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Guide to the Bettina Steinke & Don Blair Papers

Bettina Steinke poses at the easel, New Rochelle, New York, 1940. Photographer unknown Box 102/Folder 1Bettina Steinke & Don Blair Papers, 1889-2000
61.2 cubic feet (109 document boxes, 7 flat boxes, 2 oversized folders)
Location: 0421-0458; 0703; Flat file 2, Drawer 6
Collection #: 072
Accession #: 2001.016

Papers and photographs of artist Bettina Steinke and her husband, commercial photographer and gallery owner, Don Blair, which features nearly 38,000 prints, negatives, transparencies, and slides documenting their lives and careers. Steinke’s artwork and Blair’s photography are well documented, both through photographs and manuscript materials. Photographic images include both reference materials and completed artwork. Extensive business and personal correspondence spanning nearly 70 years document their relationships with artists, clients, family, and friends. Steinke’s 35-year relationship with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame is particularly well covered. Their wide-ranging travels are also well documented, primarily through photographs and correspondence. The coverage of early commercial trips to the Caribbean, Central America, and the Canadian Arctic is particularly strong. Business and personal financial records, chiefly covering the last 15 years of their lives, are also included.

Bettina Louise Steinke was born on June 25, 1913 in Biddeford, Maine to William “Jolly Bill” Steinke and the former Alice M. Staples. Although born in Maine, her maternal home, she spent the first six years of her life in Scranton, Pennsylvania where her father worked for The Scrantonian newspaper as a cartoonist and caricaturist. The family, which also included brother Bill, Jr. and sisters Caroline and Barbara, later moved to suburban New York City where “Jolly Bill” expanded his repertoire to include a popular children’s radio program, “Jolly Bill and Jane” which ran for 10 years on NBC Radio. Steinke credits her father with encouraging her interest in art and making sure she had the proper training to bring out her talent.

After high school, Steinke attended the Fawcett Art School in Newark, New Jersey and then Cooper Union in New York City. Her teachers at Cooper Union included Alphoeus Cole and Victor Perard. In 1933 and 1934 she won scholarships to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York City, which was operated by Lauros M. Phoenix. In all, Steinke spent nearly six years in her art education.

Through the influence of her father, she was able to land a job as his assistant in creating a mural for the 10th anniversary of NBC Radio in 1937. In 1938, Steinke’s art career was really launched by her assignment to do charcoal portraits of Arturo Toscanini, Ignace Paderewski, and the 105 members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The portraits were included in a souvenir book that had a 10,000 copy first printing. Although she used a small on-site studio for most of the portraits, she did Toscanini’s portrait from a small perch near the stage where she could observe the maestro as he conducted the orchestra. Both the Toscanini and Paderewski portraits are now 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. She worked for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), for whom she did portraits of Jerome Kern and W. C. Handy; Baldwin Piano Co.; Pratt & Whitney Co.; Aetna Life & Casualty; Texaco; Bayer Aspirin; United States Lines; and others. Examples of Steinke’s work for many of these clients can be found in the collection. During World War II, Steinke did work for the United States War Department, including portraits of Generals Henry “Hap” Arnold and Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz. This phase of her career is also documented in the collection, including a copy of the large poster that featured Steinke’s portrait of “Hap” Arnold. As a member of the Society of Illustrators, of which she was member until 1961, she and other top illustrators toured military hospitals under the auspices of the U.S.O. to do quick portraits of the wounded servicemen for their families at home. Many photographs and over 50 letters from thankful family members document her U.S.O. portrait activities.

After the war, Steinke moved into the next phase of her life and career. In 1943, Steinke had come to know Don Blair. In 1946, she was able to take the S.S. Esso Bolivar to Aruba where Blair was working for a unit of Standard Oil of New Jersey. In the course of her visit to Aruba, the Governor of Aruba married Steinke and Blair. This began a period of travel and adventure that would continue for almost a decade. They embarked on a period of companionate commissions where one of them would get a commission and the other would assist. During this period they worked for Standard Oil of New Jersey, United Fruit Co., Hudson’s Bay Co., and others. These trips are well documented in the collection by the photographs, sketches, and writings that were created during them. The Blairs also started an art gallery in Claremore, Oklahoma where, among other things, they tried to sell the work of successful commercial illustrators in their gallery. They were ahead of their time and this venture was not a success. There are indications in the collection that, despite the commissioned travel and the gallery, these were lean years for the Blairs. While in Oklahoma, Steinke met Native American artist Acee Blue Eagle, who helped her gain an understanding of Indian culture. She also painted of portrait of Blue Eagle. On a 1947 trip, the Blairs visited New Mexico, which would play such a pivotal role in the final phase of their lives.

