The famous “Beehive Lady” is coming home. Tooele-born artist Stephanie Deer will be the guest artist for the Tooele Ladies Community Club’s Paint Night on Friday at the Tooele Chamber of Commerce, sharing her unique talents and expertise with the local community.
“I’ve done plenty of big shows, but I’m probably as excited or more excited about this one than anything I’ve done in some time,” Deer said. “It’s connecting with people from where I’m from to pay forward what’s been given to me.”
Deer, the daughter of Loretta Christensen and granddaughter of Blanche Pratt, lived in Tooele through the fourth grade until moving to Kamas with her mother. Her grandmother and her aunts and uncles lived in Pine Canyon when she was growing up, giving her strong ties to Tooele that continue to this day.
“Tooele was always really important to me because it had a really good sense of community and my family was there,” she said. “My parents were from there, so I spent a lot of time out there and went to grade school out there.
“It seems much different to me now than it was when I grew up, when I was living there, she added. “Particularly the last 10 years, it seems to have changed a lot –– the way it looks and the demographic of people there.”
Deer became an artist by accident. A dozen years ago, she was working as an interior designer, and was doing commercial work for a church that was under construction. As it neared completion, the artist she had hired to paint several 7×9-foot paintings inside the church abruptly quit, leaving her three weeks to find a solution. When she was unable to find another artist, she went to the public library in Draper to check out some books on painting techniques and did the work herself.
“My husband said –– and this is totally not like him –– ‘why don’t you just fake it? If your career is going to go down in flames you might as well go out fighting, right?’” she said. “I went down to the building and spent three weeks painting these big paintings on a scissor lift by myself. I got them done and the client loved them, so I was breathing a huge sigh of relief. I really enjoyed it but didn’t think I would paint again. I was just trying to deliver what needed to be done and have my career not be destroyed.”
Other commercial clients were also impressed by her work and had her do paintings for them as well, despite her insistence on telling them that she was “not a real artist.” It also led a friend of hers to encourage her to take part in Zions Bank’s annual artists’ reception.
As she prepared for the exhibition, Deer knew she didn’t want to do the landscapes or paintings of LDS temples that are so prevalent among Utah artists. She found her inspiration from the women in her family –– the women of Pine Canyon.
“All of the women in my family worked,” she said. “My grandmother helped build rockets for the [Tooele Army] Depot, but I never, ever saw her without an apron on her entire life.
‘We would always get together –– my mom and all of her sisters and my grandmother’s sisters –– and they would make all of this food and make aprons and crochet all this stuff, and then they would take it down to the church and buy it all back and go home and eat it or give it to various relatives. This made a big impact on me.”
So, she went to work on seven or eight paintings for the reception, with those strong women serving as her subject matter.
“I was surrounded by these strong women who had very strong family ties,” she said. “Even though they were very traditional, they still brought home the bacon. They were opinionated and irreverent at times. So I decided on a whim that I wanted to paint a lady with a big beehive –– my mother’s a redhead –– and call it ‘The Beehive State.’ I did not think anything would come of it.”
When Deer took her art to the reception, she quickly realized just how different it was from what anyone else was doing, and questioned whether she belonged.
“There were about 60 artists there and everybody’s got paintings of landscapes with the occasional horse thrown in there somewhere –– extremely traditional art –– and then there’s me,” she said. “I’m technicolor, all of my art is technicolor and it’s funny. I’m bawling … I’m crying my eyes out. I go into the bathroom, and it’s not a pretty cry. It’s an ugly cry where your whole face is ugly and your nose is running.”
After a banker came in and gave her a bit of a pep talk and encouraged her to come out of the bathroom, it turned out her art was a hit. All of her paintings sold, and one of them eventually was given as a gift to Jon Huntsman Jr., who took it with him when he served as the U.S. ambassador to China.
“That was a career-changer for me,” she said. “I feel like Susan Boyle –– I’m like, ‘oh, my gosh. I dress kind of weird, I’m not exactly young, but if I can make it, anybody can.’”
Deer was quickly picked up by one of Salt Lake City’s premier galleries, and has since become a full-time artist. Even though she didn’t have any formal art training, she said that may have actually been beneficial to her.
“The fact that I didn’t have other influences in my work is what I think made me successful because my art didn’t look like anybody else’s,” she said. “Utah is really a family-values state, so a lot of the stuff I paint is an effort to reflect that and how I see that.”
She hopes that her visit to Tooele for Friday’s Paint Night will inspire others to discover and embrace their inner hidden talent.
“You may not realize what’s hidden inside you until you’re given an opportunity or faced with a challenge, and you can open up a whole new life for yourself and become aware of talents that you did not know that you had,” she said. “I have not seen anyone that can’t express themselves with paint if they just give themselves the chance to do it. It’s really therapeutic to paint. It’s tough to think about other things when you’re focusing on the details of a flower or trying to paint someone’s face. It requires your full concentration and you get immediate feedback from it.”
Those interested in taking part in Friday’s event can register online at www.eventbrite.com/e/paint-night-with-utahs-beehive-lady-stephanie-deer-tickets-31291318175.