This Artistic Couple Embraces Creativity in Shokan

Artists Michelle Stuhl and Howard Werner found inspiration in the Hudson Valley—and are now saying “thank you” by welcoming visitors to their home studio.

Produced by Steed Hale / Written by Janet Siroto

The Hudson Valley has a storied history as being both a home and inspiration for artists. From the 19th-century Hudson River School, which celebrated the sublime landscape, to the potters, weavers, and jewelers currently working in the nooks and crannies, it’s an area where creativity blooms.

Need proof? Consider Exhibit A and Exhibit B: Michelle Stuhl and Howard Werner, who’ve been married for 40-plus years. Each is a noted artist with a thriving practice; hers embraces prints, paintings, installations, and encaustics; his, wood sculptures and furniture. They are proudly local, living and working in Shokan, on forever-wild land that backs onto a mountainside and fuels their vision.

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They share a barn-style studio on their property, about a quarter mile from their home—Michelle usually inside, and Howard often outside, in a covered pavilion, his chainsaw snarling. Completed about 15 years ago, the two-story structure has recently begun to give art lovers and curious neighbors a glimpse inside. On select weekends, Stuhl and Werner open the space to visitors to see their art in situ and learn more about their process—which can make for quite a fascinating way to spend a summer afternoon. Whether showing separately or together, their works have such power and beauty that the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre, among others, have exhibited them.

Howard Werner and Michelle Stuhl
Howard Werner and Michelle Stuhl

A full-time artist since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts, Werner’s raw yet refined pieces belie the influence of Noguchi, Brancusi, and Nakashima. His massive pine three-seater, for instance, still looks very much like a tree that has keeled over in the woods, the form and texture of the trunk still evident, but with three bowls scooped out, inviting one to sit.

There’s no rushing his process; years pass from inspiration to completion. Werner starts with sketches, models, and full-scale drawings. “I like to know exactly what I’m doing,” he explains, before he starts carving. No trees are cut down specifically for his work. Rather, he gets what has already been felled from local tree companies or, more recently, has been culling what he finds lying on his property. “I carve the pieces when the wood is green; then, as they dry, they shrink a bit and become more stable. One or two years later, I can go back and finish,” he explains.

It was Werner who found his way to the Hudson Valley first. “When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to be within 100 miles of New York City,” he recalls. He was drawn to the natural beauty of the region, and, when he stumbled upon an old gas station in Mount Tremper, which ultimately became his studio, he put down roots.

Not long after, he met Michelle. “I fell in love with him and the Hudson Valley,” says Stuhl, “and it changed our lives.” She hadn’t imagined that she’d be in such a rural setting. Raised in Miami, she recalls traveling to Manhattan and its museums as a formative experience. She assumed it would be her full-time home. But after getting her MFA in sculpture from RISD, she migrated upstate to be with Werner, and the two set up house. Though she spent time in NYC (and still does; she leads a boutique executive recruitment firm based there), her artwork evolved in Shokan. Her focus shifted from three-dimensional art to two-dimensional. Her evocative drawings and paintings—often but not always representational—pay homage to the landscape around her. She’s captured iconic NYC structures, too, including “the bridges that bring you from the city to the rest of New York, including the Hudson Valley,” she says. “Crossing them is this incredible journey.”

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Stuhl and Werner’s rural studio location provides infinite inspiration.
Michelle Stuhl and Howard Werner’s rural studio location provides infinite inspiration.

All roads seem to lead back to their corner of rural New York. For instance, Stuhl was once in Arizona, where the couple spends a couple of months every winter. While she was exploring encaustic (a hot wax technique), a friend and fellow artist handed her a wonderful oil stick to work with. “I looked at the label and it was from R&F Handmade Paints in Kingston!” she says, laughing at the serendipity of that moment.

Michelle Stuhl and Howard Werner

Stuhl and Werner have a near endless list of things they love about the Hudson Valley. The growing creative energy and cultural richness of the area delights them, from the gallery scene in Kingston to time spent at The Maker Hotel in Hudson. But it’s the landscape first and foremost. They’re out in nature most mornings before work, whether that means hiking the bluestone quarry behind their local post office or the rim of the Ashokan reservoir, with its big views of earth and sky. Says Stuhl, “The land here is an inspiring gift for us, every day.”

Open Studio

Hudson Valley readers are invited to an exclusive event at Howard Werner and Michelle Stuhl’s studio in Shokan on Saturday, July 20. Works—including finished pieces and those in progress—will be on display. The artists will be available to discuss their creative approach and process. Light refreshments will be served. For more details and to register (required), visit stuhlwernerstudio.com.

Related: This Light and Bright Hurley Home Is a Historic Property

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