In 1955, the Blairs moved to Taos, New Mexico and in the early 1960s opened a gallery in Taos. While in Taos, Steinke became a mentor to a group of young male artists who called her “Mother Blair.” This group included Ned Jacob, George Carlson, William Sharer, and others. The year 1970 found them moving to Santa Fe, where, as Don Hedgpeth wrote in his 1978 book on Steinke, “The Compound on Canyon Road became home, studio, gallery, and a development business for the Blairs.” Later, Steinke established a larger studio at 462 Acequia Madre in Santa Fe. During this last and most productive phase of her life, she would focus almost exclusively on private portrait commissions and fine art genre painting, primarily depicting the Native Americans of New Mexico. Steinke’s portrait subjects included many executives, bankers, lawyers, and other persons of means. Notable persons painted during this period include, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Joel McCrea, and Barbara Stanwyck. The collection has very strong manuscript and photographic documentation of her personal and professional activities in New Mexico, especially after the move to Santa Fe. Her friendship, support, and mentoring to a wide variety of younger artists are also well documented in the Correspondence series and other areas of the collection.

To get an idea of how Steinke and Blair worked as a team for her private portrait commissions, it is useful to quote at some length from the standard verbiage she sent to prospective portrait clients:

I prefer to gather all my preliminary material at one time. The procedure is not too complicated and is easy on the subject involved. I make one or two color sketches from life. This will involve about two hours of time, then another brief session with the subject to take several rolls of candid camera material [black & white film]. My husband, Don Blair, will take the photographs. The entire process can be handled in one day, one session in the morning and another in the afternoon, or all at once, depending on the wishes of the subject. All material should, really, be procured in surrounding typical of, or comfortable for, the subject. Therefore, my husband and I will travel to whatever location the subject desires. The preliminary work may also be done in my studio, if the subject prefers. However, this somewhat curtails the feeling of locale in background material. Back in the studio, I work up the finished portrait from my sketches and from a variety of the photographs, and from long years of portrait knowledge. No further sittings are required of the subject. It will take me about one month to six weeks to> finish the portrait.

Steinke’s first connection with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (NCHF) was in the mid-1960s when she attempted to sell already completed portraits of Will Rogers and Acee Blue Eagle to the NCHF. While she did eventually sell the Rogers portrait, which remains part of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s permanent collection, this led, more significantly, to several high-profile portrait commissions for the NCHF. These commissions included portraits of Joel McCrea, Frances Dee McCrea, Amanda Blake, and Barbara Stanwyck. In 1973, Steinke was a founding member of the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA), formed under the auspices of the NCHF. Steinke wrote a piece about the philosophy and objectives of the group that was circulated among the members. Steinke was a member of the NAWA executive committee and was also involved in selection of guest artists to show at the annual NAWA exhibition and sale. Steinke was awarded the Prix de West award in 1978 for her painting, Father and Daughter at the Crow Fair, and in 1995 the NCHF hosted a major retrospective of her career.

In 1996, Steinke was awarded the John Singer Sargent Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Society of Portrait Artists. Failing vision and other health problems plagued Steinke in the late 1990s and her artistic output dropped to almost nothing. On July 11, 1999, Bettina Steinke died, it was her wish that her ashes be scattered on the New Mexico landscape she had grown to love.


Donald Allam Blair was born on October 4, 1905 in Lamar, Arkansas to Frank Preston Blair and the former Evelena Allam. He grew up in Oklahoma and New Mexico. During his younger years he worked on a farm and with cattle. Blair attended the University of Oklahoma, graduating with an engineering degree. He enjoyed commercial art, photography, polo, private aviation, and sailing as avocations. He got his start in the oil business as a ditch digger with Marland Oil Co. of Ponca City, Oklahoma, which later became Conoco. Later, he worked as the chief draftsman for the production department of Barnsdall Oil Co. He also did commercial artwork and edited an in-house publication for the company. While still with Barnsdall, he wrote, produced, and was the master of ceremonies for his own radio program over the Tulsa, Oklahoma NBC Radio affiliate, KVOO. Blair resigned from Barnsdall in 1937.

