In his youth Mr. Stearns gave
no indication that he might become a wildlife artist. His
sister, Dorothy, showed talent and took art lessons (she is
now a highly successful professional artist), but her older
brother looked on with a jaundiced eye-he had better things
It was more or less taken for
granted that he would become a scientist in a family overflowing
with them; he was a bookworm and intensely curious about the
world around him. His interests, however fleeting, covered
a wide range: wildlife was only one among many and its chief
charm for him lay in the fact that he could collect a 10¢
bounty for every rat he captured. It was paid by his uncle
and aunt, Drs. Arthur and Ruth Svihla, zoologist and botanist
at the University of Washington in Seattle, then in Hawaii
to study mammals and their parasites.
Stanley Stearns was born on January
15, 1926 in Washington, D. C., the son of Drs. Norah (Dowell),
of Providence, Rhode Island and Harold T. Stearns of Wallingford,
Connecticut. His mother was a geographer- his father was a
geologist employed by the U. S. Geological Survey. This work
took the family all over the western United States; in 1930
they moved to Hawaii where they were to live for the next
As a boy, Mr. Stearns liked his
chemistry set, model planes, tools, books, and the collection
of human bones he had dug up from an old battlefield. He spent
many hours swimming, and took every opportunity to go on geological
field trips with his father.
Mr. Stearns went to grammar school
on Maui, junior high at Punahou Academy in Honolulu, and Roosevelt
High School in Seattle.
Here he had the shortest football
career on record. As a freshman he went out for the sport,
all 110 pounds of him, and the first afternoon of practice
he charged onto the field, ablaze with enthusiasm. An hour
and a half later the flame had been thoroughly quenched by
his 200pound teammates, and Mr. Stearns had learned a valuable
lesson: contact sports were not for him. He concentrated on
his studies, finished high school in two and a half years,
and entered the University of Washington in Seattle when he
During these years he also worked
33 hours a week as an apprentice in a boatshop, having achieved
a special schedule that allowed him to have afternoons off,
and somehow kept up his schoolwork. He had always had a need
to work with his hands, and his parents wisely allowed him
to go ahead.
Vacation times he would roam
the country, and managed to see parts of Canada, Mexico, and
every state except Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. He was
not to see these until much later, after his marriage.
He was coxswain for a University
of Washington crew, and also went out for the two-mile cross-country
and for boxing where he did very well within his weight.
One night, against college rules,
he unwisely went boxing off-campus in a professional preliminary
bout for $25. There the promoters had no one in his weight
class to match with him, so he went up against a larger man;
worst of all, his hands were improperly wrapped. He not only
took a brutal beating, but broke nearly every small bone in
both hands. The damage is still apparent in that his hands
become virtually useless outdoors on any but the very warmest
In college his curiosity was
his downfall, in a sense. He started out in engineering, but
when he was attracted by subjects that were not offered in
the Engineering College, he switched majors. He completed
three years' work in a year and a half with four majors, a
fine general education, but no degree.
Mr. Stearns was 15 on Pearl Harbor
Day, and when he was 17 he joined the Marine Corps in a program
that required him to stay in college. To him it seemed the
long way around to take a swipe at the enemy, so he found
a way to get sent to boot camp in San Diego as a Private.
There he was taken seriously ill, and while his platoon was
sent to the South Pacific to suffer nearly 100% casualties,
Mr. Stearns was spending over three months in the hospital.
By the time he was 19 he had
been to Radar School, Navigation School, and Bombardier's
School. He flew Atlantic patrol in B-25's and later served
as Navigator on transport aircraft. While he was still a 19-yearold
Private, he married the former jean Pride of Island Falls,
Maine in North Carolina on July 28, 1945.
After Mr. Stearns received his
discharge from the Marine Corps in 1946, he and his wife went
to her home town of Island Falls, where he worked for a while
for her father in the lumber business, and later opened a
small business of his own in boat-building. Neither occupation
offered much of a future there at that time, so he took a
series of aptitude tests given by the Veterans Administration,
and these indicated that he had potentiality as an artist.
It was at this time that Mr.
Stearns' stepmother, the former Claudia Davis of California,
a fine artist and Director of the Honolulu Academy of Fine
Arts before her marriage to Dr. Stearns, provided the essential
spark that encouraged Mr. Stearns to draw, draw, and draw
some more. She gave him critiques by mail.
In June of 1950, with financial
aid from his father and the Pride family, Mr. Stearns left
Island Falls to go to art school in Boston, leaving-for the
time being - a wife; a son, Rogan, 3; and a daughter, Margot,
1, in Maine. He was 24.
The school was Vesper George
School of Art on St. Botolph Street in the Back Bay section
of Boston. During the six months he spent alone in Boston,
before receiving the funds from the G.I. Bill that enabled
him to have his family with him, he had a room in an apartment
that was directly upstairs over a studio that had been used
by John Singer Sargent, N.A. It was still being used as a
studio, this time by a famous sculptor. Among Mr. Stearns'
instructors at Vesper George were Rutledge Bate and Dean Cornwell,
Boston is artist-oriented. Bostonians
love their artists and take a proprietary interest in them.
Any proper Bostonian will walk in a streaming gutter rather
than jiggle the leg of an easel that's set up on the sidewalk;
no one would ever go between an easel and the lion at the
Zoo; every easel in a public place has a ring of urchins behind
it, each one extending an imaginary paintbrush at arm's length,
squinting at the subject. They are free with their comments.
