Kirk and Lesli Van Zandbergen are two of about two dozen local artists who are participating this year in a virtual artists’ tour in Susquehanna County. The 24th annual Artists’ Open House Weekend will be unlike any before it due to the COVID-19 situation, but the Van Zandbergens are happy to be part of its continuance.
“It’s important to us because it has such a great history in the county,” said Kirk Van Zandbergen, noting that he and Lesli have exhibited their photography as part of the Tour for at least 15 years. The couple has lived in Brackney for a little more than 31 years, where they restored a timber barn to serve as their studio.
Both began their careers as commercial photographers, having met at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. They moved to Binghamton, NY, in 1982 when Kirk took a position with New York State Electric & Gas as a staff photographer. Pre-COVID, Kirk and Lesli kept busy taking professional photos on subject matter as diverse as healthcare, architecture, and community and corporate events.
“Being commercial photographers isn’t always interesting or exciting,” Kirk suggested. But people quickly took a liking to the “hobby” photos they were taking on their own property. “We shoot a lot of nature around here, and it’s encouraging to hear people appreciate the natural beauty that we are capturing – that we live in – and feel the same way.”
Chickens are a common theme, as are barns, landscapes, and even celestial moments like lunar and solar eclipses. “We’ve had chickens for more than 25 years. We started because we wanted fresh eggs, then for meat,” Kirk related. “We like knowing where our meat is coming from.” Since the pandemic slowed life down in the spring, he has noticed that more people this year have taken to homesteading.
Other critters that find themselves in front the lens include the couple’s cat and dog, goats and some runner ducks, which also provide them with eggs. “They stand upright. They are flightless,” Kirk said of the domestic foul originally found on Indonesian islands. “They run everywhere and quite comical.”
The Van Zandbergens offer portrait photography services, and Kirk has been taking a growing number of aerial shots with a drone.
Many samples of their work can be seen at www.vzphoto.com and are available in a variety of formats. The Artists’ Tour was developed to increase awareness of the variety and high caliber of those in Susquehanna County who excel at art forms like textiles, jewelry, wood-carving, painting, sculpture, stained glass, photography and even field stone walls.
In previous years, organizers added a scavenger hunt with a punch card that could be redeemed for prizes to encourage art fans to visit parts of the county they usually don’t. “Our county is so big, and the artists are so spread out,” Kirk noted, adding that patrons would tell him and Lesli that they were visiting a different cluster of artists each years. The Van Zandbergens’ studio is fairly close to perennial Tour participants Mud and Fire Potters and Nance Brown, for example.
But this year is very different. “It’s been quite a challenge,” Kirk related. “We’ve had a lot of Zoom meetings, and all of the artists have been asked to dip their toes into some areas that they aren’t as familiar with.” For the Van Zandbergens, that includes enhancing their website to better accommodate online ordering.
Art lovers are encouraged to contact Tour participants to find out how they are participating. “It’s whatever they are comfortable with,” Kirk remarked. “We are not encouraging people to visit, but we would welcome people with masks and all the guidelines.” Nonetheless, the couple would prefer that people call ahead at 570-663-2210.
The couple have begun to develop a following out of state and southern Pennsylvania and enjoyed visits from patrons as far away as New Jersey and Philadelphia. “We’re going to miss that,” Kirk remarked.
But the good news is that organizers are not limiting this year’s event to a single weekend but are trying instead to build out the program from its Oct. 10 kickoff. “It sounds like it will go on virtually on the website,” said Kirk. “I’m sure all the artists will appreciate that.”
To keep up with the Artists’ Open House, visit, www.artiststour.com.