Bettina Steinke 1913-1999

Armand Cabrera

Bettina Louise Steinke was born on June 25, 1913 in Biddeford, Maine to William “Jolly Bill” Steinke and Alice M. Staples. The Steinke family later moved to suburban New York City where her father hosted a popular children’s radio program, “Jolly Bill and Jane” on NBC Radio.

After high school, Steinke attended the Fawcett Art School in Newark, New Jersey and then Cooper Union in New York City. In 1933 and 1934 she won scholarships to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York City, which was operated by Lauros M. Phoenix.

Through the influence of her father, Steinke was able to land a job assisting him in creating a mural for the 10th anniversary of NBC Radio in 1937. In 1938, Steinke was commissioned to do charcoal portraits of conductors Arturo Toscanini, Ignace Paderewski and the 100 members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The portraits were included in a souvenir book with a 10,000 copy first printing. Both the Toscanini and Paderewski portraits are part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D. C.

For the next ten years, Steinke worked as a portraitist and commercial illustrator. At the outbreak of World War II, Steinke, like many illustrators and artists, worked for the government. Employed by the United States War Department, Steinke created portraits of Generals Henry “Hap” Arnold, Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, to name a few.

In 1946, she married Don Blair, a professional photographer. Together they collaborated on her portraiture. She would sketch the client and Don would take reference photos at the sittings. Steinke’s finished portraits usually took her about a month to complete.

The couple moved to Oklahoma, then Taos, New Mexico and finally settled in Santa Fe.
Out west she became interested in painting Native Americans and produced some of her finest work as an artist of modern indigenous people.

In the 60’s, Steinke sold a portrait of Will Rogers to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s permanent collection. This led to portrait commissions for the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. These portraits included Amanda Blake, Joel McCrea, and Barbara Stanwyck. In 1973, Steinke helped to found the National Academy of Western Art. The Academy awarded Steinke the Prix de West award in 1978 for her painting, Father and Daughter at the Crow Fair. In 1980, she won an Award of Merit, in 1984 a Gold Medal, and three Silver Medals in subsequent years.

In 1995, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame hosted a major retrospective of Steinke’s career and she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1996, Steinke was awarded the John Singer Sargent Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Society of Portrait Artists.

Bettina Steinke died July 11th 1999.


Bettina Portraying Life in ArtDonald Hedgpeth
Northland Press 1978

Bettina Steinke A retrospectiveM.J. Van Deventer
NCHF 1995

QuotesThe use and abuse of the photograph has opened up a field for the untalented who have never worked from life, and can’t draw a chair, to say nothing of a figure. If it stayed in its own field as craft it wouldn’t be too bad but unfortunately it is labeled as fine art and sold in hundreds of galleries as such.

If a woman has to think, “I’m a Woman Artist”, then she has no business being an artist.

I firmly believe, as an artist, that a mans work will speak for itself. If an artist can’t make a living in his profession, let him look unto himself and try not to live like a parasite on the hide of the public.

10 thoughts on “Bettina Steinke 1913-1999

  1. Thank you for all the time you spend helping to educate. I enjoyed learning about this artist and especially liked her comments at the end. I am an admirer of your work and blog. Honor

  2. Armand, It’s a huge pleasure to discover an artist whose work really speaks to me. That usually happens through the efforts of bloggers like you who research and find those hidden gems. Steinke’s work is incredible. The Toscanini portrait in particular is a stand-out.

    Thank you for continued outstanding content.

  3. I accumulated two pictures, and I would like to know what you think they are worth? It has a signature of Benita Steinbeck’s. I can send you the pictures.

  4. I am immensely proud of my Aunt Bettina. She inspired me throughout my life from birth onward. My mother and she were very close and Aunt Bet was the subject of discussion many times. I treasured her!! Ed Rowse, Wilmington, Delaware

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