Organizations* : AOA, NAWA, SI
Known as a representational painter of portraits and figures, primarily Southwestern, Bettina Steinke was born in Biddeford, Maine. Brought up in New York City where her father was a cartoonist and show business personality, she began winning portrait prizes in high school. She continued her studies at the Fawcett Art Institute in Newark, New Jersey, and at Cooper Union and the Phoenix Art Institute in New York City.
For the next ten years, Steinke painted portraits and illustrations in New York City. Her first big job was a series of 108 heads for the NBC Symphony Orchestra when she was 23. “In portraiture,” she explains, “the subject is important. I compose on the full canvas, starting with the head and then adjusting all related parts. I believe the head is sacred. Everything must work to glorify it.” Indeed, Steinke once described a portrait as “the whole beautiful head, the way it turns, the way it sits on the neck, the great big shapes of the planes of the cheeks and the way they roll into the nose. The nose contains no lines. It’s a lump of flesh. It’s formed. There are no lines in a head. They’re all big shapes.”
She made her first visit to the west in 1947 and moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1955. Steinke was a charter member of the National Academy of Western Art in 1973, won the Prix de West in 1978, exhibited in the Peking, China show, is listed in Who’s Who in American Art, and has been featured in magazines such as Artists of the Rockies and Southwest Art. She believed that her “generation was the least to receive a purely classical education in art, including anatomy, drawing, perspective, still life, history of art, murals, and experimental work in mediums.”
Steinke was not only a gifted artist, but a teacher and confidante to many others of the 1960’s Taos group, a gaggle of very young, enthusiastic and wild painters and sculptors, including Ned Jacob, Bill Sharer, Buffalo Kaplinski, George Carlson, Jon Zahourek, and others. She taught the young artists to deepen their abilities to see color, form, texture, highlights and essence.
Steinke married photographer Don Blair, and they often worked together with her as the artist-illustrator, and he as the documentary photographer. They traveled to Central and South America, the Arctic and Alaska, where Steinke did portraits of the natives.