John Stoltzfus on creating digital art

John Stoltzfus is a friend of mine and member of the Lebanon County, PA Amish community (you may recall reading his comments on this blog from time to time). Like any Old Order Amishman, John’s home is not wired, but he does have access to a computer via his job and neighbors, which isn’t commonplace but not too rare either.

John also has an interesting passion–creating digital works of art. I asked John a few questions about his work today which I thought you might enjoy:

What kind of work do you do? My job is to design custom fabricated items and specialty agriculture equipment for a local company.

How are you able to use a computer at your job?  Is your community more lenient towards them? Could be that they are, however, everyone knows it’s just a matter of time and for me it has become more of a vital tool for our future.  It is here to stay and most (not all), of the Plain Communities will be using computers in the near future.

I have used a computer since the late 1980’s and still remember the 286 – upgraded to the 386, wow, that’s a long time ago.  If the computer is owned by the place that employs you it has been tolerated.  I actually have had our Bishop come to me to produce our Church District map to distribute. Also, there are more and more of our people that own computers, of course secretly, and use the computer in our local library.

Crown of Thorns

Did you always have an interest in art? I have always enjoyed art of many forms, especially Abstract and Sculpture.  I have done just minor carvings over the years, however this time the Digital Abstract Art hit me like a ton of bricks.

Abstract paintings have always caught my eye, rather than people, places and things etc.  For me an abstract art piece has more of a mystery and an enchantment to it than other art, such as people or places, you know what it is. Abstract is a feeling and moods are conveyed from an inner power that is beyond anything. I still have a deep admiration and appreciation for all the people that can paint vivid feathers on ducks and hair on dogs etc…in other words, a fantastic precision that I sometimes envy.

How do you create your art? The computer software that I use everyday is call SolidWorks ( ).  I have use this program since late 1997.

Which creations are your favorite? My personal favorite is the cover on my Facebook page, called the Water Lily.  When I happened across this one I knew that I had something to market.  There are many more that have become second most favorites and the next ones are the following: “As We Lay In The Dark” – “Skyscraper At Night” – “The Eruption” – “Shore Line” – The Mt. DaMadeu” – The Coral Reef” – “Scattered Leaves”.  Oh there’s more, however most of the ones I like the best were done initially.

Blue Dahlia

What are the challenges? The biggest challenge is to keep on trying new techniques, because they are developed as a scene and then captured, which is different from the brush stroke artist, where you sketch the scene and then add details. I need to add details and then find the scene and those details are developed with surface color, texture and overall the lighting options that I can use are almost endless.  I say “Art is like dessert, the best is yet to come”.

What kind of feedback have you gotten? I have been reaching out to other artists, rather as many as I can find, friends of friends etc.  The feedback is on my Facebook Page.

Do you know other Amish artists? Yes, my wife has a niece that does wonderful art work.

What do others in your community think? No idea, except close family.  My perception is most would think it weird art, not realizing that art is a tool to convey feelings, etc.  In other words, I have only reached out to a few very close, close friends.  This type of art won’t touch the people in the Plain Communities.

Coral Reef

What future do you envision for your work? The biggest personal achievement would be to create art for the SolidWorks Corporation, decorating the corporate halls of SW.  That is the ultimate goal and the least achievable, because of their strict Art Decor Policy.  In the meantime we are looking into changing the FB page to an online store and start selling and if we sell enough, we start doing shows, then go from there.  I want to follow the art wherever it takes me.


Find more of John’s art on his Facebook page.

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    1. Tom

      Most of my Amish friends would find this very strange. An Amish furniture marker is building something for me and I have to take my note book to him and show ideas to him. If he had a computer that would make things easier. Amish groups sure can be different.

    2. Like all groups, the individuals vary. John’s art would probably be fringe to most Amish. 🙂
      Interestingly, John seems to think the computer is here to stay (and certainly appears that way!), and that it will eventually be used in all Plain groups in the near future. Well, there is also an element of the more “liberal” Plain people who are moving away from computers, and even more so from having internet connections in the home or business. An 18-year-old (from a non-Plain background, but now living in a Plain community) just told me last evening that their family has decided to not have computers and internet any more.

      1. I want to clarify that my comment on “fringe” was not meant as a criticism of John’s work, but rather the style in general would not be something that the typical Amish person that I know would tend towards. Since Amish are rural, nature-loving people as a whole, and they tend to view pure decoration as pride, art for the pure sake of aesthetic value would not be much appreciated.
        John’s work does incorporate a “practical” object (like a crown of thorns), but does lean away from realism more than most Amish would be used to, so that is what I based my comment on.
        As far as John’s work, within the framework of the style, I would rate it good … but I am far from an official art evaluator.
        I just wanted to make it clear that I was not condemning John’s work, but commenting on how the style in general would be viewed.