The most common one is, "Hey, Mister, I can do better'n
For a year and a half during
the foundation course at Vesper George, Mr. Stearns attended
classes during the day and worked a full eight hours at night
waiting on tables in night clubs and later as a warehouse
stockman for a large Boston department store. He would return
home to the South End apartment about midnight and stay up
until two or three, doing homework, often falling asleep over
the card table in a corner that was his studio. He finally
left school because the financial grind left him no time to
apply what he had learned.
Mr. Stearns' first job after
leaving art school was with an electronics firm in Boston,
where his work consisted of doing schematics and drafting,
photo retouching with an airbrush, and technical illustration.
The next job, taken at a considerable cut in pay because he
wanted to learn other techniques of commercial art, was with
an industrial catalog production company. Here he learned
valuable techniques of illustration and much about publication
and printing- skills that have been useful ever since.
In the fall of 1952 Mr. Stearns
got a job as technical illustrator in the Engineering Laboratory
of International Business Machines Corporation in Endicott,
New York, and the family moved to Binghamton, a sister city
of Endicott. His work at this time was interesting and rewarding
in the techniques of technical illustration that he learned;
he gradually developed new methods of production that were
important contributions to the field.
For a time he worked as an industrial
designer, styling a computer for the Navy; later he was a
communications specialist in liaison between engineering and
management. His educational background enabled him to interpret
engineering concepts visually, and soon much of his time was
spent in doing 22" x 29" "easel sheet"
proposals for the engineers of the Planning Groups to use
in expressing their ideas. He illustrated hundreds of reports,
books, and catalogs, and did thousands of easel sheets.
During these eight years in
New York, Mr. Stearns did a great deal of artwork at home
in many media and of varied subjects including landscapes,
seascapes, city scenes, figures and portraits. As time went
on he turned to wildlife subjects more and more often. His
first sale of wildlife artwork was a group of scratchboard
"spots" to The American Rifleman.
He entered three shows: winning
a prize for a sculpture in the first; selling his entry-a
watercolor-in another; and getting a zero in the third. These
are the only shows he has ever entered, but in the future
he hopes to try for some of the major ones if he can keep
a few paintings hidden from his salesperson wife.
In the fall of 1954 Mr. Stearns
entered the duck stamp contest and won with his design Blue
Geese. Etching seemed to be the proper medium for the prints,
and although he had never done any etching except briefly
in art school, he set about getting all the supplies and equipment,
including a press. He also commandeered from the household
a hair dryer, an old electric hotplate, and a kitchen fan
to blow away the nitric acid fumes. None of these things would
fit into the room he was using as a studio, so another bedroom
was donated to the cause of art. The children's bedtime baths
had to be taken in the morning for the next six months while
the tub was being used afternoons and evenings to soak paper
- seven or eight sheets at a time.
His first etching was a 3"
x 5" drawing of a moose standing in lily pads. The second,
slightly larger, was of cinnamon teal. Next came a deer, larger
yet, and finally he felt ready to do Blue Geese, largest of
all. His manual was a book on etching by Levon West, a famous
etcher, who later became a photographer under the pseudonym
On Mr. Stearns' birthday in 1957,
his wife had spent an unprecedented $15 to give him the two
volumes of L. Francis Herreshoff's The Common Sense of Yacht
Design. Mr. Stearns had been a Herreshoff disciple ever since
he had taken some courses in Naval Architecture in Seattle;
soon after he got the books he set about designing the Stearns
boat, a 40-foot shoal-draft ketch. He had some questions that
Mr. Herreshoff very generously answered: soon the etcher who
liked boat design was carrying on a lively correspondence
with the boat designer who liked etchings. To live and travel
on a sailboat had been a lifelong dream for Mr. Stearns-,
education and a family had only delayed its attainment.
In 1961 the Stearnses left the
security of a good job and the comforts of a home in suburbia-where
they were constantly broke from paying bills they wouldn't
have had if they hadn't been making so much money to move
to Maryland where they could live in a milder climate and
build a boat.
They settled in a major waterfowl
area, living in a tiny cottage on the edge of the water, surrounded
by marshes. The house is entirely too small for the family,
the art supplies, and boat-building paraphernalia; but somehow
they've managed to work on the boat and at the same time,
make the difficult transition from outside employment to full-time
fine-art work. Mr. and Mrs. Stearns have had four different
jobs each during this period. One of the most interesting
for Mr. Stearns was that of Art Director for the national
sailing magazine, The Skipper, in Annapolis.
Mr. Stearns hunted and fished
when he was very young, and again when he felt he should teach
the sports to his son. Although he is now living where there
is an abundance of waterfowl, he no longer hunts except with
If all goes well, some time before
the snow flies in the fall of 1968, Mr. Stearns will launch
his boat on a high tide and sail off into the Atlantic. His
first voyage will probably be far south to paint tropical
scenery, exotic women (he says), and reef fishes. An extra
benefit will be the avoidance of cold weather, which he abhors.
He has been strongly influenced
by the watercolors of Winslow Homer, N.A.; John Singer Sargent,
N.A.; John Pike, N.A.@ Ogden M. Pleissner, N.A.; and A. Lassell
Ripley, N.A. In wildlife art-specifically in drawing, design,
simplicity, color, and sculptural quality-he follows the work
of Francis Lee Jaques.
Mr. Stearns' work is in numerous
public and private collections throughout the country.