Chester Heights Magazine Article 4.16

Borough resident wins Purchase Prize from Pennsylvania State Museum
A local painter journeys into the real and surreal landscapes of our region

If you visit the studio of local artist Lauren Litwa Holden you’ll notice a few things immediately… She is prolific, her paintings fill the sun-drenched studio on Wawa Road in Chester Heights, her landscapes range from real to surreal, and rich color always dominating the canvas.

“Nature, imagination and dreams are what influence my work. Skies and sparse, simplistic imagery is what I keep coming back to in my paintings. They are meditative settings… a setting where the viewer can put themselves,” states Litwa Holden.

Lauren Litwa Holden paints the local landscape ranging from pastoral settings around her studio in Wawa, to the pipelines, smokestacks and industrial vents that jut into the Marcus Hook skyline. She paints the landscape of the Brandywine Valley, the barns of Lancaster County and the streams and mountain ranges of Lycoming County all with a distinct vision of the world around her. Then there are her landscapes that steal elements from one place or another… A ladder, a hoop, an industrial vent, spheres or birds placed in an unsuspected landscape. An industrial vent looks comfortably at home against the soothing backdrop of the Allegheny Plateau, or the Moorish-styled banner and moon that rests above an imaginary hilltop with the sea and sky as it’s backdrop. Whether it’s a painting of a stream, a field, a farmhouse or a factory her canvases are the vehicle for deep, rich color built in layer after layer of oil or watercolor. She has been known to apply up to 30 layers of watercolor just to get the exact color she wants.

Brian Rogers, Deputy Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts quoted, “Lauren’s juxtaposition of buildings, ground, sky, and sometimes plants or birds seems normal at first glance and you can get seduced by the masterfully painted works”, he says. “On closer inspection there’s an eerie, mystical, dreamlike quality that is developed through an odd point of view. You feel like you are floating through the air, or lying on your back on the ground, anything but firmly on your feet.” Rogers awarded Litwa Holden first prize for painting in the 39th Annual Art of the State 2006, but in a surprise request this year, First Lady France Wolf requested Lauren’s painting Tekla’s Ladder to be hung in the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, PA.

Maida Milone, past president and board member of the Center for Emerging Visual Arts in Philadelphia, where Litwa Holden is an alum, added, “Her landscapes spring from her imagination and convey simultaneously a playfulness and soulful spirituality that engage us. Her color palette, warm oranges, rich purples and deep blues, and precise composition support this effect.”

In an attempt at full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m a big, big fan of
the artist and her work. So much so that I married her… but by no means does that make me an insider. Lauren paints what she sees, feels and dreams at the moment she steps to a blank canvas. She will then conjure up the perfect “surreal” setting for that tobacco barn, or that perfectly “real” setting for a transom and an urn. I’ve shared my interpretations of her work over the years, and she just looks at me, smiles and moves on to the next vision. That’s it… that’s as much as I know.

Lauren has lived in Delaware County her whole life, growing up in the Twin Oaks area of Upper Chichester. She made trips with her father to the Sun Oil Refinery in Marcus Hook where he worked, and where she discovered the awkward beauty of an industrial landscape that surrounded her as a young girl. She spent summers with her family enjoying the lush landscape of Lycoming County, along Little Pine Creek. She told me she would lay on her back and stare at the cloud formations not realizing she would include them in her paintings years later.

In 1984 Lauren graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she received the coveted William Emlon Cresson scholarship for painting. It awarded her three months of travel through Europe to paint and visit world-class art museums. Then it was back to PAFA for a year of study in a studio of her own. “I got to study with some incredible painters at the Academy. Sidney Goodman, Elizabeth Osborne, Louis Sloan, Bruce Samuelson and Will Barnet were all teaching at the time… It was a great experience to be there and to be influenced by such great painters. Will Barnet commented on Lauren’s work, 20 years after she studied with him, “There is a quality of lyricism in the paintings of Lauren Litwa Holden. She approaches the landscape with a poetic expression and captures a fine sense of light and a dreamlike feel. She uses the sky as a format for her paintings and a sense of spirituality comes through in her new work.” Will Barnet passed away last month in New York at the age of 101… He was still painting.

