It all started when she was asked to house-sit for a Dutch Valley couple that has a home in Spain. Mutual friends from Australia used to house-swap with the couple, but their health was failing, and they recommended Armbruster for the job.
Armbruster lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has been an artist her entire life.
“My mother has a picture of me standing in front of my blackboard when I was four years old. I had drawn out the whole “Farmer in the Dell” scene,” she said.
She first stayed in Dutch Valley in 2018. Immediately drawn to the iconic beauty — the hills, valleys and old barns — she rushed out with her paintbrushes and watercolors to paint the scenery.
“I fell in love with the area,” she said.
She left little watercolor paintings hidden in the house for the owners last year, but this year she went around painting some of the local barns.
“The roots go back really deep there,” she said. “They have all these stories. It goes back generations.” Once she painted one, it seemed like everybody wanted their barn painted.
“I couldn’t keep up!” she laughed. “I had people I didn’t even know coming down the driveway asking, ‘Are you the artist? Follow me, let’s take pictures of my barn!’” One young couple recently purchased a farm from an older man who wasn’t able to keep it going. Although it broke his heart, he sold it. That couple approached Armbruster to paint the barn, and they gave the painting to him as a gift.
She started attending Pleasant Hill Baptist Church on Old Dutch Valley Road where she was “welcomed with open arms,” she said.
“It’s just like hanging out with family,” she added. She said that on her last Sunday there, she was even included in the sermon and told they consider her a sister from another country.
Armbruster also got involved with the county animal shelter during her six-week stay. When she first arrived at the house, a friend was there with a tiny 11-day-old kitten.
“I said, ‘he’s mine,’” she recalled. “I learned everything I needed to know about bottle-feeding a kitten and looking after it.” She named the kitten Dutch.
Sadly, he passed away on June 21 due to a “failure to thrive,” but she brought two other kittens home from the shelter around the same time.
“I’ve always felt like the artist-in-residence in Dutch Valley, but now I’m the crazy cat lady, too,” she said. She has four cats and five snakes at home in Vancouver. She hopes that her stay in Dutch Valley will inspire others to volunteer at the shelter and care for the animals that need it most.
“I feel so much at home there in the valley,” she said. “The people are amazing.”