In 1937, Blair was employed by the Lago Oil & Transport Co., Ltd. in Aruba, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. Blair worked as a piping draftsman and company photographer. He transferred to the Industrial Relations Department in 1943 as a special assignments supervisor. Also in 1943, he met Bettina Steinke who he corresponded with until in 1946 he asked her to visit him on Aruba. This visit resulted in their marriage on March 21, 1946, officiated by the governor of Aruba.

Blair left Lago Oil and Aruba shortly thereafter and began nearly a decade of joint assignments with his wife. With him as photographer and her as artist, they traveled to Central America, Colombia, the Canadian Arctic, and elsewhere. He also worked as a photojournalist on smaller assignments for magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Business Week, True, and Sports Illustrated.

In 1949, Blair opened an art gallery in Claremore, Oklahoma that sold the work of his wife and other artists. Later, he operated, at various times, a photography shop, framing store, and art galleries in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also dabbled in real estate property development in Santa Fe.

All through their marriage Blair was an integral part of Steinke’s artistic career. He was the person who shot virtually all the reference photographs Steinke used to create her paintings and drawings. He was also an important part of the documentation process Steinke used when working on a portrait project.

Blair’s interest in private aviation continued during most of his life. He flew private airplanes into his 90s. This interest is reflected in the collection by such materials as aerial photographs, aviation fuel and plane rental receipts, newsletters from the United Flying Octogenarians, and the contents of his flight attaché.

Don Blair died on September 18, 2000, only a little more than a year after his wife’s death. His final wishes also specified that his cremated remains be scattered on the New Mexico landscape.

Hedgpeth, Don. Bettina: Portraying Life in Art. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Press, 1978.

Scope & Content Note  

The Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers have been arranged in five series: Career, Correspondence, Financial, Personal, and Photographs. The Correspondence, Financial, and Photographs were self-evident series that existed when the collection arrived at the Research Center. All three series were partially organized and partially disordered. The other two series, Career and Personal, comprise the remainder of the collection and reflect that the subject matter of the remainder naturally fell into two series documenting the professional and personal lives of Steinke and Blair.

Notes to Researchers
As the title indicates, the collection reflects the life and career of both Bettina Steinke and Don Blair; however, as will be seen below, the bulk of the collection relates to Steinke. With this in mind, there is a presumption in the container list that Steinke is the subject. When material relates primarily to the activities of Don Blair, this is indicated in the container list by the use of Blair’s name as a subseries or folder title. Photographs associated with correspondence have been retained with the correspondence. The number of photographic images in a folder is indicated in square brackets after the title and date. Some collection materials were separated including 29 videotapes, 23 sound cassettes, three film reels, and two sound reels to the Research Center stacks and Bettina’s studio tags to museum artifact storage.

Series 1: Career (1924-2000)
This series includes material related to the professional lives of Bettina Steinke as an artist and Don Blair as a photographer and gallery owner. The series has been arranged into subseries entitled, Artwork, Don Blair, Exhibition and Sales, and Publicity and Promotion.

The Artwork subseries includes material relating primarily to the early career of Bettina Steinke as a commercial illustrator. The estate’s primary beneficiary, the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, obtained Steinke’s artwork and a number of her original sketchbooks, although a small number of original sketches and drawings are included in the collection. Magazine tearsheets, brochures, newspaper advertisements, posters, programs, and other materials extensively document Steinke’s commercial art career. Featured clients include the Baldwin Piano Co., Standard Oil of New Jersey, United Fruit Co., and, during World War II, the United States War Department. A collection highlight is the War Department poster entitled “Keep ‘Em Flying” that features Steinke’s portrait of General Henry “Hap” Arnold. As noted above, there are very few original drawings or sketches in the collection, but photocopied drawings and sketchbooks help document many of Steinke’s most significant and interesting projects. Photocopied drawings and sketchbooks document her NBC Symphony Orchestra portraits, U.S.O. military personnel sketches, drawings of Aruba and its people, and sketches drawn while on assignment for United Fruit Co. in Central America and Hudson’s Bay Co. in the Canadian Arctic.

