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 Will-Amelia (Mike) Sterns  (1907 - 1995)

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Lived/Active: Texas/New Mexico      Known for: portrait and landscape painting

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Will-Amelia (Mike) Sterns
An example of work by Will-Amelia (Mike) Sterns
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from Stan Price, grandson of the artist:

Will-Amelia, named by and after her father and grandmother, was born February 18, 1907 in Denison, Texas.  Working with the railroad, Will Sterns moved the family to Oklahoma when she was age two.  At age 4, Will-Amelia’s older sister died of spinal meningitis.  This left her an only child.  Her parents, over protective, managed somehow to instill an air of independence for a female born in the early 1900’s. Her left-handed artistic talent arose early.  At age nine, she won first prize in a letter writing contest and by age 15, she was winning blue ribbons at the State Fair for oils, watercolors, pastels, and pencils.  In 1923, she sent a house plan to the University of Oklahoma and also won first prize.

Her parents, convinced by one of her teachers, agreed to send her to Chicago at age seventeen to study art.  Admissions thought her drawings only fair, but acceptable.  She attended the Chicago Art Institute and Fine Arts Academy on alternating days while living at the Three Arts Club.  Her parents deemed if she did not marry early, she could earn a living as an illustrator.  She excelled in anatomy, which led to an intense study of life drawing at the Cook County morgue.  She then dreamed of becoming a doctor, but that was not realistic for a female of the time.  Her intricate studies of facial bones and muscle lay fascinated her and would latter lead to a vibrant portrait career.

After moving back to Oklahoma from Chicago she studied under Frank von der Lancken at Tulsa and graduated in art.  She married a Cherokee Indian Roll descendent, Joe Price, Christmas Eve, 1927.  With small children she found time only to draw sketches and paint watercolors.  Ever supportive of her art, Will-Amelia’s mother, Georgia, took her to New York for a brief study with Dimitri Romanovsky.  In late spring of 1934, her father planned a family trip to Taos, a childhood favorite vacation spot.  While there, she coerced Walter Ufer, to tutor her that summer.  His encouragement was a catapult for her pursuit of the dream.  She sent work and won winning prizes to the Butler Institute and Tulsa Art shows the following year.

Working for Pure Oil, in 1939 Joe moved the family to Charleston WV where Will-Amelia would become active in the local art league and theater.  This is where she won her first prize for oil, Up Slaughters Creek.  The West Virginia influence would carry a character seen in her art for the next 10 years.  In early 1942 the war necessitated another transfer to Beaumont, Texas.  It was here, when her sons were older, she became very active with the women’s club, designing theater sets, founding the Beaumont Art League and Co-Founding the Beaumont Art Museum by 1950.   In addition to serving board roles at the Museum and Art League, she taught life drawing, volunteered at the local hospital and somehow managed to paint.  Her portraits of prominent citizens garnered state recognition.  She was commissioned to paint portraits of Texas Governor Alan Shivers and for Lamar College in 1951, Captain Anthony Lucas, discoverer of Spindletop, a salt dome oil field.

Will-Amelia’s parents living in Denison, Texas were aging. Trips from Beaumont to Denison and New Mexico enabled frequent visits with fellow artist friends and Beaumont Museum supporters in Dallas and Ft Worth. David Brownlow, one of her closer friends, DeForrest Judd and Otis Dozier,  influential on the Beaumont art scene, had a great impact on her shift from academic realistims to representational style by the mid 1950’s.

In 1967, Mike, as she was now nick named by a patron, convinced Joe to take early retirement and move to Taos. They purchased a 100+ year old adobe with a small orchard on the Little Rio Grande in Ranchos de Taos.  It had a modest detached studio, with breathtaking views, within walking distance of the St Francis Church.  This was her Shangri La.

Her study with Walter Ufer, love of the Native American people, fishing and magnificent sunlight was the inspiration she needed to produce a prolific volume of her best work.  At the request of Toni Tarelton, she continued her volunteer work at the Harwood Foundation, serving as Vice President and Chairman of the Friends of the Harwood raising money to save parts of it from destruction.  Upon becoming a member of the Taos Art Association it was noted in the Santa Fe New Mexican; “she is the founder type painter who is willing and able to build organizations and museums to mobilize community support for art”.

Her circle of friends and activists included Toni Tarelton, Robert Daughters, Emil Bistram, Doel Reed and Dirk Van Driest.  Outside exhibitions and competitions, she would show her landscapes, Native American subject and New Mexico inspired abstracts at the Stables Gallery and Gallery A in Taos.

In 1987 Mike and Joe moved back to Beaumont to be closer to family.  Mike insisted on having a small studio built in her garage where she would continue to paint until her arthritis and poor lungs prevented. Will-Amelia passed away at home on December 1st, 1995 at the age of 87.

Will-Amelia (Mike) Sterns Price had over 35 one-woman shows in her lifetime.  She was a member of:
National Association of Women Artists
Muskogee Art League - assisted its development
Tulsa Art Guild – Art Director
West Virginia Art Association – Vice President
Texas Watercolor Society
Beaumont Art League – Founder & First President
Beaumont Art Museum (AMSET) – Co-Founder, President, Vice President & Director
Taos Art Association
Harwood Foundation – Vice President, Chairman Friends of the Harwood

Her works can be found in the permanent collections of AMSET and Lamar University in Beaumont Texas.  Harwood Foundation at the University of New Mexico, The Firehouse Gallery in Taos, Taos Pueblo and several religious institutions and in numerous private collections.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Will-Amelia Sterns was a landscape and portrait painter, whose primary inspiration came from the land and people of New Mexico.  Her early studies were at the Chicago Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.  She studied portraiture with Dimitri Romanovski in New York and with Walter Ufer in Taos, New Mexico.

In Texas early in her career, she was a co-founder of the Beaumont Art League and co-founder of the Beaumont Art Museum.  She then moved to Taos, New Mexico.

She was a descendant of Christopher Henry Sterns, who migrated to Texas from Scotland in 1818 and established a cargo steamer service on the Brazos River and Galveston Bay.  She was also a descendant of William Francis Smith, who had a trading post at New Washington of the Brazos and fought at the battle of Goliad.

She served on the Women’s Art Board in New York, the Board of Texas Fine Arts, the Harwood Foundation Board at the University of New Mexico and was Vice President of the Taos Art Association.

Stan Price, Grandson of the Artist

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