Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Stoehr was President of National Geographic Maps where he was responsible for the National Geographic Society's mapping operations. Previously he held the positions of director and senior vice-president at National Geographic.
With his wife, Mary Kay Stoehr, he owned and operated the recreational map company Trails Illustrated which was acquired by the National Geographic Society.
He has served as an officer and director on a variety of boards, some of which include, the Peace Initiatives Institute - a non-profit international organization focused on long-term peace through children, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado - a stewardship non-profit providing land agencies consultation and a volunteer workforce, and Big City Mountaineers - a non-profit, wilderness experience program for inner-city, at-risk teens. He is past president of the International Map Trade Association, representing map publishers, sellers, government agencies and software developers from more than 55 countries.
Prior to entering the map business, he worked for two major international equipment manufacturers in a variety of management positions.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Stout, he received the university's highest graduation award, was active in student government and was the captain of two intercollegiate varsity teams. He has an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, did post graduate study at Marquette University and was a doctoral program resident at the J.L. Kellogg School at Northwestern University.
Born and raised in Burlington Wisconsin, Stoehr along with his wife Mary Kay, currently live in Boulder Colorado. Previously they lived in Winter Park Colorado, St. John US Virgin Islands and a few other places.
Addition biographical sketch by Efrat Cybulkiewicz for ARTMOIRE- July 1, 2020
“I know in my heart that I am where I belong - you know, in front of a canvas with a brush in my hand.”
William Stoehr is an artist born in Burlington, Wisconsin (1948), which was a rural community and regional centre for its surrounding farms. He currently resides in Boulder, Colorado, USA. He is the oldest of five children. As a child, William liked to be outside as much as possible, fishing, playing baseball and riding his bicycle. He was an average but creative student.
Art was always his favorite subject. Since as far back as he can remember, he’s liked to draw, he drew cars, aircrafts, people, buildings and lots of cartoon-like images. He was always designing, building and inventing things, and in his art class, he always found a way to do something out of the ordinary and beyond the assignment.
Like most teenagers, music was important to him and Bob Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles topped the list, which included just about any 60’s folk and rock and roll. He was interested in cars and racing, he owned an old Chevy and then a VW Beetle which he painted with polka dots and turned into a ladybug. He always closely followed auto racing from F1 to drag racing and everything in between.
In 1964 William Stoehr was 16 years old and wanted to be a professional artist. He considered applying to the Chicago Institute of Art but it was just too expensive. College was new to them and his family could offer little advice, so he turned to his high school counselors, unfortunately, they turned out to be useless. No one told him that he could go to a state university ($150 tuition) and study art. The best they could suggest was that he spend time with the illustrator for the local weekly newspaper, the Burlington Standard Press, and become a commercial artist. He was thinking De Kooning and Jackson Pollock and they were thinking advertisements for Elsie’s Dress Shop.
In the spring of William Stoehr’s senior year, his drafting teacher asked if he was planning to go to college. He had a vague idea that he wanted to go but he wasn’t sure what to do or how to go about it. His teacher suggested that he go to his alma mater - Stout State University in northern Wisconsin. He applied and got in. He then set art aside and became an industrial engineer and ultimately president of National Geographic’s world-wide mapping business.
William Stoehr did not paint or draw for many years. He was simply on to a different life. 40 years later in 2004, he retired from the best job he ever had to become a full-time artist. He decided that he was young enough to begin another career and that he would try to become the artist that he wanted to be when he was 16 years old. Now he could afford to define success in his way.
He began painting while his wife Mary Kay and he lived part time on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. His early work was smaller, figurative and colorful but the style was unmistakable and still recognizable as his today, with its sweeping brush strokes, splattered paint, drips and marks.
In late 2004 he had his first solo show, in the Virgin Islands. It, and following shows, were successful but he soon recognized that he was not creating a body of work that was cohesive nor one that he was passionate about. He tried to incorporate symbols that expressed some sort of social commentary and while he was headed in the right direction, the work still did not hold together.
In 2008, Stoehr discussed his quandary with the owner of Space Gallery in Denver, Colorado. He had been showing at Space for a few years and respected the owner’s opinion, who told him that he painted faces well and so why not paint some big faces. This launched him in a new direction and soon his work came to the attention of individuals in the neuroscience world and he was invited to present at the Johns Hopkins University Brain Science Institute Conference - The Science of the Arts. They were interested in several of his artistic choices and how he had learned to paint the way he did. It turns out that the methods he was exploring and techniques he had discovered were areas of scientific interest. They were all exploring visual perception, ambiguity and emotional response. For him, this all resulted in several speaking engagements, collaborations and relationships which have significantly shaped his artistic vision and direction.
One outcome was his interest in higher levels of ambiguity and its effect on subjective interpretation and narrative. Another, was his renewed interest in cubist thought which he now sees as a way of perceiving reality. From the beginning people had strong emotional reactions to William's large portraits. And while many of his portraits lacked leading context, certain viewers described emotional reactions and narratives that related to their own experiences.
On October 2, 2012 William's sister overdosed and died. It is never just one person that is impacted, and it is never simply an isolated instance. This tragedy triggered his desire to focus his work on victims, witnesses and survivors. William Stoehr now wanted his paintings to cause people to experience the emotion as their own reality and ultimately to become part of the solution.
The faces he paints reflect the faces of those affected – the victims, witnesses and survivors of intolerance, addictions and violence. William Stoehr’s paintings are beautifully disturbing. He takes our natural and predisposed attraction to faces and uses this to arouse profound and penetrating emotions within us. Emotions that at times are difficult to engage with but are incredibly important to ourselves as well as the world around us. Stoehr aims to lure far-reaching and always relevant questions and subjects to our surfaces, in order for us as a collective to face them head on and in this turmoil possibly find solutions. His art is astonishing and mesmerizing and remarkably essential.