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North Hills Monthly

Beauty Inside and Out: Artists’ Open House Weekend in the Endless Mountains of PA

Sep 01, 2017 08:29AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Works by photographers Lesli and Kirk Van Zandbergen

One of the things I like to do most when traveling is check out the local art scene—whether that means visiting high-end galleries, taking in outdoor sculpture gardens, or admiring funky street murals. What I’ve rarely gotten to do, though, is see artists at work where they work, which is one of the things that makes the Annual Artists’ Open House Weekend in Susquehanna County, PA, really unique.

Held over Columbus Day weekend, the event is now celebrating its 21st year. The brainchild of painter Rodrica Tilley, the event allows people to take a free, self-guided tour that includes artists’ homes and studios all over the county—last year’s event included 28 artists at 22 locations, as well as an exhibit at Salt Springs State Park where the first studio tour took place 20 years ago.

Visitors to the area can choose to follow their own schedules and routes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. I visited a number of impressive artists, and not only got to see where they worked, but got to find out more about where they found inspiration—which in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, is just about everywhere. 

Walking into the barn/studio of photographers Lesli and Kirk Van Zandbergen, I was greeted by Rascal, a black Lab mix. He was more than happy to accompany us into the studio, as well as around the farm to meet llamas, chickens and even a “cheeky goat”—some of whom have made it into the couple’s work. At Kathryn Lesoine’s Granary Studio, I was particularly taken by her works in color, paper and wax, as well as by the way the light through the windows highlighted the artist herself. A walk along her property also unveiled a very cool geodesic domed greenhouse and koi pond.

No matter what style of art you prefer, there’s sure to be something to suit you, from Richard Griffith’s watercolor and pastel paintings of landscapes and historical buildings to Betty Bryden’s abstract landscape collages, displayed at Butternut Gallery & Second Story Books. I really enjoyed chatting with Nance Brown at her home studio, where she discussed “negative painting,” which is painting the spaces around an object and not the object itself, and was absolutely captivated watching a landscape come to life in Linda Truman’s basement studio, where she taught a group of about 15 people blending techniques. I even got to try my own hand at making art, learning how to paint a watercolor leaf (not as easy as they make it look!) at Chris Lathrop’s Montrose studio. 

While a self-driving tour of such a large area might be a little intimidating to some, a very easy-to-follow map is provided where each artist’s studio is clearly marked, accompanied by written directions. It’s really a wonderful way to spend a day wandering around the countryside—especially in fall, when the changing leaves create nature’s own vibrant palette.

Speaking of beautiful scenery, a visit to the Elk Mountain Fall Festival, which also takes place over Columbus Day weekend, enables you to enjoy breathtaking views of the fall colors from a higher vantage point. You’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy crafts, live entertainment, an impressive array of homemade foods and unbelievably enticing smells—trust me, there’s no way you’re leaving the festival without a bag of freshly baked, cinnamon-spiced pecans.

Of course, all of this outdoor activity can easily build up an appetite, and the Endless Mountains doesn’t disappoint. The Stone Bridge Inn and Restaurant, located in Union Dale, PA, reminded me of a charming Bavarian village; I loved the post-and beam architecture of this multi-level restaurant, as well as the airy and light-filled rooms that opened out onto a stunning view of the forest and nearby mountains. The menu, while not huge, offered more than enough delicious options for those wanting meat, seafood, pasta or vegetarian options.

Speaking of old European charm, while in Montrose, you have to stop by Chocolates by Leopold, where all kinds of delicacies are made on the premises by Leopold Schreiber himself, using fourth-generation German recipes. Ninety percent of the raw material used is sourced in Pennsylvania, with other ingredients coming from around the world, including ginger from Fiji. The company does offer factory tours, or you can just walk around the store admiring the impressive edibles—just make sure to try the buttercrunch, which is their biggest seller. When I mentioned that I was going to visit the shop, the owner of the Rosemont Inn, Betty Bryden, summed it up best:  “You just want to sit down and weep, they’re so good.”

And for the really hearty appetite, make a stop for lunch or dinner at Bingham’s Restaurant in Kingsley, PA, where the portions are huge and comfort food takes on new meaning. Those looking to lose weight should probably avoid this family style restaurant, however; I had to laugh at the section “for the smaller appetite” that includes a chicken fried steak platter, chicken and biscuits, and the country battered cod filet.

To learn more about Artists’ Open House Weekend, visit  To learn more about the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, visit