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Columbia artist Thomas Hermansader will sell prized paintings of Lancaster landmarks during First Friday exhibit | Entertainment

“The secret is to let whatever is underneath come through,” says Thomas Foster Hermansader, a local artist.

The artist, best known for his watercolor and oil paintings of historic Lancaster County landmarks, is talking about his technique of applying layers of color on top of each other. The process he says, which is similar to Andrew Wyeth’s egg tempera technique, can involve maybe over 100 glazes to sharpen, hone and perfect his subject.

He could just as easily be speaking of the ethereal quality of his compositions and how his use of light and color invoke emotions in viewers and reveal the warmth of the cold stone historic buildings he favors in his works.

Hermansader, the 2019 recipient of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County’s C. Emlen Urban award for education and advocation of the area’s historic sites, will exhibit, and for the first time, have a significant amount of his original works for sale during a one -night only pop-up exhibit 5-7 pm Friday at Sehner-Ellicott-von Hess House, 123 N. Prince St. in Lancaster.

But saying goodbye to some of his creations won’t be easy.

“After working a few hundred hours on a painting you become very attached to it,” Hermansader says.

This is a photograph of a painting by Tom Hermansader of Penn Square at Christmas taken in his Columbia Borough home Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

historical preservation

Hermansader is 71. It’s an especially meaningful age to the artist, who’s been painting professionally for about 50 years.

Hermansader has been selling prints and some earlier originals, but saving much of his original output to sell to help him financially in retirement.

“When I was 20-25 years old, 70 years of age seemed way out of reach,” Hermansader says. “But all the sudden, I looked in the mirror last year and realized that the time had come to sell my more prized paintings.”

The Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County will feature more than 50 pieces of Hermansader’s original watercolor and oil paintings during the career-spanning First Friday pop-up event including Lancaster County landmarks such as Thaddeus Stevens School of Technology, Sickman’s Mill, Hunsecker’s Covered Bridge, Strasburg Railroad, Wheatland, Wright’s Mansion, Ephrata Cloister and more.

Tom Hermansader

This is a photograph of a painting by Tom Hermansader of the Star Barn taken in his Columbia Borough home Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

“Many people have seen the prints of the various locations around Lancaster County, but it is pretty special to be able to see — and purchase — the originals,” says Danielle Keperling, executive director of the Historic Preservation Trust. “The capturing of historic places in and around Lancaster County provides another snapshot of the evolution of these buildings.”

Blueprint for success

Hermansader grew up in an art studio.

“My father was a portrait painter and I used to stand in his studio and watch him paint,” Hermansader says. “I was amazed by it. It was kind of like magic.”

He says he remembers how, even though his father was an extremely talented and respected portrait painter, he often struggled in his 30s and 40s to make money. Portraits — even ones of famous people — can often struggle to sell in the secondary market, Hermansader says.

“I knew that if I painted buildings, I’d find enough people to buy prints of them,” Hermansader says.

His father advised him to develop and perfect his drawing skills, which he called the “backbone of art.”

“I was very fortunate my dad was a great person and a great artist, and the biggest influence in my life.”

Tom Hermansader

This is a photograph of a painting by Tom Hermansader of Strasburg Railroad taken in his Columbia Borough home Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Hermansader taught art at Columbia School District from 1973-89, which allowed him time to paint in the evenings, on weekends and in the summer. Hermansader worked in a spontaneous, loose painting style from 1973-81. Then, in 1981, I decided to switch to a tighter, more detailed approach. His first subject using this new more exacting style, which he says can take between 200-400 hours, was the Wright’s Ferry Mansion in Columbia.

Satisfied with the results, Hermansader decided to display the original Wright’s Ferry Mansion painting on an easel, along with order forms for prints at the Columbia Market House when it opened for two evenings around the time of the Columbia Halloween parade.

He took 54 orders, calculated his costs and profits and knew he had a successful model. He’s since sold much of his earlier, looser work (although some will be available during the pop-up event) and the occasional newer original, but for the next 40 years focused primarily on selling prints.

The prints were popular – and, he says, at least two former US Presidents – former President Bill Clinton and former President George Bush Sr. – have prints of his work.

Every shingle is exact

Tom Hermansader

This is a photograph of a painting of North Queen Street in Lancaster by Tom Hermansader that was taken in his Columbia Borough home Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

“I like realism,” Hermansader says. And he means it.

He’s dedicated to depicting his subjects as they appear in real life. He says he’ll often spend hours at each location studying the minute details of each subject through his binoculars, taking photographs to refer to later in his studio and painting on site to make sure his colors are just right and all his details de he are correct. He says he’s counted rows of shingles at the Hans Herr House (19) and fence posts in the background of the Strasburg Railroad (159).

“I figured if an architect could spend that much time designing the building and the builder could spend that much time building it, I think I could represent it equally,” Hermansader says.

One subject that he’s particularly proud of is his watercolor painting of the Hans Herr House. Many artists have tackled the subject including the internationally famous Andrew Wyeth.

“Andrew Wyeth was commissioned to paint the Hans Herr House and he came up in a station wagon and painted it in two hours,” says Hermansader, referring to what’s currently known as the 1719 Museum. “It’s just a little watercolor and it’s beautiful and it’s his style too.”

But Hermansader wasn’t deterred by other artists’ efforts. He told Earl Groff, the curator of the Hans Herr House at the time, that no artist would put in the amount of hours that he would on a painting. He returned to the Hans Herr House a year later with his painting by him and set it before the same curator, who took a moment to study it before saying, according to Hermansader, “This is the best painting of the Herr House.”

That painting will also be at the pop-up exhibit, but it will have a “sold” sticker on it.

Chad Snyder, president of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home, purchased the painting for $8,000. He’ll display it in the Hans Herr chapel of the funeral home’s new Willow Street location which is scheduled to open in July. The funeral homes have prints of Hermansaders’ work at multiple locations, but this is the first original they’ve purchased.

Hermandsader and Snyder Hans Herr House painting

Thomas Hermansader and Chad Snyder pose with Hermansader’s 30-inch by 36-inch watercolor of the Hans Herr House. The original painting was purchased for the new Charles F. Snyder Funeral Homes’ Willow Street location scheduled to open in July. The painting will be part of Hermansader’s exhibit on First Friday.

“We’re really excited to be able to own an original piece of his work,” Snyder says. “I don’t think many people have seen the original, so to be able to take this from his attic and showcase it in the same town in the new funeral home for thousands of people to enjoy and appreciate when they come to a funeral, it just made so much sense.”

Hermansader is currently working on a painting of Steinman Park, and since he’s started the project, he’s become intimately familiar with details of that area – including the “Newspaper Reader” sculpture, from the print on the page he’s reading to the way his shoes are bent.

“When I sign my name to that painting, it’s my way of saying ‘this is the very, very best I can paint this subject,’” Hermansader says. “I strive to paint it as accurately as possible. I take pride in that.”


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