About the Artist
Jim Steg is widely recognized as the most influential printmaker based in New Orleans in the twentieth century. Steg’s artistic career lasted more than a half-century, spanning a multitude of media and styles from the humanistic graphite portraits made during his time as a WWII soldier to the radically inventive collage intaglio prints he produced from the 1970s onward. In addition to his artistic work, Steg was a beloved teacher and mentor for hundreds of students during his 43-year tenure as the head of the graphics department at Newcomb College, many of whom championed his work as staunchly as he supported theirs. A restless innovator, Steg mastered nearly every known printmaking technique – including photoresist etchings, serigraphs, woodcuts, and ink toner drawings – and invented some of his own. Steg was a pioneer of the collagraph, or collage intaglio process, which he used to create ambitious compositions that were part figurative and part abstract, and was one of the first to explore the artistic potential of the photocopier.
Although Jim Steg’s local reputation was as a professor, he was recognized nationally and internationally as an artist. Along with many other New Orleans-based artists of the mid-twentieth century, Steg found that the city’s reception to modern art was tepid. Despite gaining national attention with several shows in New York, locally he struggled to gain the acclaim he so clearly deserved. Not to be deterred, Steg continued to push the boundaries of his art, embracing the avant-garde in the latter half of his career to produce prints that firmly establish him as one of the nation’s most innovative and exhilarating printmakers. Like many trailblazing artists of history, Steg’s work – consistently breaking boundaries and resisting categorization – was underappreciated during his lifetime. Thankfully, the undeniable power and innovative quality of his printmaking has come into wider regard since his death, spurred on by a series of posthumous exhibitions. In 2017, the New Orleans Museum of Art launched Jim Steg: New Work, a solo retrospective occupying 2,000 square feet of exhibition space and featuring over 70 works spanning the length of the artist’s career. The success of this mammoth exhibition has laid the groundwork for his art to continue to inspire, provoke, and invigorate new audiences for generations to come.
Born in 1922 in Alexandria, Virginia and raised on a farm near Rochester, New York, James L. Steg led a quiet, idyllic childhood between the two World Wars. He showed an interest in drawing from an early age. With dreams of becoming a cartoonist, he attended a summer workshop at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 as a high school student, where he created some of his oldest surviving work. Although his studies would soon be cut short by the outbreak of World War II, Steg was able to put his talents to good use as a member of a unit now known as the Ghost Army, where he and his fellow soldiers were responsible for deceiving the enemy using theatrical props such as inflatable tanks. When the war ended, Steg went to New York City with a portfolio of Humanistic drawings and paintings he had made during the war, which were the subject of his first solo show at the Weyhe Gallery in 1945. Emboldened by this experience, he enrolled as one of the first students in the MFA printmaking program at the University of Iowa, where he trained with the renowned printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. After receiving his degree, he taught at Columbia University before accepting a position teaching graphic arts and printmaking at Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1951, where he would remain until his retirement in 1992. Over the course of his lengthy career, Steg received several prestigious honors – such as a Carnegie Fellowship in 1959 – and saw his prints housed in museum collections such as The Smithsonian, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Library of Congress. Steg died in 2001, leaving his archive to his widow, Frances Swigart Steg, who has been diligently cataloging and maintaining his work through the present day.