There’s no question that Lake George is queen among the New York lakes, as much for its calm, crystal-clear waters, as for the nearby village. But its shoreline has given rise to its fair share of inspiration among artisans and business owners.
The 32-mile-long lake, complete with jut-ins and jut-outs, has a shape literally unlike any other, a point which wasn’t lost on Sara Pfau.
About a decade ago, the jeweler simplified the silhouette and turned it into an art piece — which works as well on pendants, T-shirts and totes as it does on the back of your car. The latter might be what you’ve seen while cruising through Saratoga Springs or downtown Schenectady, a decal running up the side of a rear window and making a recognizable statement: I love Lake George.
It’s a popular sentiment, especially here in the Capital Region, but the idea actually arose overseas while Pfau was vacationing on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. She is credited with having designed the original graphic that launched the trend locally.
“While there, I was struck by the similarity,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this reminds me so much of home!’”
“And then I was wondering if there was a way I could capture my lake—which is how I refer to Lake George—and carry it with me.”
Wearable sculpture was the answer, she decided, and equipped with a bachelor’s in fine arts from Pratt Institute (and eventually a master’s degree from SUNY New Paltz), she got started. Pfau said that a focus in jewelry and an appreciation for small-scale sculpture led her into the metals field.
“I got into jewelry as a symbolic gesture,” she said. “It’s something you can wear, which means you’re bringing a message out into the world.”
For her initial drawings of Lake George, Pfau referenced Google Maps and some old maps of the area. From there, she sketched things out and simplified them somewhat, to create her final design.
“It’s not entirely accurate, but it gives a good enough representation of the lake itself,” she said. Plus, it’s quite striking in its abstraction.
She made a few jewelry pieces to gift to friends and family, then word got around. Or maybe it’s fairer to say that people saw them on her loved ones and inquired as to how they could get one, too. That’s when things really took off, she said.
“At that point, I had never even considered producing them. I had no idea people would like them [that much].” But they did, and Pfau went on to open a shop an Etsy and sell her pieces in a Bolton Landing boutique that has since closed.
Nearly a decade later, her jewelry portfolio includes a variety of necklaces, cuffs and similar items, all handcrafted in sterling silver, 14K and 18K gold. Each piece is custom made by Sara to order, priced between $100 and $300 and sold via her brother Domenick’s Bolton Landing shop, Local.
Opened in 2014 by University of South Carolina grads Domenick Pfau and Matthew Peterson, Local offers Lake George-inspired apparel, accessories and gifts, including dozens of products featuring Pfau’s graphic.
According to Domenick Pfau, the decals based on Sara’s design are a top seller, ranging from a 3.5-inch option, which works great on the back of a smart phone, to a 16-inch version which he said is his most popular, all priced from $2 to $10. Prior to the brick-and -ortar opening, they sold the decals on their website.
“We popularized the Lake George decal back in 2013, thanks to Sara’s design,” he said.
Domenick Pfau said that other local stores and organizations soon followed suit and started selling their own versions, including the Lake George Association, which sells theirs with an “LGA” logo at the bottom for $5 as a fundraiser. Riley’s on Route 9 has their own version as well, ranging in size and price from $2.99 to $6.99 and available in white, black, purple, pink and blue.
Similar decals of nearby Schroon Lake and Sacandaga Lake are also popular, and can be picked up from local retailers or purchased online from Etsy or Delmar-based Dorsey Sign Company. Pfau also has her own catalog of lake drawings, which she turns into jewelry upon request.
“I’ve done all of the Finger Lakes, and I’ve probably done almost all of the lakes in the Adirondack Park,” she said.
Pfau has also done commissions for people all over the country, although the current demand for Lake George items keeps her consistently busy. Her jewelry is now sold via a waitlist, where interested parties must wait in a queue for their turn at a custom item. “The wait list is usually about eight weeks,” she said.
Domenick Pfau said that his sister’s items sell out so fast, they soon realized it wasn’t fair to their customers to offer her handmade wares any other way.
“That’s just how popular they are,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s reminding the person wearing it of the place they live, or the place they love.”
For those who love Lake George from afar, or only get to visit occasionally, the design is a way to carry that memory with them, he added.
Sara Pfau is on board: “Lots of people that buy my jewelry have the same kind of love [for Lake George] that I do, and they want to represent that.”
As for her undying love for this lake in particular, Pfau recalls childhood summers spent in Bolton Landing, a tradition she continues today with her husband and toddler. During the rest of the year, she resides in Rosendale in the Hudson Valley.