From dinosaur tails to majestic landscapes, area native makes name for himself through his art
Steven Hileman grew up in Geeseytown and, like many little boys, he drew lots of pictures, especially of dinosaurs.
His mother remembers one time when he drew only the dinosaur’s tail, a long tail running all through the picture. It tickled her and his grandmother, who was watching him that day.
That was one of his family’s first clues not only that Steven was talented in art, but that he saw the world through a painter’s imaginative eye.
Steven, now 37, has moved with his wife, Melanie, and five children to Maine, but he and his family return to Blair County often to visit his parents, Mark and Carol Hileman.
The journey from drawing dinosaurs to an accomplished artist with his works displayed in art galleries in both Maine and Vermont, included a stop in Florida where Hileman met his wife.
Along the way, his artwork has gained recognition both in the art world and also from a growing following of collectors who are buying his paintings.
His parents first enrolled him in art lessons soon after he drew that dinosaur’s tail, when he was still in kindergarten, Carol Hileman said.
“He loved drawing and he was drawing constantly around here,” she said.
His father recalled no matter what was going on, Saturday mornings would find Steven glued to the television watching Robert Norman “Bob” Ross.
Known for his easygoing style, the PBS painter’s show, “The Joy of Painting,” in the 1980s inspired many to take up their paintbrushes.
“He (Ross) was always talking about how to paint ‘happy clouds,’ ” Mark Hileman recalled.
Steven took art lessons for several years as he grew up while attending Blair County Christian School in Duncansville. But when he started seventh grade, his parents found him a teacher in Altoona whom Steven now credits with having the biggest influence on his artwork before he left for Florida.
Deborah English, who’s been teaching what she calls the basics of art for 30 years to students ranging from ages 8 to 80, said Steven is a true artist who just needed some polishing when he came to her.
“He had natural raw talent and that’s what’s incredible,” she said.
English said Steven knew he had some problems when he came to her, but he didn’t know what was wrong.
For six years, she helped him see where he needed help. Together they started at the beginning, learning such basic things as how to properly hold a drawing pencil, how to mix colors correctly and how to draw fundamental shapes.
“He knew he was good, but he wanted to be better,” said English, who taught him until she had taught him everything she knew.
At that point, it was time for him to move on, she said.
“It was time because then it’s almost the student teaching the teacher and when that happens, they need to find someone better,” said English, who is still active as an artist in her own right, most recently chosen as an Artist of the Month by the Altoona Area Public Library last spring.
At first Steven wasn’t sure he wanted to pursue art as a career. Spirituality had always been a major factor in his life, and he initially thought he might want to follow a religious path, perhaps as a missionary. But toward the end of his freshman year at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, he decided against that option and turned toward art as his career choice.
He met his future wife, Melanie, in an art class, although it wasn’t until they’d been friends for awhile that they started dating and later married. As a fellow art lover, Melanie appreciates the hard work it takes and the creative mind of an artist like her husband, she said.
“It’s nice that I do have an understanding of what he does and what it’s all about,” Melanie said.
When the couple first married, Steven took a job illustrating books for a large book publisher in Florida. He also continued to paint, mostly landscapes in oil, and show his work at juried shows across the country.
They later moved to Maine, and Melanie worked as a preschool teacher so Steven could devote all of his time to painting. As children started to come, fortunately, Steven’s paintings became more successful and were picked up by galleries in Maine and Vermont. Melanie now home schools the children while Steven paints full time.
He classifies his work as realist with impressionistic touches. He also said he tries to show the beauty of God’s creation through his paintings. His works have won several awards and praise in the artistic community, and his paintings have been featured in many juried exhibitions throughout the country.
“I thank God that I have the opportunity to do this,” he said.
One of his most recent achievements is having photographs of several of his paintings included in the book, “Art of the National Parks.”
The book, which was published in June and is available through Barnes & Noble, is a compilation of photographs and descriptions of several national parks in America including Acadia National Park in Maine.
“It was an honor to be in this book,” Steven said. “I definitely feel like I’m in good company.”
Steven has painted several sites in Blair County and the paintings are for sale on his website, stevenhileman.com. He finds contrast in central Pennsylvania to the scenery around his home in coastal Maine, which he said has much more older homes.
“I like variety and I do have a connection to the area here,” he said.