Stella Shinn aims for stars, Smithsonian

Stella with a piece of her art and prizes she's won in contests.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Stella with a piece of her art and prizes she's won in contests.

DALLAS — If everything goes according to her plans, artist Stella Shinn will achieve national acclaim before she turns 14. She wants to the be the youngest artist to have her work exhibited at the Smithsonian.

“There’s an artist named Wang Yani who exhibited her art there by the age of 14, so when I read an article about her, I immediately thought, ‘I have to do that by the age of 13,’” Stella said.


Stella Shinn's Space Foundation art contest entry. The drawing won second place in the international competition.

Yani is a Chinese artist, who, like Stella, discovered her art at a young age. Her paintings — mostly of animals — were exhibited in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian in 1989 in an exhibit called “Yani: The Brush of Innocence.”

Stella, 12, has a little less than two years to achieve her goal, so it’s good that she’s not short on ambition or talent. Her preferred art form is drawing with pencils, and she recently took second place in her age group in an international art contest sponsored by the Space Foundation.

Though contestants had months to create their submissions for the Eighth Annual Space Foundation International Student Art Contest, Stella found out about the competition with less than a week to complete and turn in her piece. Submissions were based on the theme “My space city vision.”

“When I think of that, I think of a futuristic city,” Stella said. “And since it was 2017 — I did an eclipse in the background.”

She said her placing was a surprise given what little time she had to create her piece.

“I fell over and I couldn’t get up,” she said. “I was really excited.”

Stella has a growing stack of prizes from the Polk County and Oregon State fairs and became something of a local sensation during Dallas’ solar eclipse celebration.

She set up shop downtown and offered to draw caricatures of people over two days of the event. Stella estimates that she drew 15 caricatures and donated the proceeds to the Dallas Area Visitors Center, where her father, JD Shinn, is the CEO.

Stella said she likes drawing portraits and architecture — which showcase her ability to capture detail, something JD said was apparent when his daughter was very young.

“I tried to draw a realistic eye,” Stella said. “I was 7, so it wasn’t amazing, but for that age it was pretty good.”

JD said that is when he and his wife, Raelyn, discovered their daughter had a gift.

“We thought it was a print or we thought you had copied it.” JD said. “But it’s been amazing to see what her abilities are. As young as she is, as raw as she is, she has this ability to pull out so much detail. It’s always impressive.”

Stella has a list of contests she’s preparing pieces for and works at her art every day.

“I like how I can express myself,” she said of her love of drawing. “It’s just relaxing and fun.”

Stella said in additional to her goal of having her work exhibited at the Smithsonian, she wants to use her talent for another purpose.

“I want to inspire other people with this gift, so they can discover gifts that they didn’t know about,” she said.

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