    3. Very fascinating post, Erik! Amazing how find these wonderful Amish related topics! Yes, that would be interesting to see where his art takes him. Keep us posted. Does he have a blog? I don’t have a facebook account.

      1. Linda

        Hi, Linda,
        I don’t have a Facebook account, either, but I can access the public business Facebooks, like authors, restaurants, and Amish America. (I do wish for a magic Facebook button here to go to the Amish America Facebook.) Did you click above where Erik said, to go to John Stoltzfus’ business Facebook? Is it different if you are from another country?
        –Linda too

        1. Yes Linda too, I did try and as is usally the case, one has to sign up with their account.

    4. Lance

      A New Order Amish convert once told me that the New Order and he were like two ships passing, they going one direction, he in another. John’s Amish church is one that has gone its direction quite a long ways. Its hard to believe, but in the late 1800s, the differences between all people that were called Old Order Amish were very little. Compare what this man is doing to any of the Swartzentrubers(lots of Ethridge, TN, here on this blog) are doing and you can see that the ‘ships’ are heading in very different directions.

      In larger and/or more progressive communities, the children have had cell phones for years, and they are not giving them up to join church. Many are the more simple phones, but some have iPhones and androids. Those computers that John talks about are probably just around the next corner.

    5. Richard from Amish Stories

      Could the winds of change already have started, and how far will it take the Amish?

      Mr. John Stoltzfus lives in my own county of Lebanon although I dont know him, and the funny part is John started using computers before I did and he’s Amish! One of the last taboos being the “Amish” now seems to be receiving attention in different ways now like on TV reality shows, now with Johns art I dont see a big problem with it in itself.

      But what I will need to start getting used to is the fact on how that art was made which is to use a computer, and I know first hand of some Amish businesses that are now thinking about starting their own web sites to sell their own products. I would never want to hold anyone back from progress and from learning and expanding their minds, but for the very first time I’m starting to think that in the future most of the Amish will be losing most of the characteristics that I recognize as one being Amish.

      The question is how far will this all go and will they truly become more like us (English), just as many of us would like to become a little more like them! Richard.

      1. Lance

        Progressiveism and divisions in the Amish


        Did you ever read Paton Yoder’s “Tradition and Transition” book? A conclusion of the book is that the transition minded or progressive Amish will change their ways until they are no longer Amish. They become Amish-Mennonites and then Mennonites as a whole church, the whole congregation drifts out together. There are a few naturally conservative minded people that resist and hold to the old ways and in time there is no choice but to split from the progressives. In the 1860s, the Amish started some ministers meetings of all the Amish. Those that chose to continue the meetings followed the progression I stated above. The conservative minority resisted the meetings and in time became know as the ‘Old Order’. There were only about 5000 of them by 1900. Now there are over 250,000 and they are very diverse. Some are following the progressive path out, others are still another ‘old order’.

        I believe that the most progressive order will drift out, just like their ancestors did. Which order will remain Amish in 20, 50, or 100 years only God knows. I talked with a 82 year old Amish bishop of a main stream order on Friday. He was not concerned with Amish orders or even if one was Amish. He was concerned whether a person is a Christian or not. That is the biggest issue in a person’s life no matter when or where you are. We had a great visit, and I am glad I met that man. I hope all of us hear his point and heed the lesson.

        1. Richard from Amish Stories

          Hey Lance..........

          I have never read the book that you mention in your comment, but like you I can see the changes that are coming to the Amish lifestyle with my very own eyes. And I think its really un-stoppable so all we can do is look from the sidelines as spectators really, we may not see every Amish person say driving cars in both our lifetime.

          But this is where they are headed I think and in time will blend-in with us and will no longer be very much different from our own ways. Its sad but what can we do, maybe it had to happen someday as nothing ever really stays forever…….. Richard from

        2. I dont think most people realize that the “Old Order” congregations were only 1/3 of the 1860s split, while the more “progressive” congregations were 2/3. As an indication of where the “progressive” congregations are today, about 10 years ago it was decided in one of their Conferences by a strong majority that the women’s head veiling was no longer a necessity.
          But this is not representative of all the “progressives.” Some have totally left the Anabaptist persuasion, while others would be closer to the Old Order.
          Interestingly, numbers-wise the Old Orders are around a quarter of a million today. The “progressives” (all together) are probably only around 25% of that. These are not official figures, just my rough estimates from data that I have run across.

    6. John


      Richard –
      There have been Amish Websites since the beginning of the Internet, or very close, I remember seeing the first one in the late 1990’s. Find a major Amish owned company, not a partnership and do a Google search and I would guess 90% or more would have a website and the other 10% are thinking about it. Most Amish owned companies actually outsource all the web activity, so if you request information those forms are automatically sent to the host and he will fax them to the correct client. They send back the answer and it is forwarded to the person requesting the information.
      Lance – 100% Correct (In your last paragraph)

      1. @John-I think the key word in your comment is “major.”
        “Major” ones like would have someone to sell for them, or as you mention, outsource the actual web activity. But most of the minor furniture shops etc. sell their products wholesale to a non-Amish reseller who advertise the products as “Amish Furniture.” It will be a long while–in my estimation–before we see many Old Order Amish connecting from their laptop in their living room (or even office) to do web maintenance on their website. 🙂

      2. Richard from Amish Stories

        Hey John...........

        Hey John and trust me I believe you about more of the Amish having web pages, I talk with some of the Amish in Lancaster and in Lebanon county about computers and web pages. For me I have found that the younger someone is that is Amish, the more open they become when it comes to computers.

        Your also right that many of the Amish do have those who are English run and operate web sites for them, and now some Amish that Ive talked with are re-thinking that and are deciding to run their own web sites themselves which includes e-mail addressees and responding to inquires.

        So while it may be sad for us who look at the Amish and hold their lifestyle in a higher regard to our very own, the Amish should be allowed to take that journey to what they think is maybe the next level. For me I fully understand that change is for the most part un-stoppable, Its still just a little sad to see it coming from where I sit. Richard from

    7. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I wish I did that.

      Just looking at the examples Erik posted, I wouldn’t hang John’s art on my wall, but I do think it’s creative and neat. I might even wonder if we could consider, to a small degree, his selections here, a bit of a descendant from the image many of us have of the quilt, not to say that his artwork is quilt like, but it can be considered plain, although bright, beautiful and digital. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of the British and American Antiques Roadshow, but maybe we can consider John’s work a digital form of outsider art, though maybe that’s not right either.

      I wish I did that.

      1. Teresa B.

        I would definitely hang John’s artwork on my walls. It is beautiful and creative!! John, keep up your artistic endeavors, and best of luck in your future….

    8. Elizabeth Snoke

      Since 1908 when I first subscribed to The Budget, I have been helping readers who write the “Information Please” column find what they seek. Almost all of what they seek comes thru the Internet on my home computer. And now word of my volunteer help has spread (by mouth and mail) all over North America. I get about 3 letters a week and phone calls, too. More and more, Budget readers are finding that companies with which they have dealt for many years–usually by paper catalogs–have now moved on to only Internet websites. I am an intermediary for reconnection. I think many Amish will eventually move to computers while others will seek more people like me.

      I also have begun seeing fairly good sized ads in the Budget for e-mail services that do not require full Internet capacity. Interesting progress!

    9. John

      Winds of Change

      Reviewing this post this morning I came to the conclusion that most responses are already stating the demise of the Amish, when it comes to the use of the computer. There definitely have been many changes in the last 30 – 40 years and possibly more in the last 10 – 15 years and if you we could go back and live in the 30 -40 year ago era and all of a sudden wake up today, you would go “wow”.
      Will the computer bring the demise of the Amish, my perspective is “No”, what will bring the demise of the Amish will come from people leaving the Amish and persuading via scriptural methods for the people to walk away from what they were brought up with and taught, and those people are looked upon as false prophets.
      The difference in the posts are simple, the bigger percentage of people that talk about computer use to outsiders, don’t have computers. Most of the ones that have computers, don’t hang out a shingle stating that there is a computer in the office. I also know there are a lot of people that will visit a library rather than ask their neighbor to check out information. Will the computer be accepted on a broader scale?, throughout all the communities, definitely not for a long time, and those that do will possibly have safe portals to go through.
      Primitive Christianity; that might be true in OH, I would say the percentage of Lancaster County Amish businesses with websites are quite high.
      Again, there are a lot more Amish people using the computer than most people realize.
      Have a blessed day

      1. John, yes, I was basing my opinion on the Holmes Co. settlement where I used to live (Also Berne, IN, and West Kootenai, MT where I have also lived) and did taxi work. Although I am in Lancaster now, I live in the OO Mennonite part of the county and do not have a day-to-day contact with the OO Amish here, other than occasionally.

    10. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I don’t think the computer signals the demise of the Amish. They have survived many tools that other peoples have brought into the world and survived quite well.
      Some would make the argument that it’s the spiritual things that are most important in life, and not the technology used.

      The Amish will still be in the world for centuries most likely, the computer in it’s present and evolving form may or may not.

      Mr. Stoltzfus noted that he uses a program that existed in 1997 to create his digital art. Many other people have thrown out computers that they used in 1997 because they are wildly out of date.