Jean Zaun carries three elements – the rural landscape, chocolate, and oil paint – from her 1950s childhood in Lebanon with her still.

“It was a wonderful time to be a kid,” Zaun said. “We played all day long, very strong connection to the outdoors.”

Zaun’s father owned a candy store in downtown Lebanon, which Zaun was involved with for 22 years as an owner/operator and chocolate artist. Wertz Candies, at 718 Cumberland St., continues to open its doors to candy connoisseurs. The store happens to be currently looking for a new owner to carry its tradition forward.

Read More: Wertz Candies, a Lebanon tradition for nearly a century, is looking for a buyer

“Closing Time” depicts Jean Zaun’s brother, Richard, at Wertz Candies. (Provided by Jean Zaun)

When she wasn’t outdoors or at the candy store, Zaun could usually be found bent over a sketchbook, drawing for hours. Zaun’s mother saw her artistic streak and signed her up for an art class hosted at a local farm.

In the art class, which was for all ages and abilities, 7-year-old Zaun learned how to use charcoal, watercolor, and oil paint in painting still life and on location, also known as plein air.

“It was wonderful, and it made me feel really good about myself,” Zaun said. “And so, of course, when something makes you feel really good about yourself, you want to continue on with that, especially if you receive a lot of praise. That was how it started, and I really have not lost interest since then.”

Zaun went on to pursue art education at Kutztown University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1979. Post-grad, Zaun scheduled time at the easel before and after her shifts at the candy store. Her art followed her into the candy store with a foray into chocolate art.

“I do paintings of people in their surroundings caught in the act of doing something they love to do,” Zaun said. “Like, I’ve done paintings of artists at their easel.”

Jean Zaun’s oil painting depicts her friend, Amy Peters, at her Fredericksburg farm while paying tribute to Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” (Provided by Jean Zaun)

Over the years, Zaun has done numerous solo and group exhibits as well as juried shows. Zaun recently filled in for another artist for a small exhibit at the Swatara Coffee Company, at 40 W. Market St. The exhibit included Zaun’s bio and several of her paintings.

“I thought it’s important for the people around here to know that there are active artists that are engaged in their craft,” Zaun said.

Read More: New Facebook group celebrates the color and diversity of Lebanon County wildlife

Zaun does exhibits through local art organizations, such as the Lebanon Picture Frame & Fine Art Gallery, at 847 Cumberland St., and her paintings are permanently on display at local hospitals.

At the LG Health Physicians Family Medicine Quentin, at 701 Cornwall Road, Suite 101, her work appears alongside Robert Heilman’s and that of Lancaster-based artists. Lancaster General Health is an active buyer of local artists’ originals and prints.

“They feel it’s very important to support the local art scene,” Zaun said. “It’s wonderful not only for the artists, but it also has a big impact on the patients that are waiting there in the waiting room and also in the procedure room.”

Displaying local artwork in a healthcare setting encourages local residents to connect with local artists.

“I’ve gotten at least four phone calls and people contacting me saying that some of them were getting a mammogram, and they noticed one of my paintings up on the wall,” Zaun said. “They told me it takes them out of the stress and anxiety and maybe a little discomfort of the procedure that they’re enduring. It takes them to a better place, like a happier place.”

The benefits of displaying artwork in spaces are heightened when its made by local artists who depict local scenes. Local residents are able to relate to the scenes and, as a result, feel more at ease.

A Lebanon County-based oil painting that will be featured at Jean Zaun’s upcoming exhibit. (Provided by Jean Zaun)

Zaun had a year to produce 10 to 15 new paintings for a two-person exhibit at the Red Raven Art Co. in Lancaster this June.

“The subject matter is varied, but mostly it’s about trees, very large paintings of trees,” she said. “I think that just reflects my love of nature and the importance I feel about trees and their place.”

The exhibit will also feature a few smaller paintings by Zaun, one of which pays tribute to a recent mural that Jared Odrick commissioned for downtown Lebanon.

Read More: The backstory behind the new Norman Rockwell-inspired mural on 8th Street

“I did a painting of that because I think it’s just a beautiful, beautiful piece. I think it is a wonderful gift that Jared Odrick has bestowed upon the city of Lebanon,” Zaun said. “He understands the value and the positive impact that art can have on people. Every time I go past that, it makes me happy. It elevates your emotions when there’s so many negative things out there.”

Jean Zaun’s oil painting pays tribute to BKFoxx’s mural in downtown Lebanon. (Provided by Jean Zaun)

For those interested in art, Zaun recommended buying art supplies and keeping a blank sketchbook handy to practice drawing or painting.

“I have learned a lot just by reading books, by taking classes online. I’m still learning,” Zaun said. “In fact, I took a class this past weekend by an artist in New York.” She is currently learning more about traditional portraiture.

Zaun taught a class on plein air oil painting a few years ago at a used art supply store. She is not teaching any classes right now as she is continuing to learn and prepare for her upcoming exhibit.

“Also, I would stress going to galleries and museums and really look at other people’s work that inspires you, that sparks something in you, that you can relate to. And really, really look at it and study it and see what it is about that work that you find compelling,” she said.

Zaun noted the importance of finding a community of like-minded individuals to one’s continued growth as an artist. Facebook is one platform she uses to take classes, connect with fellow artists, and study and purchase pieces of original work.

“You can’t help but improve if you work hard, and it is work. It’s not like there’s instant results,” she said.

Jean Zaun’s work in progress, titled “Swatara Bluebells.” (Provided by Jean Zaun)
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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.

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