By DEBORAH HOSTETTER
It takes exceptional ability to view or imagine a scene and then recreate it idealistically on canvas. Liz Hess has that ability. This local artist’s distinguished gallery is located right on Lancaster City’s popular Prince Street, where any passerby can gaze through the display window at a fine selection of signature paintings. Known for the “red umbrella,” trademark, Hess’ gallery won Lancaster Newspaper’s 12th Annual Readers Choice Award in 2012, showing how art critics and casual observers alike can appreciate the quality of her work.
Hess didn’t always live in Lancaster; she was five when her parents moved to the US from Honduras, where they had previously worked as missionaries. After settling in the USA, the young Hess went to Locust Grove Elementary School. It was during this period that her parents had her attend private art lessons. They noticed her burgeoning talents long before; in her mother’s words, “Liz could paint and draw far beyond her age even before she knew how to write her name.”
Hess’s parents also encouraged her gift by supplying her with art supplies and lessons. Her mother’s job permitted her to bring home reams of blank paper, which Hess would spread on the floor and spend hours covering with artwork. Later on, she had an inspiring high school art teacher who was able to help Hess develop her gift more extensively.
A pivotal moment occurred at age 18, when she entered two small paintings in a large annual art show held in the center of Lancaster City. Among the various other works by far more advanced participants, Hess’ paintings placed first. This experience, more than any other up to that point, showed that she had strong potential to become a career artist.
However, Hess did not jump into the world of art straight off. After getting seriously involved in a Bible study as a young adult she moved to Sweden, where she spent eight years as a missions worker. Painting some on the side, Hess spent her days mostly at the mission base completing discipleship ministry while absorbing the beautiful Swedish scenery. After settling in the US again, she decided to continue traveling to Europe every few years to continue gleaning artistic inspiration.
Once present in Lancaster, Hess started working herself into the art world by becoming an assistant to painters who owned a gallery in the city. With their help, she learned how to custom frame and assist clients and art students while picking up other tricks of the trade. After 12 years her employers retired and Hess had to decide whether she wanted to remain a part of Lancaster City’s art community or go elsewhere. She opted to stay, and opened her own gallery on Prince Street after successfully forming a partnership with another local artist.
Hess’s personal endeavors to enter the art scene fully triumphed; her work has been showcased in various locales such as the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater and Park City Mall. She has also been part of a variety of special commissions. Just to name a few, she has presented work and run sessions at a prestigious art workshop in Mexico, painted a special African series for Eastern Mennonite Missions, painted the Emmental Valley in Switzerland as part of a commemoration of the Year of the Anabaptists, and showcased her work at the Bon-Ton in Park City Mall after being named feature artist for a local celebration of National Arts and Humanities month.
Hess encourages other beginners in hard to break into fields such as art and music to start out as she did: by taking a job, any job, in a studio or gallery and shadowing other eminent artists and musicians. She sees this as the best way to learn the behind the scenes workings and figure out if said dreamer has what it takes to climb the highly competitive ladder and make a hit. She is also an advocate for the power of positive affirmation, recognizing the driving effect it had on her life.
Remarkably, Hess has remained humble despite her own outstanding success and notes the importance her faith in the “Master Painter” or God, has played in her endeavors. As many have seen, her paintings are in essence serene and tend to provoke a soothing and contemplative effect on the observer. Hess attributes this to her spiritual walk and experiences though she remains practical.
“My faith doesn’t always lead to inner peace,” she said, “but it means something to know you have someone taking you by the hand and that you’re never alone.” To paraphrase, many artists struggle with heavy darkness and inner turmoil which appears in some form through their artwork, but not in Hess.’
“My work is different. What’s inside of me comes out in my paintings, which are inherently peaceful,” she stated. Any observer would be wise to take lessons from this artiste virtuoso. Lancaster City is indisbutably brightened by her presence.