baby stephen
Baby Stephen staring at an airplane

Boundary Waters Canoe Area: Lake Three

Painting of Hannah: Paradise, South Dakota

Stephen instructing in a Schleicher K-21 glider

Marty Haugen performing

Stephen was born on an army base in Tacoma, Washington. Airplanes frequently flew from the base airstrip, and his first word was neither “mama” nor “papa,” but “airpwane.” That started Stephen’s life-long interest in flying and habit of disappointing his parents.

By the time Stephen was eight, he lived in Columbus, Ohio with six brothers and sisters who filled the house with laughter and chaos. While his brothers and sisters did amazing and wonderful things, Stephen jumped off the garage roof with sheets as parachutes, trying to fly. His parents shook their heads.

One autumn day, when Stephen was 12 years old, he drew a thistle with a calligraphy pen. The drawing turned out well. For the frist time he dreamed of becoming an artist. His parents suggested that engineering would be a good career..

Loving camping and travel he bicycled deep into Canada at 15 and hiked half-way across Ohio on the Buckeye Trail at 16.

He graduated with a degree in photography from The Ohio State University. His first professional job was as an artist designing packaging art. His art director and mentor, Harold Wood, taught him the importance of excellence in craft and the art of graphic design.

After three years as a commercial artist Stephen returned to The Ohio State University to earn a Master’s of Fine Arts degree. During the summers he worked as a camp counselor with developmentally disabled adults from The Columbus Developmental Center, where he developed a Special Arts festival for the campers which lead to creating art festivals with special children.

Realizing that he wasn’t cut out for the starving portion of starving artist, he moved to San Francisco and studied dance/movement therapy to train for a job that paid enough to eat. During the summer he served as a camp art counselor.

He then traveled to Japan to teach English as a foreign language. There he studied sumi-e painting, climbed Mount Fuji, and hiked the coast of the Noto Peninsula. In Japan he studied the art practice of wabi-sabi--an appreciation of the beauty and loneliness in humble, impermanent, and simple things.

He completed his Masters of Creative Arts Therapies in Philadelphia. After which, he “interviewed” cities to find a great place to live and moved to Minnesota with his Alaskan malamute, Sanguine.

Sanguine and Stephen canoed and snowshoed deep into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in summer, fall and winter, where Stephen painted the glistening lakes, autumnal trees, and jack pines. One winter Stephen fell through the ice. He called Sanguine over to haul him out. She came within ten feet, stared at Stephen hanging on the ice edge, and walked away.

Stephen took glider flying lessons in 1986, and eventually became a flight instructor. Rising silently on thermals of warm air he flew side-by-side with hawks, pelicans, sandhill cranes and bald eagles. His paintings of gliders are in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution.

Stephen backpacked with his daughter, Hannah, throughout her childhood. They laughed and laughed as they hiked for weeks at a time. Hannah stuck the sharp needle-and-thread seed all over Stephen’s clothes, and said he looked like a porcupine having a bad hair day. He did. Stephen painted and drew Hannah throughout her childhood.

While camping in South Dakota, a bison slept next to Stephen and Hannah’s tent. The bison’s snoring woke Stephen, who decided that walking away might waken and frighten the 1,400 pound horned animal that slept one foot from the tent. So, he scooted back into his sleeping bag. Everything was fine until the bison rolled over. Stephen spooned with a thunderously snoring bison for the entire night..

Stephen studied children’s book writing with Newbery honor laureate Marion Dane Bauer who taught him to story tell. Marion patiently, and humbly, explained why his stories were “in need of additional work” (aka: terrible) and encouraged him to keep writing. This was an important lesson he has taken to heart.

Singer, songwriter, and friend, Marty Haugen asked Stephen to illustrate his song, "Child of Wonder" in 2016. Stephen eagerly painted for a year to produce illustrations worthy Marty's song. Working with a talent as great as Marty caused Stephen's mother to (somewhat) get over her dissapointment of Stephen. She said to tell you, "Marty's book is wonderful, and it's about time Stephen did something useful with his expensive education."

The Minnesota Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators awarded Stephen their Writer's Mentorship in 2018. Under the brilliant mentorship of award-winning writer Cynthia Surrisi, Stephen wrote and illustrated the middle grade mystery, The Sketchbook Solution, a story about 13-year-old Amber who uses her sketchbook and the help of two friends to uncover why paintings by female artists had been stolen from the world's great art museums.

Stephen lives with his beloved wife, Teddie, in Minnesota, where he paints, flies, writes, and (he is going to get in trouble for writing this) spoons with his softly snoring wife.