Surroundings: Watercolors by Martha Watson Sauer

August 23 - November 10, 2019

Custom House Museum | Bumpus Gallery

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.

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