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Paint It Back

Shifra Stein painted her way out of misery.

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When Shifra Stein was hired as the first female entertainment reporter at The Kansas City Star in the 1970s, it was as much for her scrappy attitude as for her writing skills. Outspoken and frank, she once noted in a restaurant review that the food in one eatery "tastes as bad going down as it did coming back up." Stein later quit the paper and became a successful author and publisher (she wrote the popular Day Trips books about different cities) until one day in 1996 when her well-organized world unexpectedly collapsed.

Fighting depression that was "so severe it was disabling," Stein could no longer write. She was hospitalized and finally walked away from her business: "I couldn't do anything I had done before," she says.

However, with the support of her husband, photographer Bob Barrett, Stein picked up paintbrushes she hadn't touched in years. "I had wanted to be an artist in high school but knew that most people -- especially women -- couldn't make a living as artists. So I dabbled in painting over the years, but in my real work life, I never had time for painting."

As she slowly recovered from her illness, painting "unleashed an inner, raging need to create visually that had been repressed so long it came out with a vengeance," Stein says. "I discovered that when you're at your lowest point, the real truth about what you need to be doing races to the surface."

Today Stein does some travel writing, but her primary source of income has been her watercolors, oil paintings and delicate creations of Japanese masa paper. (She will teach a class in the technique at the Kansas City Art Institute in June.) Her recent works are on display at a dual exhibition -- with colored pencil drawings and collages by Lorrie Crystal Eigles -- at the Central Exchange. Her journey has also inspired her to teach classes and seminars in creativity, which, she says, is "just about removing the emotional blocks."

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