Bywaters Special Collections Artist Profile: Cecilia Neuheisel Steinfeldt

Featured in the exhibition Texas Women Artists: Selections from Bywaters Special Collections, on the 2nd floor of Hamon Arts Library.

Cecilia Neuheisel Steinfeldt (1915 – 2013), referred to as the ‘First Lady of Texas Art’ for her work as both an artist and a Texas art historian, was born in Montello, Wisconsin and moved to San Antonio with her family in 1923.   Her aptitude for drawing and painting developed during childhood and she soon began art classes at the Witte Memorial Museum.  In 1932, she graduated from high school and then enrolled in art school in Mexico City where she studied with artist Carlos Mérida.  Upon returning to San Antonio, she joined the Witte museum staff in 1936 where she served as an art instructor.  She continued to work at the Witte Museum until her retirement at the age of 80.  Along with her husband Eric Steinfeld, she traveled throughout Texas and wrote numerous books about its history and artists including The Onderdonks: A Family of Texas Painters (1975), Art for History’s Sake (1993), and S. Seymour Thomas: A Texas Genius Rediscovered (2005).

Octavio Medellin (1907 – 1999) first became acquainted with Cecilia Steinfeldt while living in San Antonio, Texas in the late 1920s.  He painted her portrait when she was a young girl becoming interested in art at the Witte Museum, and at a time before he took up sculpture.  Later he taught sculpture at the La Villita Art Gallery in San Antonio.  Octavio Medellin was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1907 [or 1908] at a time when his country stood on the brink of a violent revolution.  His family, of Otomi Indian heritage, moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1920 where the young Medellin began his art studies at the San Antonio Art Institute with José Arpa and Xavier Gonzales; both Spanish artists who had relocated to San Antonio and established flourishing art careers.  In 1928 Medellin left San Antonio and moved to Chicago where he studied at the Chicago Art Institute.  A year later he returned to Mexico to begin a two-year study of his native country’s art, customs, and history – a period that proved to be a major influence in the young artist’s artistic evolution.   While in Mexico, he met and became friends with Carlos Mérida, a friendship that lasted until Mérida’s death in 1985.  In 1931 Medellin moved back to San Antonio and taught sculpture at the Witte Museum. A few years later, with several other local artists, he opened La Villita Art Gallery.

Sources: Deborah Martin, “’First Lady of Texas Art’ dies at 97,” San Antonio Express – News, May 22, 2013, (accessed December 7, 2017).

Octavio Medellin Art work and Papers, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.

Image: Octavio Medellin at Work by Cecilia Steinfeldt, Villita Art Gallery, Pencil on paper, 1938, original dimensions (paper):  16 7/8” (H) x 13 7/8” (W)

Blog: Courtesy of Octavio Medellin Art work and Papers, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University

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