Freiman Stoltzfus has come full circle as an artist.
He evolved from the little boy who delighted tourists with his drawings at his family’s Bird-in-Hand inn to an art student who studied at New York City’s National Academy and Art Students League.
As a young artist, he opened his first gallery in Intercourse. Then he became a force within the Lancaster city arts community with his urban gallery on Prince Street’s Gallery Row.
Now, Stoltzfus has returned to his roots with the opening of his second gallery, Corner West Art & Lifestyle Gallery in Intercourse. The new gallery will celebrate a grand opening this weekend.
It’s not far from where Stoltzfus grew up as a child. The building is owned by his cousins, Fan and Carl Smucker, who also own the Treasure Place, a shop that offers a blend of new, renewed, reclaimed and recycled home furnishings.
“I feel that this is where I am meant to be,” Stoltzfus says. “This is where I grew up, and where my family is. They say you can never go home again — yes, I can.”
With his Amish-Mennonite background, Stoltzfus seems destined to straddle two worlds. One is the security, safety and sense of family he has from his origins in the Intercourse area. The other is his adventurous spirit, one who loves to travel and make new discoveries in cities all over the world.
Stoltzfus is somehow able to interweave those two sensibilities. He cherishes his Amish-Mennonite heritage, and thrives on experiencing new places that inspire his work. Quilts, nature and the patchwork fields of Lancaster County intrigue him as much as exploring Italy, France, Spain and the Middle East. He longs to return to his two favorite cities of Paris and Vienna, where he is enchanted by the architecture and culture. Before the pandemic, he traveled at least three times a year.
He explains that it is not that surprising that he loves to travel. At his family’s Orchard Inn, between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse, tourists visited from all over the world. He would listen to stories from visitors who came from Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe, which gave Stoltzfus a taste of the world far beyond Lancaster County. The family also hosted foreign exchange students from New York University and Columbia University.
His late father Gideon Stoltzfus encouraged this open-minded outlook on the world. Stoltzfus was the youngest of six, and his siblings were adventurous, too; his late sister Grace set off for California, and brother Myron became an international airline pilot.
But no matter how far his travels take him, Stoltzfus always is glad to come home.
“I am always drawn back to Pennsylvania, no matter how far I roam,” Stoltzfus says. “The seduction of deep ancestral roots, the lure of orchards, fields and farms, the relationships of parents, siblings, cousins, and my oldest and dearest friends. I feel grateful for the abundance I’ve experienced here.”
He says his mother, Susan Stoltzfus, was instrumental in fostering his love of art.
“She had an artistic sensibility, and is very creative herself,” Stoltzfus says. “She recognized my talent when I was young and made me feel special when I showed her my work. She still does that.”
Even as a young child, Stoltzfus realized it was unique to be an Amish artist. And yet, he has no doubt that art is what he was born to do.
“If I wasn’t an artist, I cannot imagine what else I would be,” Stoltzfus says.
Art, music and writing were more than just creative expressions for Stoltzfus. They were a way for him to communicate. As a young child, he had a speech disorder and tended to be shy about his stutter. His art was one way to express himself. He also loved music, and learned to play the guitar and piano. When he sang in his warm tenor voice, the stutter disappeared. Voice lessons helped him control his breath and enunciation. Later he would sing with the Oratorio Society of New York and the Philadelphia Orchestra Singers.
As an artist, he often works in acrylics and pencil. His subjects span his own life experiences, drawn from the orchards that surrounded his family’s home or the stained glass windows of a European cathedral or the fresh young cornfields as they hint at the future harvest or a Middle Eastern mosque. Music of great composers such as Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky set the tone for his painting, and he often paints to music. He is a master at color, delving into rich warm hues of cinnamon, amber and saffron, or the cool refreshing jewel tones of cobalt, amethyst and emerald.
“Right now, my passion is working in gold leaf. I find the shimmering richness to be so sensuous,” says Stoltzfus, adding that he is inspired by Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter who was part of the Vienna Secession movement and often painted women in a style that was influenced by Japanese art.
During the pandemic, he was able to focus on his work more than ever. He craves solitude and sets aside a part of the day to work alone on his drawings and paintings. Then he spends several afternoons a week in his galleries, interacting with people who come in and admire his work. He credits his manager, Bethany Smith, with keeping the gallery going during the pandemic, and allowing him the time to paint.
He wants his newest gallery to be a celebration of the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. His artwork is surrounded by soft pillows and luxurious upholstered furnishings, scented candles with flickering light, while classical music plays in the background.
“It means so much to me to return to my roots, where my ancestors have lived since the 1700s, and where I still have family that help me feel centered and balanced,” he says. “I am not sure they realize how artistic they are, with their curved and straight lined fields and their geometric quilts that are works of art. This is home, and it will always be home for me.”