The primary focus of the Don Blair subseries is Blair’s commercial photography career. Featured are printed examples of work done for Hudson’s Bay Co.; Business Week, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Saturday Evening Post magazines; and Standard Oil of New Jersey. Also included are some Blair drawings and etchings and material related to the galleries that he operated in Claremore, Oklahoma, and Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Exhibitions and Sales subseries primarily focuses on exhibitions in which Steinke participated during the last three decades of her life, but also includes artwork lists and promotional material from her earliest shows in New Rochelle, New York and Aruba. The most extensively documented exhibitions are the National Academy of Western Art and Prix de West Invitational shows held at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (NCHF). Steinke showed at the NCHF for 20 years and many catalogs for these shows are in the collection. Promotional materials related to the 1995 Steinke retrospective show at the NCHF are also included.

A highlight of the Publicity and Promotion subseries are hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings related to Bettina Steinke and Don Blair, which taken together provide an excellent overview of their activities through the years. Also included are examples of advertising and brochures used to promote Steinke’s artwork and limited edition prints, unpublished article manuscripts about Steinke that were sent to her, several versions of biographical sketches to be distributed as promotional material, information about various workshops and demonstrations Steinke conducted, and extensive documentation of the 1978 Don Hedgpeth book about Steinke. Included are copious notes written by Steinke to aid Hedgpeth in writing the text, the book in manuscript and galley forms, and book reviews. Several 12 and 16-inch recording discs advertising the Blair’s Claremore, Oklahoma gallery and radio travelogues of their 1947 trip to Colombia are part of the collection, but the Research Center does not currently have the necessary equipment to play these discs.

Series 2: Correspondence (1932-2000)
This series is arranged into three subseries, Artists, Business, and Personal. Correspondence was originally arranged into artists, personal, and work (business) sections using a combination of alphabetical and chronological arrangement. To improve researcher access alphabetical arrangement was used for all three subseries. Correspondence is the second largest series in the collection.

Artists subseries includes Steinke’s correspondence with artists both famous and obscure across her entire career. Artists with extensive correspondence include Ozni C. Brown, Charles Kinghan, Ned Jacob, Charles Hawes, and Everett Raymond Kinstler. Other correspondents include commercial illustrators displaying their work at the Blair’s Claremore, Oklahoma gallery between 1949 and 1950 such as John Clymer, George Garland, Hardie Gramatky, Frederic Gruger, Leland Gustavson, Amos Sewell, and others. Contemporary western artists whom Steinke knew from living in New Mexico and through showing at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and other venues are also represented in the correspondence including, James Boren, Duane Bryers, George Carlson, Edward Fraughton, Glenna Goodacre, Clark Hulings, Wilson Hurley, Tom Lovell, Ken Riley, Morris Rippel, and Wayne Wolfe. Such well known artists and illustrators as Oscar Berninghaus, Dean Cornwell, Doel Reed, and Harold Von Schmidt are present in the artist correspondence but are represented by only one or two letters each. Subjects covered include discussions of shows and commissions, invitations to events, complements on Steinke’s work, artistic technique, and discussions of the artist’s own work. The newsy letters of Ozni Brown, Charles Hawes, and Charles Kinghan are laced with humorous anecdotes. Younger artists complement Steinke on her generosity towards them with her help and suggestions. A subject that crops up frequently in correspondence with contemporary western artists is the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA) exhibition and the judging and criteria associated with it.

The Business subseries includes correspondence with agents, advertising agencies, magazines, and businesses during the period when Steinke was working as a commercial illustrator, including correspondence with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co., Baldwin Piano Co., Carter Oil Co., artists’ agent Dorothy Dorning, Hudson’s Bay Co., Kansas Power & Light Co., William B. Remington Advertising, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Time, Inc., United Fruit Co., and the United States War Department. Also included is correspondence with a wide variety of galleries, museums, and art shows concerning exhibitions and sales such as the Albuquerque Museum, the Art in the Embassies Program, the Frye Art Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, Grand Central Art Galleries, the Museum of New Mexico, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, O’Brien’s Art Emporium, the Philbrook Art Center, and the Western Heritage Sale in Houston.

Correspondence with portrait clients and potential clients is another major section of the Business subseries. The portrait clients are primarily individuals but do include institutions such as General Motors Corp., Harvard University, National Broadcasting Co., Pratt & Whitney Co., and the United States Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy correspondence provides a cautionary tale on how not to deal with an artist you wish to hire to paint a portrait. Some of the individual portrait client correspondence also indicates the difficulties that can occur. Magazine and book publishers comprise another group of business correspondents that desired to do articles on Steinke once she became well known. Other business correspondence includes that with art groups such as the New Mexico Watercolor Society, Cowboy Artists of America, and the Society of Illustrators; arranging art demonstrations and workshops; and ordering artist’s supplies. Some outgoing business correspondence written by Steinke and Blair is also included.

