Storyteller gives audience a lesson
When Steve Stark talks, everyone listens – and watches – as he weaves a historical lesson while drawing them out in charcoal and in full costume.
Stark explained, “I call my presentations illustrated history. I’m dressed in historical costume and tell stories while drawing them out in charcoal on 20 foot rolls of paper mounted on the wall.”
He began doing chalk talks 30 years ago when he taught Sunday School as a way to bring Old Testament stories to life. Stark began using the same concept to tell stories about local, regional and state history.
“I find that some of the greatest joys in my life come from audiences who are interested in seeing history stories unfold before them,” he said. “My favorite audiences are students and senior citizens. They really appreciate history. I love it when folks I’m presenting to have a pleasant reaction to something that is new to them about their heritage. Like learning why something is named what it is, or a little new gem of information about a familiar subject.”
Over the years, Stark has presented information about the North Dakota history of the Red River Valley, Lewis & Clark, pioneer pilot Carl Ben Eielson, Abraham Lincoln’s legacy for the state, Teddy Roosevelt in Dakota Territory and the importance of agriculture..
“I’ve performed as Teddy Roosevelt for decades, but don’t do it much anymore,” Stark reflected. “I brought the Roosevelt presentation to 56 different cities in North Dakota, 18 other states and a couple of times to Washington D.C. I was even able to perform on the History Channel.”
His presentations are always unique. Last year, Stark spoke at the Cass County Farmers Union annual meeting in Casselton. He commented, “I enjoy taking a city celebration, organization or event and creating an illustrated history for it. The story of North Dakota’s agricultural history is something I wish everyone knew about. That’s why the Farmers Union story was interesting. This fall, I’m presenting at the International Sons of Norway convention in Fargo with the story of Norwegian/American Smith Stimmel who was a White House guard for Abraham Lincoln and later a civic leader in Fargo during Dakota Territory and after statehood. It is a fascinating story!”
Research is an important part of Stark’s illustrated history lessons. He said he utilizes the internet and accesses reliable information with good American and North Dakota history books.
In addition to his illustrated history talks, Stark also writes and performs for the Prairie Public Radio show, Dakota Air. This is a live, two-hour show featuring singing, comedy sketches and musicians. One of the features is called, “Know Dakota” that highlights interesting facts about the state. He also writes and illustrates a weekly history feature for the Fargo Forum’s Newspaper in Education program and creates editorial cartoons for the publication.
Whatever his activity, Stark never stops appreciating history and the opportunity to learn. He added, “A couple of months ago, I had the privilege to sit and talk with a 105 year old man who had some incredible stories to tell me about growing up in North Dakota. Experiences like that are a blessing as is talking to kids and getting them pumped up about learning.”
Stark concluded, “We’re all connected through history. And our collective national heritage is made up from our diverse individual family heritage,” Stark concluded, “I just like to draw it and I hope the picture never ends.”