Gus Pedersen is building all 35 lighthouses. (photo by Robert Ford)

Gus Pedersen is building all 35 lighthouses. (photo by Robert Ford)

If Saugerties has a symbol everyone can agree on, it’s the lighthouse. So after a so-so reaction to last year’s Adirondack chairs, the Chamber of Commerce is going with a sure-fire hit for this summer’s public art project—this time, in 3D.

Local furniture-maker Gus Pedersen is hard at work on 35 scale-model blank wooden lighthouses, which will have greater depth than those that graced village streets in 2011. As in years past, local artists will submit design proposals, and local businesses and individuals will sponsor them. In the fall, an auction will be held, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a local charity.

Since the first project in 2010, which featured carousel horses, the chamber has raised about $100,000, according to committee co-chair Mark Smith. Some of the organizations that have benefited include the Food Pantry, the PTA’s playground fund, and the Saugerties Historical Society.

Now in his late 60s, Pederson began furniture-making as a hobby. As a draft-age young man during the Vietnam War, he joined the Navy and served aboard a submarine as an electronics technician and became a periscope photographer. Serving in the western Pacific, the submarine would sneak up on a country’s coastline, raise its periscope and Pedersen would quickly snap photos.

After spending seven years in the service, Pedersen came back to the states and began designing computer systems for various companies, until the tech bubble burst in the 1990s and he found himself unemployed.

Pedersen asked some friends for career advice. Several suggested he go pro with his furniture-making.

“I’d been making furniture part-time as a hobby and they thought I did good work,” Pedersen said.

So he put together a portfolio of his work and apprenticed to a high-end cabinetmaker.

“I learned more there in a week than I had in all the time I had been doing furniture-making as a hobby,” Pedersen said.

Back in his studio, Pedersen says he gets quite attached to his work. He’s naming the lighthouses — Billy, Sara, Jean. “The artists can paint them and dress them up, but they are my children,” he says.

He plans to visit them on display in the village. He said he’s ready for inevitable slings and arrows sure to befall one or two. (Past art pieces have been damaged by vandals and garbage trucks.)

“We’ll wrap the damaged one in bandages and put a little crutch with it and keep it on display,” he said. If a total loss, “then we’ll hold a little lighthouse funeral,” he said with a smile.

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