live music, which she was inspired to consider when she found out the talented sixth-grader whose art she framed is also a skilled cellist.
Finally, Sausa said she plans to adjust next year’s hours to avoid the hottest, most humid part of the day while better accommodating the schedules of the 9-to-5 crowd. She’d also like to make the building handicapped accessible, but isn’t sure how that could be accomplished.
There’s little question that Sausa’s summer experiment has been a success, attracting art lovers from around the community and creating a space for creators to grow and network. But no matter how popular the space becomes, she plans to stay true to her original purpose: art with a local focus. She says an artist who has exhibited internationally approached her about doing a showing next year. Sausa turned her down.
“I kind of like to promote people that are just starting off,” she said.
And she will, as soon as she gets a break. Maybe in the peace of the Adirondacks, she’ll finally be able to do some painting of her own.