Personal correspondence includes the letters received by Steinke and Blair from their relatives and many friends, some of whom were originally clients and customers. This section of the correspondence really shows Steinke’s ability to make people who were often just acquaintances feel special through her conversational and often humorous letters. Personal letters include those from would-be artists requesting advice, workshops, and studio tours; letters to friends and acquaintances about past and proposed visits to the Blair home; letters reminiscing about family and old friends; and “fan” letters. Notable is a group of almost 50 letters of appreciation from the families of soldiers around the world whose portraits were sketched by Steinke through the auspices of the U.S.O. during World War II. Steinke’s handwritten thoughts about doing these portraits are also part of the collection. In 1947, a Blair family friend Kelly Rae Hearn, who was apparently a Taos school teacher, mailed a group of ninth-grade English class essays. It is unclear why Hearn sent them to the Blairs, but the short essays are an interesting time capsule of the thoughts and concerns of young people in New Mexico just after World War II. Steinke’s penchant for writing to her senators and congressmen about various issues of the day is also well documented in the Personal subseries. A group of holiday and occasion cards, both sent and received, is also included in the personal correspondence.

Although they comprise a relatively small percentage of the total personal correspondence, the letters written to and from family members are perhaps the richest part of the correspondence. Because much of the family correspondence refers to other family members by nickname, it may be useful to note some of the most commonly used family nicknames. Alice M. Steinke (Mother) is “Marm,” William “Jolly Bill” Steinke (Father) is “Pappy,” Bettina is “Wowly” or “Betty,” William Steinke, Jr. (Brother) is “Bill,” Caroline Steinke Norton (Sister) is “Sarl” or “Runt,” Bill Norton (Brother-in-law) is “Bill N.,” Caroline Norton (Niece) is “Tige,” and Tamaris Norton (Niece) is “Tami.”

A highlight are letters written by Bettina Steinke between 1930 and 1987, mostly to her mother, but also to her father "Jolly Bill." The bulk of Steinke’s personal letters date between 1930 and 1953, with only a few scattered carbons of outgoing personal letters after that point. Steinke’s early letters are mostly about family and career, including specific commercial illustration jobs such as portraits of Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur during World War II, and her acquaintance with major illustrators such as Harold Von Schmidt and Courtney Allen. Additionally, between Steinke’s letters and those of Don Blair, also in personal correspondence, the bloom of their romance and eventual marriage can be traced. . The Blairs' trip to the Canadian Arctic in 1953 generated another group of letters filled with her impressions of the Arctic and the Eskimos who would become a staple in her genre paintings for many years to come.

Although there are indications in the collection that Bettina’s sister Caroline was a regular correspondent, very little survives. What does exist are mostly notes and cards rather than full letters. There is a small amount of correspondence from Bettina’s brother Bill and his wife Patty. Bettina’s sister Barbara Rowse was, for the last three decades of Steinke’s life, the most faithful correspondent among her siblings. Within the correspondence are typical letters about family dynamics and daily life in the twentieth century. Correspondence from Steinke’s nieces and nephews, primarily Edward S. Rowse, Caroline Norton, and Tamaris Norton, are also included.

Series 3: Financial (1938-1999)
This series is divided into two subseries, Business and Personal. Depending on the year, the original arrangement of the financial records was either chronological or chronological with subjects under each year with some distinction between business and personal records. The ledgers had no particular arrangement. The decision was made to retain the chronological arrangement in two subseries, Business and Personal. The subjects under each year were retained in a somewhat simplified form.

Prior to 1984 the financial records are sketchy and incomplete. Between 1938 and 1969 virtually all that exists are the ledger books with only a few scattered supporting records. Between 1970 and 1983 there are some records related to income, investments, taxes, and expenses, but the records are clearly not complete. Between 1984 and 1999, with a few exceptions (notably the year 1988), the financial records on both the personal and business side are essentially complete and the researcher should be able to reconstruct the artwork, gallery, and other income, as well as expenses, during this period. Business expenses covered in the records include art supplies, framing, insurance, photography, shipping, and studio expenses. On the personal side, notable items include household expenses, investments, medical, taxes, transportation (including Blair’s private aviation activities), and travel expenses. The ledgers, while not complete, provide a good overview of their income and expenses over time, especially when supplemented by the financial records. Interesting notations in the early ledgers include payments for portraits of Ignace Paderewski and Arturo Toscanini paid for by the National Broadcasting Co. Notable specialty ledgers include a portrait client ledger covering 1959 to 1983 and Blair Galleries and Blair Custom Framing ledgers from the mid-1970s.

