Portrait of John Stermer, Photo by Victoria York

John Stermer – Portrait of the Artist by Victoria York, Part 2

John Stermer And Frej On Big Ditch Bridge; Photo by Victoria York



This is the second half of a two part photo journalism essay about John Stermer by Victoria York done in the mid 1980s.  The first part dealt with his early life just prior to the Second World War.  Part One also introduces Ms. York and her photo journalism project.  Therefore, we invite you to visit part 1 if you have not done so already.

This part follows John Stermer from his Navy Seabee days, to the Art Student’s League in New York, then on to France, Spain, and, eventually to Silver City NM.  

We hope that you enjoy Ms. York’s essay and photos.

Thank you.

Photo Journalism Essay, (Part 2)

By Victoria York, Silver City NM

Navy Seabee, World War II.

After enlisting in the Navy, John was put to work as a Combat Artist with the Seabees (see note below) in the South Pacific.  There he was kept busy doing drawings of war zone troop activities, landscapes, and native homes.  These were used in publications such as Stars & Stripes or other battalion newspapers.  

John Stermer In His Studio; photo by Victoria York

New York and Paris.

After serving the Navy from 1942 to 1945, John went on to the Art Students League of New York where he studied for four years and then on to Paris for one year at the Académie de la Chaumière Although under the GI Bill of Rights, John still had to do a lot of scraping together to make ends meet as he had met and then married Lucy the day he left for Paris.  Lucy accompanied him and kept herself busy by attending the Sorbonne and by having their first child.


From there, the Stermer’s moved to Barcelona, Spain, where John spent most of his time painting and Lucy having their four daughters.  At this time, the US Air Force had a program constructing air bases and, although out of the service by now, John worked there until 1959.

John And Frej Study Leopold Vista, photo by Victoria York


Silver City, New Mexico.

At this point in our interview, I was wondering how John and Lucy got to Silver City.  I asked and John told me that he was invited by Kennecott to come and do supply managing.  At this time and over most to the next seventeen years, John stopped painting due to his long hours on the job.  Explaining to me that “I was never a part time painter.  It is a compulsion with most people, but I never could allow myself to be like that”.  He couldn’t neglect his family, even though he did want to paint.  

Now, that era is behind John and he is usually working on at least three projects.  With a renewed interest, John has returned to work on a very large oil in shades of blue.  At the time of our first interview, he began working on it again and tells me that he has done something on it nearly every day since.  It is called “Leopold Vista” (see photo above) and, even though such a place doesn’t really exist, it is a combination of arroyos and mountains seen on the highway to Glenwood, NM.  John tells me that he will probably finish it within two to three years, but when quizzed as to how he knows when a painting is actually done, he answers “When somebody buys it!  As long as it’s mine, it is never really finished”.

John Stermer Seated In His Studio, photo by Victoria York

I can see in just the short time we have spent together that John Stermer is more than a talented, well trained artist.  He is not only sensitive and caring toward family and friends, but a man devoted to improving the surrounding environment.  Whether giving advice and counsel to another artist, or working on the Silver City Arts Council, John will always be there to encourage and motivate others in his life.  

~ Victoria York, Silver City NM (Mid 1980s)

Note:  John Stermer was assigned to the 101st Naval Construction Battalion (101st NCB), more commonly referred to as the 101st Seabees.

More About The Author.

Just a bit more about Victoria York.  In the first part of this photo journalism essay, I stated that John Stermer and Victoria York’s paths would cross again.  And, for example, Victoria talked about being in the same artist’s co-op, the Pentimento Gallery, with John and other Silver City artists.  She also arranged to have some John Stermer paintings in a local dentist office.  

Victoria went on to other projects such as working with the Humane Society and managing a swimming pool.  Also, a few years after his death, Ms. York was among those involved with “Black And White”,  an art show of John Stermer drawings, etchings and woodcuts in Silver City.  A percentage of the proceeds were donated to the Grant County Humane Society.

We are so pleased to be able to share with you Ms. York’s photo journalism essay and photographs.  Thank you!

Two Portraits of John Stermer, photos by Victoria York





5 thoughts on “John Stermer – Portrait of the Artist by Victoria York, Part 2”

  1. ‘NMCB’ – “Naval Mobile Construction Battalion”. The two-character identifier ‘CB’ isn’t used, it is spelled out as “Seabee” in that occurrence. Yes, I’m a Silver City former Seabee myself.

    1. Hi David, Thank you for your service and, if you like, which Seabee battalion and when did you serve? Thank you as well for you comment and clarification. I appreciate your comment because, honestly, I was confused. Initially, I intended to write “Seabee”, as that is how I have always referred to Dad’s unit. However, when I looked up the 101st Naval Construction Battalion in the Naval History archives, they wrote “CB” and referred to them as 101st Naval Construction Battalion (no mobile, at least at that time perhaps?), (see: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/museums/Seabee/UnitListPages/NCB/101%20NCB.pdf). Also, I looked up the history on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seabee) and they mixed and matched using both Seabee and CB. But, I gather from your comment, Seabees say “Seabees” and are justifiably proud of their service. So, I’ll update the blog posting. And, again,thank you!

      1. It seems in the several years after the Seabees were formed in World War II it was shown as “Naval Construction Battalion(s)” at times – when the units were certainly also identified as “Mobile”! My service in the Seabees – of course – is more recent and a time of a more standardized unit identifiers. I served in NMCB-17 (which has now been decommissioned).

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