For those who ventured on the Susquehanna County Artists’ Open House Tour during the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day weekend, a stunning studio on the outskirts of Dimock was a standout stop.
In her tour debut, Victoria Switzer, a painter and photographer, welcomed visitors to her lovely, secluded studio and garden throughout the weekend, Saturday – Monday, Oct. 7-9.
Victoria’s husband, Jimmy, built the timber framed contemporary home on forested property alongside the Burdick Creek and SR 3023, also known as the Dimock to Nicholson Road.
Victoria has been painting and photographing her surroundings since 2013. When asked, “Why do you paint?” she muses, “How did the art thing get started? I wonder, is art genetic? I have artistic family members, both of my parents were.”
Inspired by the Past
“My maiden name is Victoria Heise. I did some research and I found an artist in Nazi Germany named Katarina Heise. She was trying to paint in Nazi Germany, and her art was considered degenerate, as she was involved in protests against the regime.
“What I learned from Katerina was this lesson: If you wait for everything in your life to be perfect, you will never make art.”
When she was a young child, Victoria was very aware and in tune with nature and living things.
“My grandfather had a farm and greenhouse, within a short walk, and every evening I would have to run inside his greenhouse at dusk, before he cranked the big windows closed, to make sure no bird or butterfly or bug was trapped inside. And I was only seven years old and I had that anxious protective instinct,” she said.
“I went to a small rural school, Falls Overfield, which later became part of Tunkhannock School District. There were only 27 in my graduating class. My classroom teacher in elementary school was Mrs. Reynolds, and I learned from her. She encouraged us to draw as part of our daily assignments. She told me I had talent. Years later, I ended up teaching third grade in that same classroom.”
Victoria continues, “I was an elementary teacher for most of my career, and spent 12 years as a wellness program teacher. I taught Pennsylvania history in Middle School my last four years (before retiring), and I love Penn’s Wood.”
She noted, “That’s how I met Jimmy, he was teaching high school auto tech, and middle and high school faculty interacted a bit, outside of the classrooms.”
‘Sky on Fire’
“Autumn begins and here I reflect — we moved to Dimock in 2003, and settled here to build our home. Part of our courtship was designing the home here, our date night was going to Borders (bookstore) and looking at architecture and home design books, or visiting and viewing inspiring structures and homes. Jimmy had the skills, or could learn from books. It was quite a project.”
Victoria retired from teaching in 2006. Later, “I was sitting outside the trailer we stayed in here while Jimmy built the house, considering I might like to paint and make jewelry, and then the land man came to tell us that they might be drilling a gas well in Dimock.”
That was when everything changed.
“At that point, art flew out the window, my creative energy was sidetracked. I was fairly ignorant about what was coming our way. My role in the beginning was research, catching up on what was going on in the gas industry.”
Pointing out her very first painting, ‘Sky on Fire’, she recalls, “The gas wars had come to a halt, well, so I thought at the time. Jimmy encouraged me to paint. He bought me all the art supplies and equipment I needed. It took me a year to start. Like a cat with a new object in the living room, I stared at the easel, walked around it, touched it with my paw and finally claimed it. This process took a year.
“Jimmy was still working, and while he was off working, I began to paint this scene of my parents’ back field. I worked from a photo I had taken many years ago.”
“’Sky on Fire’ was the beginning of my love of painting sky, trees, clouds–the natural beauty of ordinary places that I held dear to my heart. A painting has a story,” she said.
‘Sky on Fire’ has an impressionist use of color as well as detailed representation of the silhouetted trees.
Nature and the Art
“I came to this art career in my 60s. So, I looked into artists with longevity, and I found an amazing connection to Georgia O’Keefe. I found a painting of hers where we used the same exact hues, same palette I had used in a Canadian wildfire sky I had just painted,” she said.
“I do a lot of work in winter. I settle in and paint,” she said. “In the summer, there’s a conflict with gardening. I have this little clearing of civilization here in the forest. ”
“I’ve loved this little piece of the planet with all my heart and soul! I have made such dear friends with nature and her critters, feathered and furred. I have known a White Hawk for the past six years and a beautiful doe for 10 years. Her children know us as friends. They are named and treasured!”
“I hear owls in the forest, and have sat with a big blue heron. I’ve watched bear in awe, and saw cubs roll about.”
She watches a white hawk, a leucistic (white but not albino) red tailed hawk, for the past six years. “That white hawk got me through a very rough time, the death of both my mother and father in less than two weeks, ” she said.
“I can call it out, more often than not, with a high whistling that I think may sound shrill like a baby hawk. I don’t know if it welcomes my intrusion, but it always responds.”
She continues, “There’s nothing like watching a white hawk soar. That inspired a lot of my art. I’ve always liked ravens, my totem on the medicine wheel, and I see a pair on my walks in the valley. I love Native American and indigenous cultural connection to wildlife, their reverence for it.”
“I know each tree by creekside and along the road. We’ve had an amazing opportunity to observe wildlife.”
“Now, this Autumn, my usually joyous season of color and smells begins with the certainty that we will leave. Now or never, change is coming! Time to be with our kids and family.”
“As you can see, the creek and road run side by side. My many photos are from walking the road, unless I’m on our property. A lot of my art is my walk, four miles ranging from my house. ”
“It’s amazing how beautiful this valley and surrounding hills are…. Perfectly presented– Penn’s Woods.”
“This is my first Artists Tour. Last year was my 70th birthday on Oct. 7, so we celebrated at Rehoboth. So this is my first open studio.
Ruthanne Jones, director of the Carbondale Chamber Gallery gave me my first solo exhibit, which was a huge honor.
“When someone tells me they don’t know how to decorate, I say, start with a piece of art that you love. Take your colors from it for your room and furnishings, and it will work.”