Series 4: Personal (1890-2000)
This series features address books, biographical material, daily calendars, journals, and extensive material related to their travels. Some of the address books cannot be dated with certainty, but these books with the names and addresses of artists, friends, relatives, and business associates apparently date from the late 1930s into the 1990s. Typed and handwritten general and Christmas card address lists are also included. The biographical material is a miscellany related to different aspects of Steinke’s life. Included are art and studio inventories, awards received, the contents of the bulletin board from her office at the time of her death, her Aruban marriage license, her flight record from private pilot training in 1946, and her wallet and its contents. There is also documentation of the life and activities of Don Blair such as material related to his time in Aruba; private aviation, including the contents of his flight attaché at the time of his death; a variety of Blair business cards as well as those he collected from others; material related to his family and genealogy; nautical navigation certificates issued by the Netherlands West Indies and Venezuela; his resume and obituary.

Desk and pocket calendars are also included, primarily from the 1970s and 1980s. Although the calendars tend to be rather used, what has been written down often provides good information about her activities. Steinke kept journals throughout her life, but apparently did not write in them regularly. As with the desk calendars, what is written in the journals is interesting, especially those written while traveling, such as her 1947 journal about Colombia, but many of the journals are sparsely filled. Some journals are photocopies. Steinke and Blair also wrote some articles, which are included in the collection. Printed versions of some of these are also available. Other writings in the Personal series include some of Steinke’s notes on painting and art and the scripts for the Colombia travelogue radio programs.

Travel was a major interest of the Blairs all during their lives and some of the brochures and souvenirs collected during their travels are included in the Personal series, including examples of foreign money. More documentation of their travels can be found in the Financial series (above) and the Photographs series (below).

Series 5: Photographs (1889-1999)
This is the largest series in the collection with more than 37,000 prints, negatives, transparencies, and slides. The series is divided into five subseries, Artwork, Don Blair, Personal, Publicity, and Travel. Although the Photographs series was readily identifiable in the collection when it arrived, arrangement within the Photographs series was variable. In general, the photographs relating the Blair’s professional lives (Artwork, Don Blair, and Publicity) were fairly well organized, but the Personal and Travel photographs were still largely in photo envelopes and not well organized. The arrangement presented here seems to best reflect the function and content of the images in the Photographs series. Steinke’s husband Don Blair shot most of the photographs in the collection.

The Artwork subseries includes photographs of finished artwork and many reference photographs Steinke used while painting. Some of these photographs are paint stained from use. Many photographs of finished artwork include Steinke’s genre work, primarily paintings of Native Americans and Eskimos, are arranged in topical folders, which largely reflects her original organization. While there is duplication in this material, the photographs allow the researcher to get a very good sense of the nature and breadth of Steinke’s artwork. Also included are photographs of some of her early commercial illustration work and artwork selected or prepared for particular shows such as the New Mexico Governor’s gallery show and her retrospective show at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Portraits were Steinke’s real strength and her portrait work is well represented in the Artwork subseries. While most of the people depicted are not well known, there are portrait examples of such diverse and celebrated persons as Amanda Blake, James Cagney, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Joel McCrea, Will Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, and Arturo Toscanini. Also included are photographs of some of Steinke’s initial pastel sketches, which provide insight into her portrait technique.

The largest number of photographs under the Artwork subseries are those Steinke used for reference purposes. The majority of these photographs are in topical folders as originally designated by Steinke. In some cases photographs could be considered either reference or personal photographs (for example photographs of Hawaii and the Phillips Ranch), but in these circumstances the original arrangement guided where the photographs were placed. In some cases it was unclear whether a photograph was reference or personal and in these cases decisions were made during processing as to whether the photographs seemed to be primarily personal or primarily painting reference. In her major genre areas, such as Native Americans and Eskimos, Steinke mounted black & white 8 x 10 photographs on cardboard and worked from these photographs. These are the photographs that most often exhibit the paint stains noted above. In many cases, specific photographs can be matched with specific paintings. For example, the photograph that served as the basis for her award-winning painting Father and Daughter at the Crow Fair is in the collection.

