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Our Favorite Spotlight: Have You Heard of These 5 Lancaster County Artists?

An image of paintbrushes and other painting tools sitting on top of a painted canvas.

There’s an enormous amount of creativity in Pennsylvania, so it’s no surprise that we have long been home to many local artists of all kinds. From musicians like Ed Kowalczyk from the rock band LIVE to the snacks made famous by the Pennsylvania Dutch, we have a variety of colorful creations to celebrate thanks to the people born and raised here in PA.

Lancaster County artists have a special place in our hearts here at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. Our gallery celebrates the work of many of the current artists in the area that create art in over 15 different mediums. Throughout history, all the way up until today, this area has been the birthplace of inspiration and joy for many artists.

This muse is the case for both native and visiting artists to Lancaster County. If you want to come to understand some of the things they experienced, book a room with us, and come find out where all this artistic inspiration lives!

1. Maria Louise Kirk

Born right here in Lancaster, PA, on June 21, 1860, Maria Louise Kirk is best known for her illustrations in the American editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the first edition of The Secret Garden. Most of the books she illustrated were children’s books, and you can find her work in over 50 publications. Despite her art being so popular and prolific, very little information about her personal life is available.

We know that she studied at the School of Design for Women in Philadelphia, and then she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She won many awards throughout Philadelphia and some in Chicago as well.

Despite major art movements happening around her, her artistic style is extraordinarily individual and has very little evidence of any influence from those movements in the surrounding art world. Her art remains popular today, and in 2009, the Folio Society of London crafted a new edition of the Scottish children’s novel At the Back of the North Wind with some of Kirk’s art featured as illustrations.

2. Karin Olah

The beach at sunset, where the sky is several shades of orange and yellow and the shore is sandy brown with foamy blue waters touching it.

Born in Lancaster County, Karin Olah’s work is unique because it combines the traditional mediums of acrylic paint, pencil, and pastels with the unconventional hand-dyed fabric to create multilayer pieces inspired by coastal landscapes. Her background includes fashion design in New York City, and she has an increasingly expansive collection of materials to help enrich her pieces with more color and texture. Today she is based in South Carolina, which inspires much of her work.

Her work has been featured in several magazines, and you can see her pieces in galleries like Gregg Irby Gallery in Georgia or the Liz Lidgett Gallery in Des Moines, Iowa. Karin Olah is a contemporary artist, born in 1977, so you can continue to expect new and exciting works from her in the future while you continue to enjoy what she’s already produced!

3. Charles Demuth

If you are familiar with Lancaster County artists or other historical figures from this area, you likely know a bit of the incredibly talented Charles Demuth already. Born and raised in Lancaster, the home he shared with his mother throughout his adulthood is now the Demuth Museum.

Despite his worldly travels and experiences, Demuth’s art was often inspired by his deep attachment to Lancaster, with many series and paintings coming from the inspiration he found in his mother’s garden or the buildings around the city. As a gay man, he celebrated his sexuality through watercolor paintings like his famous 1918 work, Turkish Bath with Self Portrait.

Demuth was friendly with many of the fellow artists of his time, including Georgia O’Keefe, Eugene O’Neill, and another Pennsylvania native—Gertrude Stein. His friends often referred to him as “Deem” or “Deem-O,” as he preferred to stress the first syllable in his last name instead of the way most people pronounced and continue to pronounce it.

His friendships with many other artists of his time inspired some of his most famous works, where he depicted his friends as objects or language, confusing the critics of the period. His piece for his friend William Carlos Williams remains one of his most popular today. The work mentioned is I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, and Demuth created it after being inspired by Williams’ poem “The Great Figure.”

Charles Demuth’s colorful life was cut short by complications from severe diabetes in his adulthood. He passed away shortly before his 52nd birthday in the comfort of his own home. As in life, Lancaster remains his home in death, as he is buried in the Lancaster Cemetery.

4. Robert Fulton

Landscapes, classic portraits, drawings of houses and machinery were all within Robert Fulton’s portfolio. He was a talented artist, born in Little Britain, Lancaster County, in November of 1765, on the 14th day of the month. Aside from his talents in the visual arts, he was an exceptionally brilliant man credited with developing the world’s first commercially successful steamboat.

This steamboat, called either The North River Steamboat or called Clermont, was a passenger boat that took people to and from New York City and Albany on the Hudson River.

He spent many years in Europe, becoming well known for his inventions. While working on his ideas for boats and canal engineering, he also took the time to indulge in learning to paint while living with his friend and fellow artist, Benjamin West.

After a life full of invention and art, Robert died of consumption, or tuberculosis as we know it today. Despite his death in 1815, you can still find remnants of his influence all over the country; it’s not just limited to Lancaster County! Some counties and cities share his name all over the country, including Fulton County in Pennsylvania. There was even a restaurant shaped like a steamboat in Disney Springs called Fulton’s Crab House until 2016.

5. Klaus Grutzka

A photo of an industrial landscape at night.

Unlike the other Lancaster County artists we’ve here, Klaus Grutzka was not a Lancaster native. However, he made Lancaster a more vibrant place to be. Klaus Grutzka was born in Germany in 1923 but moved to the US later in his adult life. After some near-death experiences in WWII, his art became his primary focus.

Grutzka’s art came in the form of industrial motifs and posters, and pieces that highlighted the interiors of Catholic churches. A visit to the United States inspired him and his wife to move to the United States in 1961. Initially, they lived in New York City but quickly relocated to Hoboken, New Jersey, near other German immigrant families.

He was well-known for his wit and good-natured personality, and he taught at the DuCret School of Art while he lived in New Jersey.

He began working on industrial art pieces for significant companies like Bethlehem Steel and General Electric and traveled nationwide for his work. Many of the subjects of his art, including the steel mills commissioned by Bethlehem Steel, were unfortunately dismantled as the steel industry began to slow down.

As the industry declined, Grutzka focused on teaching and became an assistant professor at The Hill School in Pottstown, PA. After relocating to Lancaster County for this job, he worked as an artist for the rest of his life.

One of Grutzka’s most famous pieces is the logo for the Dortmund Union Brewery, which is still in use today. His work highlighted industrial architecture and is why that architecture has such widespread appeal, even today.

After he died in 2011, he was laid to rest at Laurel Hill Memorial Gardens in Lancaster. In 2013, the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum acquired a collection of thousands of his artworks. The museum, located in Coatesville, PA, is home to a recreation of Grutzka’s Lancaster studio.

Would You Like to Visit Lancaster and See the Sights Today?

Lancaster County has been home to an incredible art scene throughout its history. At the Lancaster Arts Hotel, we are excited to expose our guests to some of the beautiful art this area has to offer right in our gallery, but we encourage you to explore further, as well, and see the place where all this inspiration was born!

Book a room with us today and immerse yourself in the views that Charles Demuth loved, or see the place where Klaus Grutzka chose to spend the last two decades of his life, bringing his art and knowledge with him. We can’t wait to have you here to explore what our Lancaster County artists loved about this area!