Anabaptist World: You grew up in an Amish-Mennonite community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. How did this shape you artistically?
Freiman Stoltzfus: My formative years in the Amish-Mennonite community may seem an inauspicious beginning for an artist, but I am eternally grateful for my agrarian roots, which were a way of viewing the world through a lens of perpetual wonder with an embrace of nature and the four seasons. I spent my childhood outside: springtime in the orchards, gardening with my mother, summer in the fields, harvest each year, role-playing with neighborhood kids, ice skating and sledding in winter—always outside. I feel particularly fortunate to be among the last generation of children who were granted freedom of movement in the days before surveillance by cell phone and over-zealous helicopter parenting. I enjoyed an old-fashioned childhood with no TV, movies, radio, or other trappings. This gave me the expansive head and heart space to develop a unique (idiosyncratic!) point of view, much needed for an artist.
AW: In what ways did you encounter support and resistance for your art?
FS: I encountered resistance and support in more or less equal measure. In hindsight, I don’t think I was clever enough to recognize resistance to my calling as an artist. If anything, I myself provided pushback as I sought other paths of employment, which ultimately led to surrendering to my vocation by the time I was 21. By nature, I am contrarian, stimulated by opposition. The unwavering support of my mother provided me with the backbone I needed to build a creative life. I didn’t pay attention to those who sought to dissuade me on my path.
AW: You have several paintings with musical titles. What role does music play in your visual work?
FS: Music is central to my work. I fell in love with classical music at an early age; ironically, it’s the most sophisticated and worldly of all musical genres, but it’s preferred in our plain world with its firm rejection of contemporary music. I feel lyrically guided by my lifelong love of composers with whom I feel an affinity: Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Rachmaninoff, Satie, Debussy, and Bach. Their music has sustained me for decades and has given me an emotional strength to navigate the world. I approach painting in musical terms: always thinking of composition, rhythm, color shades and harmonies, counterpoint, and melody.
AW: How did you come to have a gallery in Lancaster City?
FS: As a native of Lancaster County, the blossoming downtown arts community beckoned with its love of creativity and its support of artists. In 2011, I returned home from New York, where I had enjoyed a few years of academic growth, and the timing was right to open the gallery.
AW: How have you seen your work change throughout your career?
FS: It is strange to see work from decades ago and reconcile it with my present expression. I began at an early age (preteen), and at that point I knew so little about the world or what it meant to be an artist. I did it because it was my primary mode of communication and because it came naturally. Over the years, through study, travel, and experimental periods, I developed a personal style that is still evolving, but has a much clearer direction than in my early years when I was under the influence of many other artists.
AW: What does a day look like for you in the studio? How do you feed your creativity?
FS: I am fortunate to have been brought up with a work ethic that did not discriminate against or highlight particular paths of employment. Show up, do your job, don’t complain or grandstand, and above all, do not think more highly of yourself because your native gifts happen to be inclined toward the arts. I feed my creativity through travel, sketching, curiosity, and generally following threads of passionate interest.
AW: Your work strikes me as simultaneously grounded and transcendent. For example, I notice that you pair a cathedral with trees in “April” and a cathedral with a field of corn in “Field Hymn.”
FS: “Grounded and transcendent” is a perfect way to describe my efforts. I am constantly thinking of the space between heaven and earth: grounded to nature and the seasons while reaching upward.