Although Don Blair is clearly the photographer of most of what is in the collection, there are some photographs, based on original order or content, that are identified with Blair in his own right rather than as an adjunct to Steinke’s painting career or as a “snapshot” photographer of their travels, friends, and life together. These photographs are arranged into four subseries, Commercial Assignments, Personal, Portraits, and Slide Shows. The distinction between commercial and personal photographs was sometimes hazy. Some photographs, such as the more than 130 rolls he took on his assignment in the Canadian Arctic for Hudson’s Bay Co., are clearly commercial, but others might be either personal or commercial. In some cases, he apparently took photographs “on spec” hoping that a commercial sale would ensue, even though he had no specific assignment. Highlights of the Blair commercial and personal photographs are the Canadian Arctic photographs, which are breathtaking in their breadth and depth, especially in their documentation of Canadian Eskimos in the early 1950s. Other photographs such as images taken for Sports Illustrated and Standard Oil of New Jersey’s in-house magazine The Lamp are perhaps less objectively interesting, but show how a commercial photographer approaches an assignment to document a particular event or locale. The photographs taken on the Blair’s 1948 trip through Central America for United Fruit Co. is another collection highlight. Among the most notable of the photographs that could be either commercial or personal, but which are found in the Personal subseries, are photographs of two early 1950s powwows in Tulsa, Oklahoma and a series of photographs that document the 1956 funeral of Frieda Lawrence, the widow of author D. H. Lawrence.

Blair was also a portrait photographer, which greatly aided Steinke in her portrait painting work, but he also took photographic portraits apart from her painting. Notable is a portrait portfolio that includes images of prominent Tulsa businessmen and two images of Dwight D. Eisenhower. More than 80 photographs of Press Box restaurant personnel are also of interest. The final subseries of Blair’s photographs features slide shows on various topics that were originally kept in slide carousels. Included are slides for a presentation on the studios of contemporary western artists that Blair prepared for a 1986 National Academy of Western Art seminar. Artists in the presentation include William Acheff, Glenna Goodacre, Wilson Hurley, Tom Lovell, and Bettina Steinke. Most of the other slide shows are about travel and includes trips to the Canadian Arctic, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States. The color slides of the Canadian Arctic and Eskimos, taken at the same time as the black & white photographs shot for the Hudson’s Bay Co., are particularly fine.

The Personal photographs subseries was essentially created during processing. The majority of these images were still in their photo finishing envelopes; the envelopes usually had some descriptive notation. Some photographs were loose. Since all of the photographs in the subseries documented some aspect of the Blair’s personal life, it seemed logical to bring these disparate pieces together in a Personal photographs subseries. The Artists subseries includes photographs of artists and events hosted by or primarily attended by artists. Notable artists pictures include Acee Blue Eagle, Ozni Brown, Leon Gaspard, Glenna Goodacre, Peter Hurd, Ned Jacob, Doel Reed, Norman Rockwell, and Richard Schmid. The next subseries includes photographs of Bettina and Don and their life together. Included are photographs of Bettina and Don, including their early life, parties and holidays, and their homes and studios.

Family photographs primarily include photographs of the extended Blair and Steinke families, including some photographs of family forbearers. Photographs of friends are another large component of the Personal subseries. Most of the photographs were taken at parties, picnics, and other events, both at the Blair’s home and elsewhere. Notable persons pictured in the photographs include circus clown Felix Adler, Texas governors Bill Clements and John Connally, John Ehrlichman, oilman T. Boone Pickens, and Ginger Rogers.

Photo Albums is the final subseries of the Personal photographs. Steinke and Blair each had a photo album; both albums dated from 1947 or before. A third album documenting their travels to Aruba, Colombia, and Central America between 1946 and 1948 can be found in the Travel subseries. The albums were in very poor condition with many photographs loose from their pages and one had a loose group of photographs that had been completely disassociated from their original location. The pages of the albums were also acidic. The photographs were taken out of the albums and transferred to photo sleeves in the order in which they originally appeared, to the extent that order could be determined. The photo sleeves were then numbered to retain their original order. The few notations in the albums were transferred to the photo sleeves containing the photographs from the page where the notation appeared. Photographs that were completely loose and disordered were placed in separate photo sleeves. Blair’s photo album primarily documents his life before Bettina and includes photographs of his life and activities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Aruba. The focus of Steinke’s photo album is on her and her family, but also includes photographs of Steinke and Blair’s early life together and Bettina’s first visit to Aruba in 1946. Most collection photographs of the Steinke family are found in this album.

