Howard Seymour Stern (1910–2002)
Howard Seymour Stern was a physician, a noted photographer, and an award-winning painter. Although he had no professional training in art, his paintings and photographs continue to be displayed in various collections in Arkansas and around the world.
Howard Stern was born on June 14, 1910, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the eldest of four children born to Eugene John Stern and Frances Burger Stern. His father was an architect, half the partnership of Mann and Stern, which designed Little Rock Central High School, the Albert Pike Hotel, the Arkansas Consistory, the Arlington Hotel, and the Fordyce Bath House.
The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1913 so Stern’s father could work with George R. Mann on designing the Arkansas State Capitol. While a child, Stern began experimenting with cameras and the darkroom. When Stern graduated from high school in 1928, his father invited him to join Mann and Stern, and so he enrolled in Washington University School of Architecture. After a year and a half, Stern decided architecture was not for him, and his father offered to send him to medical school. Stern graduated with a doctorate in 1936 from the University of Arkansas School of Medicine (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences). He was a general practitioner in Little Rock beginning in 1938; he also served as an officer in the Medical Reserve, examining draftees and volunteers for the Selective Service.
In addition to medicine, Stern pursued photography and experimented with etching, linoleum block printing, and watercolor painting. His work included both nature studies and personal portraits; his painting tended to be naturalistic rather than abstract.
In 1935, Stern helped organize the Little Rock Camera Club. This group of photographers met regularly to critique each other’s work and discuss technique. Stern’s photographs were chosen for salons, which were competitive photography exhibitions, across the United States and Europe. World War II erupted in 1939, causing Stern to choose to take a hiatus from his photography. At this time, he poured more energy into his painting. During the rest of his career, Stern tended to change genres every few years, according to his interest at the time.
In 1947, Stern’s painting Bright Moonlight won the Arkansas Artists Competition at Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) and a trophy at the American Physicians Art Association, a division of the American Medical Association (AMA). About this time, Stern became friends with noted Arkansas artists Adrian Brewer and Louis and Elsie Freund.
Stern continued painting and developed a new area of interest: constructing rifles. Since his military training in the late 1930s, Stern had been interested in preserving and improving his shooting skills. This led him, in the 1960s and 1970s, to experiment with hand-made rifles. He treated the guns as works of art, while also winning awards for his marksmanship with those rifles. Often, he would use special lenses from his cameras to improve the sights on his rifles.
In 1965, he returned to photography, working on a project of color photographs, Open Your Eyes and See. By the early 1970s, he had returned to painting, pursuing watercolors and joining the Mid-Southern Watercolorists. His work Chinese Fan #2 won a silver medal at the National Watercolor Society show in 1981. In 1992, the Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston, Texas, held a retrospective exhibition of his photographs. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock).
Stern’s first wife, Jane, died of cancer in 1990, a few months before their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Stern moved to Houston, where he married long-time friend Eleanor Kempner Freed in 1991. She died, also of cancer, seven months later in 1992. In January 1993, he returned to Little Rock. Stern died on March 13, 2002, in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Howard S. Stern: A 63 Year Retrospective, March 7—April 18, 1992. Houston TX: Hooks-Epstein Galleries Inc., 1992.
Obituary of Howard S. Stern. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 15, 2002, p. 8B.
Stern, Howard S., with George West. A Lifetime Looking. Little Rock: August House, 1994.
Arkansas Arts Center
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 02/03/2021