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Dorothy Riester Leaves Estate to Benefit Art Park

When one of Central New York’s most prominent artists passed away, her estate named the Central New York Community Foundation the recipient of more than $1.6 million to preserve the local public art space that she considered her brightest accomplishment.

Dorothy Riester was 100 years old when she passed away in July. Over the course of her long career as a freelance sculptor-designer, she created major original artwork on commission both locally and nationally. But she was arguably most proud of the establishment of the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, an informal sculpture garden and art exhibit venue in Cazenovia where she lived with her husband, Bob.

The Robert & Dorothy Riester Fund for Stone Quarry Hill Art Park Preservation will be endowed and administered by the Community Foundation to ensure the long-term preservation and maintenance of the art park’s grounds and physical property. When combined with Dorothy’s previous donations, the total fund will reach $2 million.

“Dorothy’s vision for Stone Quarry Hill Art Park has come true – a place where art, landscape and people connect,” said Kelli Johnson, the park’s interim executive director. “Dorothy once asked, ‘How can I make my life useful to others?’ Now, thanks to her long-range generosity, the answer to that question will be in plain sight to Park visitors for generations to come.”

Stone Quarry became one of the first art-in-nature parks in the world when the Riesters made it their home in the late 1950s. Dorothy looked back fondly on the story of how the park came to be, feeling it was kismet.

At the time, the couple was living in a restored townhouse in downtown Syracuse. They had moved from Pennsylvania so that Bob could work for Carrier Corporation. According to Dorothy, her husband always felt a call to live in the country. Each Sunday they packed a lunch – complete with a full shaker of martinis for Bob – and set out to find a pretty spot to spend the day.

One Sunday Dorothy read, “Cazenovia: 25 Acres, Scenic” in the newspaper, leading them to take a visit up a steep, dirt road off of Route 20 for their weekly picnic. Enamored with the view of Central New York’s rolling green hills, they purchased it immediately. Dorothy was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright when she designed and built the uniquely shaped house with a view that would serve as their home as well as her art studio. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.   

After the Riesters settled into their new land, they found that local residents used to call it “picnic hill” because families liked to visit the scenic spot. They decided to keep that spirit going, adding the artwork of renowned sculptors among the trees and opening the space up to the public. Over the years they purchased surrounding properties and added gardens and trails.

The resulting 100 acre compound – now boasting four miles of hiking trails, rotating exhibitions and a gallery– has garnered accolades from around the world. Visitors can see large-scale sculptures made of metal, wood and stone scattered across the park and immersed within the nature. Dorothy placed conservation easements on the land to ensure it isn’t developed. The gift to her fund will keep the park’s grounds maintained for visitors to enjoy.

Jennifer Owens, former senior vice president and chief development officer at the Community Foundation, said Dorothy was drawn to establishing an endowment fund for its longevity.

“Dorothy was reassured knowing that we will always stay true to her instructions for use of the funds no matter what the future holds,” she said. “The Community Foundation has a unique ability to preserve the voice of the donor through the generations. Dorothy’s creative spirit will live on through her fund, and her unique vision for the art park will be preserved for the long-term.”

Endowment funds like Dorothy’s are designed to benefit the community in perpetuity. In the case of designated funds, the Community Foundation uses a percentage of the fund each year to award grants to nonprofits named by the donor. The remaining fund balance is invested, growing to keep up with inflation to increase the annual spendable allowance. Over time, the cumulative amount of grants awarded is expected to surpass the original gift used to seed the fund.

While advising her charitable giving, Owens met with Dorothy often, including while she lived in The Nottingham, a senior living community in DeWitt. There, she didn’t let age slow down her desire to create. Owens recalls that on one of her visits, Dorothy was creating sculptures out of toilet paper rolls and empty cereal boxes. She only lamented that she wasn’t allowed to weld in her apartment.

To Owens, Dorothy’s fund will ensure her visionary blend of public art and nature will be enjoyed for generations: “As we remember Dorothy and celebrate her long life, we will draw unending inspiration from the many lessons she taught us about the art of living and giving back.”

Giving Options

To support the Robert & Dorothy Riester Fund for Stone Quarry Hill Art Park Preservation, visit its giving page here
If you're interested in opening a designated fund, learn more here.