Saugerties is home to many fascinating individuals whose talents, enthusiasm and diversity add to this unique community. On Manorville Rd., Cliff Burley lives in a vine-covered cottage with his mother, Helene. The property encompasses a vegetable garden large enough to feed the family for a year while also sharing with friends and neighbors. Wildflowers bloom so profusely that they have served as wedding bouquets.
Cliff is the chief sower, weeder, and harvester of this bounty. He is, however, much more. A lifelong Saugerties resident, Cliff, 34, is a baker at the Hudson Valley Dessert Company, a potter of some distinction, a pizza maker who utilizes an outdoor oven to create personally crafted pies, and an active contributor to the charitable work of the Saugerties Elks Lodge.
None of this would be extraordinary if Cliff did not have a neurological disorder and severe learning disabilities which render him unable to formulate sentences or engage in casual conversation. Cliff also struggles with reading. Instead, he learns visually and by experience.
Needless to say, although he was creating original origami designs by the age of four, conventional classrooms were a challenge for this young man. His father, Jerry, describes an incident in first grade when the left-handed Cliff was handed a pair of right-handed scissors and asked to cut out printed figures. Unable to complete the task, he began to tear the figures out. Embarrassed by being singled out for failing at what seemed a simple task to other students, Cliff spent the next two days pretending to attend school while hiding in an abandoned car in a wooded area near his home.
When his dad was alerted that Cliff was not in school, a plan was devised. The young man returned to school with his very sharp origami scissors and stood before the class demonstrating cutting lines of paper dolls, snowflakes and intricate designs. He then moved on to folding various origami figures for his classmates, who never underestimated his gifts again.
As computers entered the classroom in his grade school years, Cliff was able to overcome his learning issues to some degree. He remained, however, a tactile adventurer.
His elementary school years introduced him to a local potter, Kathy Anderson. In exchange for cleaning her studio, Cliff was taught the basics of pottery and glazing. Ultimately, he helped with classes at the School for Young Artists which Kathy administered.
In middle school, the boy who always had a piece of Play Doh in his pocket began to create jewelry from potter’s clay which could be fired and hardened. His love of sports came out in charms featuring a hand holding a baseball glove, a football, a cheerleader’s megaphone or a baseball. He began stringing designs together into bracelets.
One day, Rick Smith, of Smith Hardware on Main St., noticed Cliff toying with one of the bangles. Smith displayed the jewelry in his shop, where it became a big seller. The young teen went on to create holiday pins and other decorative pieces. Their sale helped him through the traumas of adolescence, as did his older brother’s cohort of friends who created a protective circle around him.
Cliff attended the BOCES baking program and got a helper’s job at Lachman’s Bakery. There, he was able to test the culinary skills he was learning. Excellent with woodwork as well as work in dough, Cliff participated in the renovation of Lachman’s when it was converted to the Hudson Valley Dessert Company. He also converted his job, going from helper and carpenter to baker. This is a position he holds to this day.
In his work, Cliff applies his concern for healthful food to a culinary invention. The Burley Bar, a nutritional snack, is his invention and is available at the dessert company.
With his mom, Helene’s interpretation, Cliff was able to share some of his views.
What makes Saugerties unique?
The people, the mountains, and being able to go snowboarding.
What’s the biggest issue Saugerties has to address?
Transportation for people who don’t drive, like me.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met here?
A student named Yung Me. She took me on a three-day camping trip to learn pottery using wood-burning fires. We had to keep the fires burning for the whole time to cure our pieces.
What is a perfect day for you other than one working with your hands?
A warm summer day when I can swim in the water holes around town.
What’s your main fault?
Which qualities do you admire most in others?
Stick-to-it-ive-ness, creativity, strength and understanding.