By Ann Hauprich
The daughters of artist Estelle Kontoleon Sauter want to reunite their late mother's masterpieces with those who posed for pastel portraits in a bygone era.
"When the time came to clear out our mother's house on Palmer Avenue in Schenectady after she passed away in 2005, our Aunt Dorothy told us we could give away or sell anything we didn't wish to keep - except for the dozens of portraits of unknown people that have now been in storage for three decades," said Gina, one of the four Sauter daughters.
Collectively titled Estelle's Pastels, the 60 lifelike images created on 20" x 25" sheets of textured art paper from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, are presently tucked away in Gina's upstate New York basement. But she and sister, Dr. Diane Sauter of Washington DC, recently announced the time has come to try to match the portraits with the individuals who posed for them in settings believed to have included the College of St. Rose in Albany.
"We don't want any money for them; we just want the images to find their way into the hands of the people - or the families of the people - who inspired our mother all those years ago," said Diane, adding that her mother also created many fine watercolors, etchings and lithographs during her lifetime.
Certified to teach both secondary art and secondary science classes in New York State after graduating from the Albany Teachers College in the 1940s, Estelle is remembered to have crafted many a pastel portrait in the Ballston Spa home where daughters Marianne and Deirdre were also raised while their father, Ed Sauter, was Superintendent of the Ballston Spa Central School District. (Mr. Sauter, who led the district for 20 years, was just 64 when he passed away shortly after his retirement in 1993.)
"Our mother was often commissioned to create portraits when we were attending public schools in Ballston Spa during the 1960s and 1970s. Most of those customers came to our home on McLean Street to claim their pictures upon completion," said Gina.
But when a divorce prompted Estelle to relocate to Schenectady in 1977, she decided to nurture her talents by taking art lessons from the Electric City's renowned Sal Cascio as well as classes at the College of St. Rose in Albany. The latter experiences included sessions with live models whose identities Diane and Gina believe were largely unknown to their mother.
Thus only a precious few of those whose faces were immortalized in Estelle's Pastels have frames or names attached to them. Indeed the vast majority of lifelike images are simply separated by strips of waxed paper. Sometimes groups of portraits were wrapped together, such as a collection found swaddled in copies of the Schenectady Gazette dating back to the summer of 1983.
While hairstyles and fashions offer additional clues as to the years when the subjects posed for Estelle, determining their identities seemed an insurmountable task until an October 2013 reunion with one of Diane's BSHS classmates inspired an idea. Why not showcase the entire collection as a community service on a web site devoted to preserving the past and present for future generations?
Those who believe they or a loved one may have posed for one of Estelle's Pastels between the late 1970s and early 1980s are encouraged to visit a designated gallery to preview photographs of the five dozen portraits, each of which has been assigned a corresponding number with detailed instructions on how to begin the reunification process.
To learn more, please call 518-885-3214, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to LegaciesUnlimited, PO Box 336, Ballston Spa, NY 12020.
To view a full gallery of Estelle’s orphaned pastel portraits, CLICK HERE.