Arts & Leisure

VanZandt connects to the land through painting

IN HER 'THIRD act,” Nadie VanZandt has built a shed on her Panton property where she is spending her retirement perfecting the oil painting skills she has developed after careers as an engineer and a home school teacher. Independent photo/Steve James

Thinking back to an art class she took as a 4- or maybe 5-year-old, Nadie VanZandt remembers painting a big leaf; finely outlining the veins with the most delicate strokes.

“But those thin lines were wobbly and probably the size of my thumb,” the artist laughed during an interview last week at her home studio in Panton. Still, that memory stands out to VanZandt as one of those early moments where a person finds something they love.

VanZandt’s father was a painter as well as an engineer, and like her dad, she chose engineering for her first career. She came to the United States from a small town in northwestern France to study engineering at Syracuse University. As an English-learning student, VanZandt didn’t realize she could take arts classes as electives — though studying art began to cross her mind as she saw friends take artistic electives.

Am engineering career took her to Evergreen, Colo., where she settled and raised two kids.

“When I was expecting my first child, I went for a walk with a girlfriend and she was telling me about an art class,” VanZandt recalled. “Several months passed and I finally went to this class from 7-10 p.m., taught by a local painter. He gave us big brushes and a very large canvas and said, ‘Paint what you see.’

“Wow, I did it!” VanZandt remembers the feeling well. “I loved the experience, the process and how peaceful I felt when I was painting… But I realized this was not the time in my life for painting. I’ll have time later…”

So she went back to her engineering career, had a second child and then began her second act as a homeschool teacher.

“I homeschooled for 13 years,” she said. “Once my kids were prepared for high school, my gift to myself was to join the Art Students League of Denver.”

VanZandt joined a class that held a three-hour demo every Wednesday, and Friday practice sessions.

“I was religious about it with two other ladies,” she said. “I really liked my instructor. He was a biologist and taught in high school… He taught in a similar way that I learned engineering… Art is like engineering; it’s looking at the big picture and breaking it up into parts, then working on the details.”

VanZandt and her husband moved to Panton in 2018 once their kids had gone off to college (one graduated from Middlebury College). She got certified by UVM as a master gardener.


“I had been tutoring in Colorado, but didn’t see a market here in Addison County,” VanZandt explained. “My intention was to get into my art when we moved here.”

VanZandt, with the help of some new neighbors, finished a small shed on her property last October — that’s her “tiny cabin studio” where she pursues her passion for painting landscapes in oil.

In her “third act,” as VanZandt calls it, she is studying and painting every day. Her style is mostly impressionistic. She paints in her studio from pictures she’s taken herself. 

“I’m not much of a plein air painter,” she said. “I have great admiration for those who can do it, but I didn’t like how the leaves fell on the paint, the bugs were biting, the sun was too hot or hard on your eyes… No, I’m a studio painter and like being a studio painter.”

What inspires VanZandt? Mostly landscapes that draw on her connections. 

“Like this little yellow house not too far from here,” she said. “It reminds me of where I grew up in France… Or a painting of a creek in Colorado that hangs on my friend’s wall, and now every time I look at it I am reminded of our friendship.”

VanZandt starts her days in the studio after breakfast. She reads her notes, sketches and starts her canvas with a color wash. With large brushes she starts by drawing out the big shapes. 

“I work alone and am still learning,” she said, “so I do a lot of experimenting to know what works.”

After a few hours, VanZandt will leave her work until the next day.

“VERMONT BARN AT Sundown,” by Nadie VanZandt. See this painting and others during a studio sale VanZandt is holding on Saturday, Nov. 19.

“There’s a point when I need to stop,” she said, adding that recognizing that point is still a challenge. “With oil painting I think less is more.”

And so she works — day in and day out — from her tiny cabin in her wooded lot. 

“I think Vermonters are very close to the land,” she reflected. “I feel serene here… My goal now that I’m in my 60s is to always have this (painting) for the rest of my life — as a way to stay active, to keep my mind alert and to learn. It is a journey. It’s a great thing to have art in your life in older age.”

Editor’s note: Nadie VanZandt will have a painting sale at her studio on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Her studio is located at 205 Ridgeline Road in Panton. For more information visit or email [email protected].

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