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The Many Faces of Barbara Stephan

May. 4, 2011
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Singer Barbara Stephan was recently drawn into a mystical new endeavor. “I've always dabbled in visual arts,” the Beloit native says. “But nothing came of it until I started seeing bizarre faces in the trees.” The faces became photos, prints and a website. Recently, her work appeared on the cover of Chicago's The Monthly Aspectarian and in a juried online gallery, www.portalwisconsin.org.

How would you describe yourself?

I'm an adult professional person—a corporate, salaried singer and music teacher—who sees faces of mystical creatures everywhere.

Let's start with the music.

I've got an album out, I'm Awake, a melding of jazz, pop and R&B. It was a studio album—in-house musicians in the studio for weeks on end. It was great. Took a lot of bartering. I have engineer friends. I taught them piano, they put in work for me. I sing backgrounds on commercial albums in exchange for studio time. Stuff like that.

Word is you got an early start as a musician?

My dad was a six-nights-a-week working musician. He put me in the band very early. I started out at 13, touring animal name clubs—Elks, Lions—[and] also the VFW, all through Beloit and Janesville taverns.

Where has music taken you since?

I've played every club and festival in Milwaukee. Guitar Bar—gone now. Milwaukee Ale House. Centanni. Caroline's. All the festivals: RiverSplash, State Fair. I played Summerfest 12 years in a row.

I drive down to Chicago every weekend. It's a corporate, salaried gig. That was a first for me as a singer. We play cool venues. I worked for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and for the Waukesha County Conservatory—teaching voice and piano lessons.

Then you started seeing things?

My boyfriend and I love to hike. At a workshop in Portland—on this trail, approaching a waterfall—I happened to look at a tree stump. Colorful and distinct, there in the moss was a very clear face. I took a picture. Next to it: another face. I took a photo of that.

I blew a couple up and hung them at the house. People were intrigued. So I figured, “If that's in Oregon, what's in Wisconsin?” I have since found amazing images everywhere.

I have to ask. Drugs?

No. But they might be helpful in looking at the photos.

And actually, I'd attribute it to meditation more than anything. I was really “Go, go, go.” But for the last couple years I've focused on meditation and slowing things down. Now I can purposefully and naturally be so slow. It's allowed me to observe.

You put up a website, too?

It's like a floodgate opened. I've seen faces of amazing creatures everywhere. Everywhere. I have hundreds and hundreds of pictures—which I pore through for hours. So obviously I'm enthusiastic. It's at www.naturesprites.com/index.html.

Where's the strangest place you've seen nature sprites?

There really are faces everywhere. Wooden furniture around the house—grains and patterns and swirls. I get distracted at singing gigs—looking at hardwood floors and wall paint. People will think I'm off my rocker here, but when I point them out they're undeniable.

Probably the strangest… in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. I glanced down at the water droplets that dried on the metallic faucet. I saw faces there. I took photos. They're not on the website yet—I'll probably add them this week.


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