Theresa (Carr) Stahl
I was born and raised under blue prairie skies in Carrington, North Dakota. I grew up on the family farm, once homesteaded by my grandfather, with plenty of open space to roam, explore, and imagine.
Farm life in the 70’s and 80’s provided an idyllic backdrop for a little girl who liked to dream and draw; to run about making friends with flowers, trees, and barnyard animals. My three younger siblings and I were fortunate in having parents who generally encouraged curiosity and adventure (as long as our chores were done and we didn’t get into trouble).
I was also lucky enough to have an artistically gifted grandmother (eternally loving, patient and kind, even after having raised 14 of her own children), who gently guided my early attempts to bring fantastic scenes to life on paper. She was an art teacher, and her watercolors and gorgeous sketches, along with her elegant calligraphy on my birthday cards, have been life-long inspirations. I’ve always wanted to be able to do what she did.
At Grandma’s suggestion, I enrolled in a high school painting class. I had complained that sketching left me a bit flat. I loved to draw, but didn’t feel the picture was satisfying until I could add touches of color, and colored pencils and chalk didn’t deliver what I was looking for.
I had a passionate love/hate relationship with that painting class. I adored learning how to mix paint, use the different brushes, and prep my canvas; but after that I wanted to be left alone to follow my own wandering trails of inspiration. I wanted to paint the image on the cover of a book I was reading. It was a sweeping montage of Native American scenery; running horses, leather clad lovers, buffalo skulls, feathers, tepees, mountains and snow covered plains. My teacher had other ideas. She wanted me to paint bowls of fruit. I was a 15 year old romantically minded girl and fruit left me yawning. I displayed zero inspiration or enthusiasm. We eventually agreed I would try harder on the fruit to learn the skills I required, and she would then turn me loose to paint what I wanted during my study hall. (And I eventually did complete that book cover scene, to the best of my ability. It was my entry into my very first art show.)
In spite of our taste differences, I had a fine teacher who taught enough basic painting for me to recognize that I had some raw talent; that this painting thing could become a life long passion. I loved it! What I hadn’t been able to convey with a drawing pencil came much easier with a paintbrush. I was somehow able to find ways for the paint to echo what I wanted to express. I had vague “someday” teenage thoughts of art school, fame and fortune, but one of the ultimate dreams was to create incredible album covers for my favorite bands. (I was much inspired by The Steve Miller Band’s “Book of Dreams”.)
When I was 16 and unexpectedly found what I knew was true love; I painted a cougar as a gift for a smiling young man with gorgeous, brown tiger-eyes. A few years later I married that man, and then my art aspirations were shifted slightly to the side in favor of love, children, jobs, moving across the country, a busy home business and 12 crazy years of home-schooling. Thirty five years later, that cougar painting still hangs on my living room wall. (And it was most definitely true love!)
My art always remained part of my world, and evolved along with my changing life. I taught my growing children, and they certainly taught me. With them I learned how to see amazing imaginary creatures (some of whom were rumored to live in my five year old son’s light bulb), and together we conjured a world of “what if” scenes and adventures. They allowed me to look through their wonder-filled eyes when I read them fairy tales, which later on inspired dozens of paintings. I gave them free rein with their art experiments and they were ever willing to help and encourage me with mine. I discovered that I could “have it all”, my family, a business, and a thriving art life. (Not always easy to balance, but I tried!!)
The kids and I covered the walls of their bedrooms with huge murals that each child designed; and then we repainted them years later as they outgrew unicorns and dinosaurs in favor of wizards and fire-birds. I experimented, played around with different styles, read lots of art books and watched many Bob Ross episodes on PBS. The online world gave me unlimited access to incredible artists I could follow for tips and inspiration. I painted everything – rocks, windows, kitchen cupboards, dog houses, mail boxes and ceilings. Nothing in our home was safe. I painted signs for entrepreneurial friends, designed murals for baby nurseries, and helped with theater sets.
Nocturnal painting sessions after my family was asleep helped build up my inventory enough so that I could join the local artist co-op. Seeing my work in a gallery was such a thrill and I loved the interaction with the other artists. I started to sell paintings, prints and greeting cards, and then branched out to eBay and Etsy. I began to get commission requests and learned how to be choosy in what I was willing to paint. I painted for pure pleasure in the wee, small hours, and looking back now, I realize that I was creating a colorful, visual chronicle of those busy days with my young children.
A few years later, my husband and I took that scary leap of faith and opened a gift boutique/art gallery. We had dreamed of being able to work together, and I was able to enjoy selling my own work, in my own shop.
Hearing what our customers had to say (usually without them realizing that I was also the creator of the painting they were looking at), gave me more confidence in what I was doing. Yes, I was different. I didn’t really fit into any one particular genre. It took me years to discover I didn’t need to. I just created my own niche. I painted what we called “dreamscapes”, my twist on the tangible. My images were not necessarily realistic, but somehow still had believability. And people liked what I was painting, even if they weren’t sure how to describe it. They said my work was “magical, whimsical, fantastical, mythical, and even inspirational”.
