East Coast plein air artists coming for Susquehanna Solstice Festival


By Mary Beth Voda

What is it about a red barn that catches the eye? The way it contrasts with a fresh blanket of white after a Northeastern Pennsylvania snowfall or against a broad field of new spring green?  Perhaps it is a reminder of the area’s 200-year farming tradition.  Whatever the appeal, red barns often evoke nostalgic smiles.

For the 30 anticipated artists who will be participating in 2024’s Susquehanna Summer Solstice Festival’s (SSSF) plein air painting competition, June 17-23, the Endless Mountains offer a myriad of bucolic vistas, many including red barns.  In fact, most of the registered artists already have a red barn or two in their portfolios.

George Van Hook, a Cambridge, NY artist, returns to the SSSF this year. No stranger to plein air painting, he clearly is inspired by farm structures.  A quick look at his website’s landscape selections shows more than ten red barns and buildings.

Van Hook says time spent on his family’s farm in Bucks County, PA sparked his creativity.  Home of the Pennsylvania impressionists, the Brandywine School of artists, including Howard Pyle and the Wyeths, impressed him with their academic rigor and love of the landscape. He thinks of his paintings as visual responses to the selected environment.  “I want the color to be beautiful and the drawings firm and secure,” he writes.  Further, he sees what emerges on the canvas as reflecting, “both the beauty of the world and the artist’s most inner response.”

Another returnee to the SSSF, Richard Henry of Endicott, NY, says he was “imprinted as a young boy with the desire to create art.”  Having worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, painter and instructor, he now dedicates his full energy and passion to painting.  His biography notes, “The power of music, nature, landscapes, art history, and a passion for beauty in all things, provides an endless supply of subjects to paint.” For him, the plein air movement provides a fresh source of energy.  “Over the past nine years,” he says, “I have been trying to capture the moment.  The plein air movement has been rewarding on all levels.  Results are hard to get, but one has to keep working to get them.”

Artist Susan Whitman returns for the 2024 event and is looking forward to exploring the Susquehanna River Valley environs.  Currently a resident of the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, she grew up close to the Susquehanna in Conklin, NY where her 89-year-old father still lives.  In an email, Whitman writes she and her family have, “an affinity for the river and for the vast farmland.”  She remembers canoeing down the Susquehanna with her little dog on board and walking through the river to islands that would only appear during summer dry spells.

Whitman’s love of history also captured her interest.  During the 2023 SSSF, she found inspiration in the French Azilum Historic Site.  “I spent a lot of time musing (while painting) over what Marie Antoinette would have done had she found herself in the Pennsylvania countryside.  I was wondering if she would have taken in the beauty of the land and appreciated it in some way, for not only giving her safe haven, but also for its simple loveliness.  Alas, it was not to be.”

For the plein air artists, June’s SSSF provides no shortage of inspiration. The Susquehanna River, forests, fields and farmlands, as well as those red barns, continue to catch the eye.  Even though most of the barns sit alone along the countryside, they remain part of the landscape, and artists’ renderings will continue to preserve their memory.  As returning plein air painter, Elissa Gore of New York City sets up her easel, she will be looking for real places that express, “a transcendent moment when time seems to stand still.”

For information and tickets go to: www.susquehannasolstice.com. The first 200 tickets are 20% off, or call Bradford County Regional Arts Council at 570-268-2787, and find us on facebook under Susquehanna Solstice.