Sue and Bill Clary were married three months after they met at college. A few years later the couple had barely moved in to the brand new house that Bill built in Hebron when he decided to scope out possible apartment properties in Salem, where Sue was born and raised. The stately but crumbling white 1796 house, in the historical register, was in very sorry state, but Sue Clary does not know the meaning of the word "daunted." She told her husband that she felt the place should be their home, and right away he put in an offer. When their eldest son learned that it was indeed the house next to the school, he cried, "Oh no, Mom and Dad, you bought the haunted house!"
Neither daunted nor haunted, they set to work. The old place was so full of filthy stuff, reeking of kerosene and animal urine, that a neighbor called the fire department, thinking the dust billowing from the windows was smoke. Bill, fortunately an adept builder, retrieved a big old cherry tree that was being hauled to a swamp. He cut, seasoned and planed the wood, and the broad rosy planks would later grace the main floor in the house. A kid had leaned on a pillar and the whole front porch started to collapse, so they demolished it, and let the sunshine in.
"Much better! I like light!" Sue declared in her cheerful, unflappable manner. Her journal records that they put a wreath of dogwood and dried flowers on the front door "to let the house know it will be taken care of."
The Clarys decided to move in themselves, and the house has embraced their five children, in addition to more than a dozen therapeutic foster children, and has been the site of many backyard parties and weddings, including one next month. Kids have left, but Sue and Bill's nest is far from empty; the house is still lively with a constant stream of browsers, tourists, collectors, neighbors, artists - each of whom is greeted warmly. Visitors come in through the back door, like friends, through the homey kitchen with its giant wood burning cook stove.
The couple's antiques business, opened in 2007, had been in the barn at the back of the property until two years ago. Now the ground floor of the house is an art gallery as well as a trove of ever-changing antiques. Featuring local artists and artisans, the gallery showcases paintings in a home setting, without typical gallery spotlighting.
"So people can get a better idea of what these paintings will look like in their own homes," Sue explains.
Sue nurtures and displays several of the area's most acclaimed landscape painters, and is intimately acquainted with each one and their work. In Sue they have a knowledgeable friend and advocate.
Sue's is the spirit that infuses this gallery.
"Harry paints the light," she says, speaking of her friend Harry Orlyk, whose lush canvases have mesmerized us for hours (yes, literally) as we expound, exclaim, appreciate, marvel, try to select a favorite and end up with ten. "When the light changes in the room during the day, his paintings take on a different aspect as well."
We've both witnessed this phenomenon, as preternatural as any ghost.
There's no better time to visit the gallery than Saturday, July 7.
Sue and Bill will host an exhibit and reception from 2-4 p.m. featuring Harry Orlyk, Brian Sweetland, George Van Hook, who will discuss their work on Surrounding Landscapes.
McCartee's Barn Fine Art & Antiques, is located at 23 East Broadway, Salem, N.Y. For more iformation, call 518-854-3857.