It’s an amazing (addictive) feeling, to pull an emotional image out of your creative soul and render it solid with paint on canvas. To take what you do uniquely, and do it as well as you are able – and then kiss it good bye and put it on display for others to (hopefully) enjoy. It takes courage – as you know you will be critiqued. Your techniques, motives, ideas and inspirations will be questioned and sometimes misunderstood. But the pay off – when others “get” your art; when your pictures pluck heart strings that resonate bone deep; when complete strangers tell you how your work moves them in a particular way – it is beyond description and incredibly satisfying.
With our children grown and on their own, Tom and I spent the next eight years living in the north Idaho forests in little log cabins. We watched moose, coyotes, eagles, and owls. We had deer and bears investigate our garden, and made friends with the stellar jays that liked to snatch food from the dog dishes. We spent peaceful evenings on the nearby alpine lakes, fishing through more sunsets than I can count. It was Tom’s lifelong dream and my artist’s Eden. Long days spent outside with my man, the dogs, and my easel will live on in my memory forever.
Over the last few years I have had the honor of having one of my paintings on the cover of a book of North Dakota poetry written by my high school English teacher. I was also privileged to be asked to design a magical flying tiger who is now gracing the cover of a children’s book published in Germany.
Most recently I was able to achieve my teenage dream of creating the cover art for an album. A band from Sweden contacted me after viewing some of my work online and commissioned me to design the artwork for their upcoming single and EP album. It was going to be a very demanding schedule and I hesitated, until I listened to their songs. Beautifully poetic, their words painted pictures in the air and dared me to say yes to this collaboration. Three intense months later, I had the pleasure of seeing my own painting pop up on Spotify while I listened to the awesome music of Maple & Rye.
As a mostly self-taught artist, I’m grateful I was able to explore and find my own path through my personal art process. Nobody told me things shouldn’t be done a certain way, so I just went ahead and tried them. My imagination and curiosity were my teachers. “What if” was always the question. Sometimes things worked and sometimes they didn’t. I learned through trial and sometimes comical error. Today I realize that being “untrained”, (something that used to embarrass me when people would ask where I studied), gave me the ability to spend decades creating my own distinctive and particular style.
The last few years have brought so many changes to my life that I am honestly still trying to absorb them. My dear husband (soul mate/best friend/business partner and better half for over 35 years), Tom, sadly and unexpectedly, passed away in 2018.
His loss, and our heartbreak, precipitated so many BIG changes for me and my family. My creativity, my art, all of it went on hiatus while I navigated my way through the rocky channels of grief and new widowhood. I had to find a new place to live, a new way of being, and eventually, a new source of inspiration.
Tom was not just my husband/business partner. He was my photographer, framer, wire-hanger, packaging and shipping department, my biggest and strongest source of support. He listened to me talk through millions of ideas, added his own (often hilarious) suggestions, urged me to try new things when I hesitated, and always made sure my horizons were straight with his trusty level. He was my gentle, but honest, critic – my muse- and always my inspiration. He had been cheering me on with my art passion, telling me he was proud of me and that I could do anything, since I was just 16. It hasn’t been easy trying to figure out how to do any of this without him. (That bit is very much still a work in progress.)
On the evening of what was to be our last New Year’s Eve together, Tom told me that after all the years of putting my family first, it was time for me to dedicate myself to my painting and writing. I know exactly what he would want me to do, so I’m giving it my best shot. I still want to make him proud.
I’m so very blessed to have my two kids and my parents around. We all help each other in the same old ways we always have, but now we also do those things Tom isn’t here to do. He was a man of many talents and we just try to do things half as well as he did. (And I still use his level to make sure my horizons aren’t crooked.)
My wonderful, artist grandmother, who recently celebrated her 99th birthday, is still one of the first people whose opinion I actively seek out before I list a new painting. And she is just as supportive, loving and kind as she was when I was a child.
I currently live in the little town of Moyie Springs, Idaho. (population 781). I have a new home and am attempting to settle into a new way of life, a new nest, a new studio, and a new chapter. And while doing so, I’m finding myself at the easel more and more often. Inspiration is flowing.
These days I prefer to work mainly with acrylics on canvas and never seem to have enough time to paint all the things in my head. I’m interested to see the different ways my art is evolving, as I evolve along with all these changes. Over the years I’ve perfected the very specialized art of painting with at least two dogs sleeping around my easel. (Dogs and good music – the things I consider necessary ingredients for a happy and productive studio!) I am also an avid gamer and crochet addict (which is really just painting with yarn). And now that I’ve successfully raised two wonderful children and numerous slightly spoiled dogs, I can put all those amazing life experiences and emotions into words and pictures. Because, when I’m not painting, reading, or playing in the garden, I write. My plan is to illustrate the stories I’ve written over the last decade, and maybe, just maybe – pull the books that have been whispering in my ear into reality to share with all of you.
Theresa Stahl (March 26, 2021)
Email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/owls_flight_artwork/
Visit my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/OWLSFLIGHTpaintings