Stella Maria Baer Painter and Photographer

Stella Maria Baer

Painter and Photographer  •  Denver, Colorado, USA


  • Interviewed by Emma Koi
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley

Painter and photographer Stella Maria Baer never expected to become a mother. Now, her son Wyeth is just over one year old, and her subject matter has already been inspired by motherhood. Her paintings of breasts explore the unfamiliar territory of breastfeeding that so many of us new mothers experience: this intimate part of our bodies, out, all of the time, and not always cooperating. I love getting lost the vast body of Stella’s work, on her website and social media pages: many moons, in various palettes and textures, desert portraits, and pigments colored from the dirt itself. I think for some, our need to make is so strong it cannot rest when we become mothers. It must coincide with raising little ones. Stella lives and breathes her work and her aesthetic embodies every piece of her being. And little Wyeth is watching, learning what it means to have a mother living her truth. Thanks for reading. Love, Emma

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the high mountain desert.

Seth, Wyeth, Stella, and their sheepdog Fox in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

How were the arts a part of your childhood? My mother was a weaver and my father owned an art gallery. My grandmother was a sculptor and my grandfather was a photographer. Art was always a part of our language and landscape. When my brother and I were little, my grandfather used to take us on photography trips to Point Lobos in Big Sur. He worked with a large format eight-by-ten camera that he would haul out into the landscape. Watching him take photographs as a child still haunts me, especially when I’m lugging my camera and easel out into a sand dune to take a photograph or paint.

Tell us about your family and where you live now. I’m a painter and a photographer. I live in Denver, Colorado with my husband Seth, our 15 month old boy Wyeth, and our sheepdog, Fox.

Sage Moon, 2014, watercolor on paper, 12 x 16, by Stella Maria Baer

How would you describe your work? I work in watercolor and oils and photograph Western landscapes. For the past four years I’ve been working on a series of paintings of moons and planets and photographing deserts in the Southwest. In the past year I’ve started painting landscapes and human bodies along with the celestial spheres.

I’ve been working full time as an artist for five years. Since Wyeth was born it’s been on-and-off full and part time. Art is how I make a living.

Where is your work space? I work in a studio in our home, or en plein air in the desert.

making paint pigments from desert sands.

Did you go to school for art? I studied philosophy in college. I didn’t start painting until a couple of years after college. For many years my paintings and drawings were a secret practice that I showed to almost no one. While in graduate school I got a job working for artist Titus Kaphar as a studio and research assistant. Titus cast a vision for me for what it meant to be a working artist. He gave me critiques on my paintings and answered questions I had about techniques, materials, and color. Titus taught me to look at my work as something sacred.

“Becoming a mother is like being reborn.”

In graduate school I took studio classes in painting and drawing, and in one class the professor assigned a hundred paintings a week. In those classes and in the critiques with Titus my painting moved from being something private to out in the open. At some point during those years I realized I wanted to be a painter. I started selling my work during my graduate thesis show and eventually stopped working as Titus’ studio assistant to work on my own painting and photography full time.

Did you plan to have children?
I never dreamed of having children or being a mother. It’s been an incredible surprise to love spending time with Wyeth so much. Becoming a mother is like being reborn.

Stella and Wyeth, making last touches on '48 Moons', a mural in downtown Denver

What were your expectations while you were pregnant about continuing to create work? I had a sense while I was pregnant that I would still want to make paintings and take photographs after Wyeth was born. As a family we can’t afford for me not to work, but in most ways I welcome that limitation. It gives me permission to keep pursuing something that I believe in, that makes me feel like myself, doing what I was created to do.

“I still struggle with knowing how much to work and how much time to spend with Wyeth…But my desire to paint and photograph hasn’t decreased any since he was born - if anything it has only grown stronger.”

How was the transition of getting back to making work after your first child arrived? It was difficult. I tried to take things slowly and allow myself the space to rest and enjoy my baby. But I also longed to get back to my studio and paint in the desert. I started taking Wyeth to my printer to proof and sign photographs and prints a week after he was born. People kept telling me I was crazy but it also felt good to get out of the house, even if just for an hour. It was a difficult balance. I still struggle with knowing how much to work and how much time to spend with Wyeth. He’s growing so fast and I want to enjoy every moment of him being a baby. But my desire to paint and photograph hasn’t decreased any since he was born - if anything it has only grown stronger.

On hard days I spend my studio time confused about what I’m doing because I’m so tired and distracted after a long day with him. But on good days my time in the studio gives me the space to be present with my boy and vice versa. Each provides a refuge from the other and brings something to my life the other cannot. I treasure my time painting more since Wyeth was born. And I enjoy time with Wyeth much more when I’ve had a chance to work in my studio.

Milk Dunes, 2017, watercolor on paper, 14 x 20, by Stella Maria Baer

What does making your work mean to you? How has that changed since you became a mother? For many years now I’ve had a strong sense of vision for what I want to create. I try to take the time to seek out those visions, to listen, to be still, to write. I’ve had less time to do that since becoming a mother, but the sense of vision is still there, perhaps even stronger than it was before. In many ways being pregnant is like painting, starting off as something small and invisible, like a recurring dream, then growing slowly within me and eventually ending up outside myself, part of me and yet with a life all its own.

“In many ways being pregnant is like painting, starting off as something small and invisible, like a recurring dream, then growing slowly within me and eventually ending up outside myself, part of me and yet with a life all its own.”

How do you make time to create? I’m still figuring that out. Wyeth has had a babysitter a couple times a week for a few months, and while I was working on a giant commission this fall he had childcare full time. It is expensive but he also really loves being around other kids. My husband takes Wyeth on the weekends so I can work. I work during his naps and sometimes in the evening. We’ll probably always alternate between having childcare part time and full time so I can work on my paintings and photography.

I am also excited to create things with Wyeth. We’ve started collaborating together on drawings and I’ve loved that so much. He loves my Nikon and my studio and helping me sift sands to make pigments for paints. He even drew on one of my paintings of a breast last week.

Post bath snuggles with Wyeth.
How has Wyeth influenced your subject matter?
I started painting the human figure this year, specifically breasts. I’ve loved breastfeeding Wyeth, but it’s also been strange to have that part of my body out all the time. I struggled with clogged ducts, staying up all night trying to get them unclogged. I’ve never spent so much time thinking about and focusing on that part of my body. Painting breasts has been a way of wrestling with a feeling of being exposed while being in awe of the power of breastfeeding and the colors and shapes of women.

“Take time to do what makes you feel alive. Your children will grow up with a fully alive mother.”

What does being an artist mean to you, in regards to being a role model for your children? I think it’s important for my son to see me doing something I love and listening to my own sense of what I need to create and do with my life. I want him to grow up knowing that women can be artists and live their dreams.

Do you have any advice for other Mother Makers? Be gentle with yourself. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to work. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to work and need to spend time with your little ones. Take time to do what makes you feel alive. Your children will grow up with a fully alive mother.

Sunset ride in the Sonoran Desert.

  • Published January 12, 2018
  • Interviewed by Emma Koi on December 18, 2017
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley
  • Photography from: