Agnes Sayre Cooney was born in 1907 to Fred and Fanny Cooney (Five Generations of Artists: Meet Fanny Y. Cory). From infancy she was called by her middle name, Sayre.
Later the family was joined by brothers Bob and Ted. Their home was a ranch of 1,800 acres in western Montana on the Missouri River, a few miles from the small town of Canyon Ferry.
Photo: Sayre with her mom and brothers on the ranch in Montana
Sayre’s nationally famous artist mother, Fanny Y. Cory, encouraged Sayre to draw and felt she had great artistic talent.
Photo: A drawing of Sayre’s when she was 12 years old
A dream was born that someday Sayre would go to a good art school and receive further training.
Photo: Sayre talking to her mother, Fanny Y. Cory.
In 1929 – 1930 this dream came true. Fanny Y. Cory accompanied 22 year old Sayre from Montana to Pennsylvania and the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Sayre began her official schooling as an artist. She completed several years of training there.
Photo: Sayre at art school in Philadelphia with some of her classmates.
However, Sayre was caught in a changing time in art where “modern art” was admired at the Academy and traditional art was looked on as lesser. Sayre was a traditional artist whose strong talents lay in being able to artistically render any subject she saw.
So she didn’t feel at home at art school nor was she an artist/illustrator artist like her mother who could make things come alive from her imagination. Sayre needed to see what she was drawing. Somewhere during this time, her brother (finding it impossible to not compare his sister’s art with that of their mother’s) said, “Sayre, you have talent, but not genius.”
Photo: Sayre on her trip home to Montana after leaving art school stopped to see the sites in NYC.
During this time of uncertainty in her life, Sayre read a book about Hull House in Chicago where Jane Addams made a huge impact on the needs of people there. She decided she wanted to do something with her life where she was helping people. Sayre chose to become a nurse and that is just what she did. The day she graduated as a nurse, she married medical doctor, Thomas Dodgson and they began a new life together.
Art became an enjoyable sideline which she used occasionally in her everyday life, one example being the drawings she made in the journals she kept documenting each of their four children.
Photo: Sayre’s drawings of her daughter Margaret.
Sayre threw herself into parenting raising her and Doc’s four children: Margaret, Thomas (Bud), Robert and Ann. In 1947 they moved from Moroni, Utah to a 30 acre farm on Camano Island where Sayre nurtured her growing family and kept the bustling household thriving.
Fanny Y. Cory, or “Meetsy” as her family called her moved to Camano Island in 1952. Sayre was a founding member with her mother of the “Grunt and Groan Club” where family members of all ages painted small “alla prima” watercolors together as they visited at Fanny’s house.
Even though Sayre did not pursue a career in the arts she was a lover of beauty, especially of art, music and poems. She always wanted to hear a song or a poem. And she knew many poems by heart. Her daughter Ann learned her first poem, The Daffodils by William Wordswoth, when she was braiding her hair each day. Ann grew to love the poem, and many others, because her mom loved it. Sayre passed down this love for poems by giving her children and grandchildren the book 101 Famous Poems, most of which she knew by heart.
And though Sayre couldn’t carry a tune (any musical ability her kids had came from her husband, Doc Dodgson) she loved singing, songs, and she wanted to hear what her loved ones could do along that line and never wearied of being their best listener.
In short, Sayre was a wonderful supporter and encourager of art and creativity in her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. She purchased paintings from Ann for $15 and gave them as wedding gifts; she also bought paintings from her grandchildren, giving them their first taste of their art being valued by someone!
When she was elderly and being cared for by her children, grandchildren and their spouses, the “Grunt and Groan club” was revived in her home. Grandchildren painted, songs were played, poems recited and creativity blossomed.
Sayre was a beautiful combination of Scottish hard work and frugality and the Irish love of beauty and creativity. She was neat, hardworking, diligent on one side of her and a lover of beauty in every form on the other side of her. On top of that, Ann swears on a stack of Bibles, that she can’t remember even one time of hearing her complain or show self pity. She walked in beauty and thankfulness.
Sayre died at the ripe old age of 104, beloved, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, having left a legacy of art and poems and music that lives on in the generations that followed her.