About The Author.
Greetings! This is a special photo journalism article written by Victoria York of Silver City, NM.
To elaborate, Ms. York was assigned the project of creating a photo journalism article of John Stermer while attending Western New Mexico University (Silver City, NM) in the 1980s. Her instructor was Robert “Bob” McCullough, a noted photo journalist in his own right.
About the interview, Victoria said that she was, at first, a bit intimidated by the assignment. She did not know John Stermer personally. But, what she did know was that he was a respected artist in the community.
To make matters just that much more challenging, Victoria was not a photographer. She did, however, have a medium format camera given to her by her Dad. She took the opportunity to learn how to use this camera and how to develop the black and white film. As a reminder, this was the 1980s before digital cameras. So, one might imagine that there was much to be learned.
Taking on the challenge, then, Victoria did her homework and prepared herself for the interview. To her surprise, she found the interview process to be enjoyable. And, Victoria says, there was an exchange of ideas about the project. For example, it was John’s idea that Frej be included in some of the photos. Furthermore, there was a sense mutual respect, interest and support.
Victoria York and John Stermer would again cross paths over the years in the community. Victoria and her husband still reside near Silver City, NM.
It is a pleasure for us to share this gift that Victoria York gave to us, the John Stermer family.
Photo Journalism Essay
By Victoria York
Silver City, NM.
Silver City, New Mexico – an area rich in history, beauty and culture. Even a casual tourist can’t escape the obvious, that there is more here than just old buildings with a country flair. Strolling on Bullard Street, in downtown Silver City, we find a beautiful black wrought iron gate. It is a work of art in itself, but also leads us upward to the second story studio of John Stermer.
John is a familiar figure to most of us who live here. We see him walking daily through the big ditch park, to the post office, and many other places – always accompanied by his Australian Shepherd – Frej. John and Frej have been constant companions for almost seven years now, except when the weather gets too hot, in which case, Frej stays home. Frej, pronounced “frāy”, was named by a Swedish exchange student who stayed with the Stermers. “He is under voice control at all times” John states since they spent twelve weeks together in obedience training several years ago.
Silver City Arts Council.
One could easily get the impression that John’s day is one of ease – but this is not so. He spends six days a week in his studio from nine to five. Sundays he reserves for “family obligations and honey do’s”. John not only does his work on various paintings and sketches, but often is heard typing on announcements for the Silver City Arts Council*. This is a non-profit cultural and educational civic organization which is “John’s baby”. He has been president since it’s beginning in 1981. This group has been responsible for bringing many events to Silver City, such as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Milbre Burch Storyteller, and The Many Faces of Mozart, to name a few. John obviously enjoys being part of this group that promotes awareness and access to the arts by creating opportunities and programs for all the people in our area.
John Stermer’s Early Years.
I asked John how long he has been interested in art and he indicated as far back as he could remember! He showed me a wonderful ink wash that he did when he was thirteen years old – but said he remembers beginning with crayons at about four. His mother bought him any supplies he wanted and was very supportive, although not really artistic herself. So, while John did not actually grow up in an artistic environment, he responded deeply to the arts. When asked about how his father was effected by his art work, John states that “he never really understood.”
The years of the depression, which hit when John was nine, have obviously influenced John and his art. While looking around John’s studio, I am reminded of my first interview with him where he told me that “anyone who lived during those years (depression) has a hard time throwing things away”. It is true, his little world is filled with an organized clutter from years of working there.
John was always very eager to learn all he could, so during his years at Elmira High School in New York, he took every art course they offered.
During those tough years where money and jobs were scarce, he managed to earn a fair amount by being enterprising enough to begin a paper route and do sign painting.
Part Two: World War 2 and Beyond.
We will continue on with part 2 of this essay in the next posting to be published in a day or two. In the meantime, I hope that you have enjoyed what you have read so far. We look forward to sharing part two with you. Thank you!
*The Silver City Arts Council is now the Mimbres Region Arts Council.