By Gina Malone
Sometimes artists are fortunate to grow up in such a way that their young lives—who their parents are and where they live and travel—feed their own passions. Stephanie Shuptrine is such an artist. “I had a wonderful, storybook childhood with two younger brothers and adventurous parents who enjoyed moving around to experience new environments in the South, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” she says. When she was ten, her family moved from Chattanooga, TN, to Highlands, NC. “It was during that time in Highlands that I knew I was destined to be an artist.”
Her father was the renowned master watercolor painter Hubert Shuptrine, and Stephanie’s admiration and inspiration, throughout her lifetime, evolved from watching him paint to painting under his tutelage to finishing pieces he was working on when he died. “Before my father’s passing in 2006,” she says, “he trained me to paint in the technique he had mastered during his lifetime: that of using watercolor with dry brush and occasional egg tempera to create luminosity and realism.”
With her parents, she traveled to places considered the “old or dying South” while her father painted subjects for Jericho: The South Beheld, a collaboration with poet James Dickey. “Old barns, homes and the people of the mountains became their passion while completing the book,” Stephanie says.
Her first love was cartooning and in high school she worked weekends as a caricature artist. “This experience was fun for me,” she says, “as it gave me an opportunity to practice my drawing skills while meeting new people. I especially enjoyed drawing faces and achieving a likeness of the person being portrayed.” At Appalachian State University, she majored in Graphic Design, working after graduation in an animation studio and for children’s clothing companies as a freelance illustrator. “During this time I continued to spend time painting with my father,” Stephanie says. “I began to paint commissioned pet portraits in watercolor and fell in love with the medium and process of bringing to life on paper the soul of an animal.”
As a single mother, she continued to paint when time allowed and, in 2016, moved back to Highlands to reopen her father’s gallery. Running the gallery, however, left her with only the evening hours to paint. When she met Len Gengel last year, he introduced her to the arts in Brevard and Asheville. She ended up relocating the gallery to Brevard where, she says, “I am enjoying a light-filled studio while also participating in the wonderful monthly gallery walks in the friendly town.”
Gengel built an orphanage, BLB (BelikeBrit) in Haiti to honor the memory of his daughter Britney, who perished in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. “After our first trip there together, I fell in love with the children in the home and have begun painting them in the style in which my father trained me,” Stephanie says. “Because the visits to Haiti are now part of my life, I return home inspired and excited to capture the essence of these special children. On my easel at any time is also a painting in progress of a subject (person or place) that my father left for me. He said just before he passed that he wanted me to finish these since he would not be here to complete them.” She is titling the collection of sketches and studies With my Father’s Brushes.
Her process for each new painting begins with a detailed pencil drawing on watercolor paper. “From there, the painting comes to life as the paint is applied each day,” she says. “This is fun for me, yet very time consuming. I listen to soft music and usually think about the soul that is on the paper. A painting can take a month to finish, depending on the size and image. When I am close to finishing a painting, I find it best for me to put it aside for a few days and come back to it with a ‘fresh eye’ for the final tweaking.” She also finds helpful continuing the practice her father had of using her mother as a critiquer. “My mother kept up with the daily routines of raising children and managing my father’s art career so that he could focus on his art,” Stephanie says. “I am now blessed with a similar working situation with Len.”
Her brothers also became artists and all, she says, are “inspired by our father’s love of beauty and the nostalgia we share from living in the NC mountains. My favorite memories as an artist are the three months with my father in his studio just before he passed. Knowing his time on earth was short, the conversations and intense art instructions were with deep love and purpose.” During that time her father taught her to paint portraits and she shared with him her desire to paint Going Back Chiltosky, a Cherokee Indian chief whom her parents had befriended and her father had previously painted. “I always wanted to do a watercolor painting of Going Back, so it was during those last few months that he encouraged me to paint him one day.” Completed a few months ago, her painting now hangs in the gallery next to her father’s painting and is included in With my Father’s Brushes.
To learn more, visit ShuptrineGallery.com. Shuptrine Gallery is located at 4 West Main Street, above the White Squirrel Shoppe, in Brevard. Find her work also at Artists @ Work Studio and Gallery in Brevard.