Publicity photographs in the collection include many photographs of Steinke at work and in her studio dating from the late 1930s to near the end of her life. Included are images of her painting various portrait subjects from life and the many people who visited and toured her studio while she worked. Also included is a group of publicity photographs of Don Blair personally and the Blair Galleries, including gallery shots during shows and exhibitions. A large number of photographs show Steinke and Blair at various exhibitions, shows, and other events through the years including many events at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. A number of candid and formal portraits of Steinke through the years round out the publicity photographs. Some of the early Steinke portraits, especially those taken during the 1940s, are quite striking.

The Blairs were enthusiastic travelers throughout most of their lives and the Travel subseries bears this out. Blair’s portrait photographer’s eye is evident in many of these photographs, in that they feature more close-ups of people and fewer landscapes and buildings than is typically seen in travel photographs. The Aruba/Colombia/Central America photo album is a highlight and includes many striking photographs taken by Don Blair, as well as commercially produced photographs and photo postcards. Other notable locales in the travel photographs include Great Britain, Iceland and Greenland, the western United States, and other European locations. Ireland was a favorite travel destination and the collection includes almost 1000 photographs of Ireland and her people taken over a period of 10 years. A group of passport photographs of Steinke and Blair dating over a period of 30 years is also included in the subseries.

Subject Terms  

Personal Names:
Arnold, Henry Harley, 1886-1950—Portraits
Blair, Don
Blake, Amanda—Portraits
Brown, Ozni C.
Dorning, Dorothy
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969—Portraits
Hawes, Charles M.
Hedgpeth, Don
Jacob, Ned
Kinghan, Charles R.
Kinstler, Everett Raymond
McCrea, Joel, 1905-—Portraits
Norton, Caroline
Rowse, Barbara
Stanwyck, Barbara, 1907-
Steinke, Alice M.
Steinke, Bettina, 1913-
Steinke, William
Toscanini, Arturo, 1867-1957—Portraits

Corporate Names:
Baldwin Piano & Organ Co.
Blair Galleries
Esso Bolivar (Ship)
Hudson's Bay Company
Lago Oil and Transport Company, Ltd.
Museum of New Mexico
National Academy of Western Art
National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center
NBC Radio Network
NBC Symphony Orchestra
William B. Remington Advertising
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey
United Fruit Company
United Service Organizations (U.S.)
United States—War Dept.

Subject Headings:
Art—Study and teaching
Art museums
Artists—New Mexico
Aruba—Description and travel
Central America—Description and travel
Colombia—Description and travel
Commercial art
Commercial artists
Eskimos—Canada, Northern
Eskimos in art
Indians in art
Indians of North America
Indians of North America—New Mexico
Ireland—Description and travel
Mural painting and decoration—New York
Northwest Territories—Description and travel
Painters—New Mexico
Photographers—New Mexico
Portrait painters—New Mexico
Portrait painting—New Mexico
Portrait photographers—New Mexico
Portrait photographs
Travel photography
West (U.S.)—Description and travel

Processing Information  

Dickinson Research Center director Charles Rand and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Curator of Art Ed Muno, working with Steinke and Blair estate executor Ned Jacob, negotiated the transfer of the Steinke and Blair papers to the Dickinson Research Center from the estate’s primary beneficiary, the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. Legal and physical transfer of the papers occurred in March 2001.

Charles Rand worked on the papers on-and-off between 2001 and 2004. Rand created a detailed inventory of the papers, compiled biographical notes, and re-housed and re-boxed much of the collection. Between November 2004 and May 2005 Jonathan Nelson completed the processing of the collection, which included re-boxing and re-housing the remainder of the collection, final arrangement, and creation of the finding aid.

Ownership & Literary Rights  

The Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers is the property of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Literary right, including copyright, belongs to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, with the exception of copyrighted artwork images and published literary works, which are the property of the respective copyright holders. It is the responsibility of the researcher, and his/her publisher, to obtain publishing permission from individuals pictured, relevant copyright holders, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Restrictions on Access  

The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.

Preferred Citation  

Bettina Steinke and Don Blair Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Container List  

Dickinson Research Center
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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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