It is with much regret that the Witte Museum announces the loss of esteemed Curator Emeritus, Cecilia Steinfeldt, who passed away Friday, May 17 in San Antonio, Texas. Hired in 1936 by founding director of the Witte Museum, Mrs. Ellen Quillin, Cecilia became an iconic and creative influence during her 60-year-long career at the Witte. As curator, she earned her place as the First Lady of Texas Art through her many exhibits and articles on Texas artwork and, most importantly, her five books on Texas art: S. Seymour Thomas, 1868-1956: A Texas Genius Rediscovered; Art for History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum; San Antonio Was: Seen Through a Magic Lantern, Views from the Slide Collection of Albert Steves, Sr.; The Onderdonks: A Family of Texas Painters; and Early Texas Furniture and Decorative Arts, among others.
“Cecilia was a brilliant scholar of the old school, a magnificent writer and an elegant and forceful voice for Texas history and art. She elevated the Witte Museum with her many publications and exhibitions,” said Marise McDermott, President & CEO of the Witte Museum. “When Cecilia was in the room, no matter how large, she commanded attention,” she added.
Born in 1915 in Montello, Wisconsin, Cecilia moved to San Antonio with her family in 1923 and since then has been a dedicated Texan. Her talent for drawing and painting was evident at an early age and was encouraged by her parents by enrolling her in art instruction classes at the Witte Memorial Museum in 1925.
In 1932, she graduated from high school during the depth of the Great Depression and took advantage of an offer of free tuition and art supplies from the Mexican government to study art in Mexico City under Carlos Mérida. Returning to San Antonio in 1936, she joined the Witte Museum staff as an art instructor. Inspired by mentor, friend and Curator of Art, Eleanor Onderdonk, Cecilia dedicated her career to the study and preservation of the history of art in Texas, becoming the expert of Texas art and furniture to the art community.
Over the next 60 years Cecilia changed the face of Texas art through award-winning exhibitions; research; authoring five books, some of which are required reading by university art departments and used by collectors; and amassing a textile collection for the Witte Museum along with the creation of a conservation lab.
“Cecilia Steinfeldt is a legend at the Witte Museum. She carefully built and documented its fabulous collections,” said Jack Judson, Witte Museum Collections Chair. “She brought acclaim for her studious study and publications about Texas art,” he added.
At the age of 80 she retired from the Witte Museum as Senior Curator and took the title of Curator Emeritus as she continued to research, write and curate exhibitions. Her last exhibit, The Art of the Steinfeldts, was held at the Witte Museum in 2006 and featured her own artwork along with paintings by her husband, Eric.
Through her research, documentation and collection acquirement Cecilia Steinfeldt has made the Witte Museum a vital resource and her legacy will forever live on.