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About the artist

Stephen Estrada’s paintings of the ocean and sky reflect an intimate, human connection with the natural world. His work traces his personal journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, as well as a painterly response to sites in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Stephen was born in Chicago IL and a year later, his father moved the family to Southern California to be closer to his extended family in Los Angeles and Mexico. Early experiences of surfing and hiking instilled in him a deep feeling for the beauty and power of the natural environment. His mother, a painter who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, encouraged his early interest in art.

Estrada attended the Art Institute of Boston, but in 1976 after a massive fire destroyed his studio building and all of his paintings, he moved to Washington DC to attend the Corcoran School of Art. There he studied with William Christenberry and Robert Stackhouse who encouraged his interest in the natural world as a source for his work. After leaving school, Estrada created paintings based on personal dream sequences that combined disparate images and personal iconography culminating in a series of paintings of wolves followed by large-scale pastel drawings of birds and natural forms.

While continuing work in the studio, Stephen took a job at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, beginning a successful 25-year museum career. His positions included exhibition designer at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, Design Chief at the National Air and Space Museum, and Curator and Director of the new Diplomacy Center and Museum at the US Department of State.

Estrada’s current body of work grew out of a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway in 2010. Back in his studio, Stephen discovered one of his only early surviving paintngs: a surfer skidding down a wave, a memory of his years in California. The canvas moved him to return to the sea as an inspiration for his paintings. His ongoing Latitude 37 Series is an exploration of exact points along the 37th parallel from Half Moon Bay, California, to coastal Virginia. Paintings in the series range from turbulent seascapes with dramatic clouds to tranquil views of verdant marshland.  

Estrada’s paintings have been influenced by the 19th century American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. For Estrada, “The expressionist qualities of his work, his holding of the liminal state, still speak volumes to me…. I’ve tried to create work that invites viewers into a different reality, perhaps a memory, an emotional or even a physical response.”                                              

Stephen Estrada is based in Silver Spring, MD. He has shown in museums and galleries throughout the US.


Selected Exhibitions


AnnMarie Art Center, Ebb and Flow, Solomon's Island, MD. Group Exhibition

3 Square Art Gallery, New Horizons, Fort Collins, CO

Art Design Consultants, Cincinnati, OH


Museum of Art and Science. Macon GA.  Solo exhibition

Morris Art Museum, Augusta GA, 2018. Solo exhibition

Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts, Pensacola State College, Pensacola FL. Solo exhibition


Ormond Art Museum, Ormond Beach, FL. Solo exhibition

Riviera Invitational, Coconut Grove, FL. Group exhibition


Durham Art Guild, Durham, NC. Longitude and Latitude: Explorations of Land and Sea  

Adkins Arboretum, Easton MD.  Exploring the Chesapeake. Group exhibition


Arts in Embassies Program, US Department of State. A selection of paintings for the residence of the US Ambassador to the United Nations.  New York, NY

Alexandria Athenaeum, Alexandria, VA. Saturate. Group exhibition

Arts Club of Washington, Washington, DC. Recent Paintings. Solo exhibition

BlackRock Arts Center, Germantown, MD. Sea Paintings. Solo exhibition

Cornell Museum of Art, Delray Beach, FL. Group exhibition


DC Arts and Humanities Purchase Award

Dadian Gallery, Wesley Theological Seminary. Washington, DC.  20th Anniversary. Group exhibition.

Cafritz Art Center, Montgomery College . Takoma Park, MD. Solo exhibition

ArtSpace Gallery, Maynard, MA . Solo Exhibition


DC Arts and Humanities Purchase Award

Alexandria City Council Gallery, Alexandria, VA . Solo exhibition

Delaplaine Art Center, Frederick MD.  At Land’s End. Solo exhibition


Gallery 555dc, Washington. By the Sea. DC Solo exhibition


Art Spring, Silver Spring, MD, Group exhibition

2009   Dadian Gallery, Out of the Land, Wesley Theological Seminary. Washington, DC.
2003  Wholefarth Gallery, Washington, DC. Group exhibition  
2002   901 E Street Gallery, Washington, DC. Solo Installation
1990  Easton Arts Center, Easton Maryland. With Respect to Birds. Solo Exhibition
1989  D.C. Arts and Humanities Grant.
1987  Arlington Athenaeum, Arlington, Va. Paintings Large and Small. Group exhibition
1987  Jack Shainman Gallery, Washington, D.C. Group exhibition.
1987  Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, Va. Group exhibition.
1986  Washington Project for the Arts, D.C. Distant Landscapes. Solo exhibition 
1985  D.C. Arts and Humanities Grant.
1984  Gallery K, Washington, D.C. Group exhibition.


2018 Wesley Theological Seminary Washington, DC

1979-81 Corcoran School of Art and Design  

1999 The American University. MA 

2002-2006 George Washington University, Museum Studies Program

Museum professional:
2005-2012 Director, U.S. Diplomacy Center Museum, U.S. Department of State
2003-2005 Coordinator, U.S. Diplomacy Center Museum, U.S. Department of State
1997-2003 Chief of Design, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

1991-1997 Senior Exhibition Designer, National Archives