Lauren went on to exhibit her work locally, as well as nationally and abroad. She never stopped painting even after having two children, Jordan is now 25 and Carley is 21. It’s known for some artists to stop painting for a while after having children. It takes some women artists years to return to painting. “I would get up at four o’clock in the morning and go straight to the studio to paint before the kids got moving. Play pens and baby monitors joined the easels, brushes and canvas. Jordan and Carley sort of grew up in my studio. ”

In 1993 Lauren was granted a residency to paint in the great city of art, Florence, Italy. She returned home from that trip with sketches and photos, some of an old couple gathering porcini mushrooms in the hills of Tuscany, and landscapes of the countryside. Then in 2002 she was selected for a residency at the American-treasured Dune Shacks, located in our National Seashore outside Provincetown, MA. Past residents of the Dune Shacks include painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Koonig, and writers Eugene O’Niell and Jack Kerouac. That’s pretty heady company for a girl from Delco, but things like that have little to no effect on Lauren… to her she’s just a painter.

‘It was sparse accommodations” said Lauren, “there was an outhouse, a pump for water, propane for cooking, a table, a bed and an easel… not much else. But it was gorgeous. The dunes and the Atlantic Ocean were at my feet. I painted, fished and rode my bike into Provincetown when I got lonely.”

“I tend to paint wherever I go. I’ve painted on vacation in Maine, while at a conference in Aspen, beneath a 14th Century tower in Tuscany, alongside a canal in Bruges, in front of a factory in Yorklyn, Delaware and on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic in Schull, Ireland. My family has gotten use to me slipping off with my easel and my paints. A few years ago I took a painting trip to the Outer Banks and visited with some friends. Before the coffee was on in the morning, I was in line for the ferry to Ocracoke Island to paint for the day. I had my little Toyota Matrix with the seats down and all my painting stuff spread out, and I just painted all day. It became my mobile studio for the week”.

In 1996 Lauren and I, the kids, a few friends and relatives, plus ten Amish carpenters built a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains of Lycoming County. It’s pretty comfortable for not having electricity or running water, and Lauren will go there to paint eight or ten times a year. She drives down a dirt road, and then hikes down a steep mountainside to her favorite creek. She sets up her chair and easel in the middle of the creek and paints for hours. Lauren and that creek have produced over 20 wonderfully diverse paintings over the years, and I don’t think they are finished yet.

Lauren continues to paint in her studio in Wawa, and in the fields and along the streams of Delaware, Chester and Lycoming Counties. She paints the shorelines of New Jersey, Delaware and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She continues to paint tobacco barns in Lancaster County as well as the industry of Marcus Hook. Lauren paints what she sees in our region and beyond, and she continues to paint what she dreams… It’s her individual vision of our local landscape. “I’ve always wanted to do something unique and personal with my paintings, and I guess that’s why it’s sometimes hard to describe them. But to me, paintings are to be seen… not necessarily described. My paintings represent the natural landscapes that surround and inspire me. Love of the environment & natural world are always at the root of my work. Whether the object is a factory, barn, hillside, or mountain stream, the goal is to create a landscape that can be a retreat from our stressful world. I agree with the artist Piet Mondrian who said, “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.”

To view paintings by Lauren Litwa Holden go to You can also visit her studio on Wawa Road during Open Studio events, and by appointment. You can see more work on or on and purchase paintings, prints and fine art greeting cards at

Pan of the Forest

Last summer I was hiking in the woods around Little Pine State Park in Pennsylvania. There’s lots of snakes, frogs, insects and birds to see. I’m a nature lover and always looks forward to seeing wildlife, especially in its natural setting. This surreal buck surrounded by lightning bugs and snakes in the grass is inspired by that walk.  Looking forward to some more hikes and plein air painting this spring.

Pan in the Forest Apr.12'16 193copy copy


“Pan of the Forest” Oil on Linen 20″x20″ Lauren Litwa Holden

Tekla’s Ladder at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg PA


I’m happy to share that

“Tekla’s Ladder” has been chosen to hang in the

Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg, PA.

First Lady Frances Wolf chose this painting from the

PA State Museum




“Tekla’s Ladder” was named after my Grandmother Tekla who emigrated from Poland in the early 1900’s.





The Night Visitors in the Studio

“The Night Visitors” Oil on Linen 44″x48″


The Night Visitors 800

The idea for this painting has been something I’ve been thinking about for years.  I kept visualizing beams of light coming down on a farm.  The painting kept growing to include this fox and the burning building in the background. “The Night Visitors” ….It’s like a movie setting or a chapter in a novel…

New Painting Sales


“Night Watch at Anderson & Main”

Meads Barn I 800

“Meads Barn I”

Nice to share some new art sales with you.
When someone invests in my work, well it means quite a lot….
Thank you.
From one dinosaur to another….
Whatever you’re passionate about, keep on keeping on!
This world needs more musician, poets, writers, and yes, artists.
You are appreciated!

grapefruit moon copy

“Grapefruit Moon”

Standing on Frack Free Ground 800

“Standing on Frack Free Ground”

© Copyright Lauren Litwa/Painter