Chapel Hill, NC (Oct. 14). Today the Steinway Gallery closed its doors for good. Bill Steinway (a son of the Steinway & Sons family of piano makers) is on to new challenges. The gallery was the closest thing to a nexus for Aboriginal art in our distant part of the country, as Bill has stretched and matted and framed and conserved Aboriginal art for us for years now. His like will not be seen again.
Bill was unacquainted with Aboriginal art when I first showed up on his doorstep with a couple of canvases, purchased over the internet, that needed stretching and framing. Bill was a student at the famed Art Students League in New York City in the late 60s, and he and I shared a common interest in the works of the pop, color field, and minimalist artists of those years. And so it didn’t take him long to grow to appreciate the works of contemporary indigenous Australian artists. He was particularly fond of the works from Balgo that I brought in for their use of color and for the painterly style of brushwork. And he often, as many do, saw parallels in the visual language of late twentieth century American art and Aboriginal art. “Al Held with an Aboriginal attitude” was his assessment of a recent work by Brook Andrew–not a bad judgment.
From time to time other residents of Chapel Hill would show up at Bill’s gallery after a vacation trip to the land down under. Invariably they’d arrive with a painting from Utopia or Papunya Tula, convinced that they were bringing him some amazing new discovery from the ends of the earth. “You’ve never seen anything like this before!” a customer enthused as he unrolled a painting by Gloria Petyarre. Deadpan, and cool as could be, Bill would say, “Oh, Aboriginal art,” leaving the poor customer bewildered and a little disappointed that this art-critical coup had been swept out from under him. So Bill would explain his long association with us and our art collection. And those customers have sometimes become friends of ours. Many other customers got their first look at Aboriginal art when I would bring in a canvas, and the art almost always seemed to turn heads.
I’ve spent countless hours of Saturday afternoons in the gallery, talking art, politics, Bob Dylan, and the dismal state of indigenous people in Australia and North America with Bill. Bill’s son, Andrew, and I shared a common passion for 1960’s guitar heroes, and before Andrew left to begin his freshman year at the Berklee School of Music in Boston six weeks ago I managed to unload a significant portion of my collection of old vinyl recordings onto him. It’s to Bill’s credit that he never has complained about having to haul all those LP’s up the northeast corridor along with Andrew’s guitars, amplifiers, and the other necessities of life in a college dormitory.
Those of you who have seen our collection, or seen photographs of our home, have seen Bill’s handiwork. I’ll get to live with it for years to come. And although the business is closed and I’ll have to find another framer, I’m sure that the Saturday afternoons of solving half the world’s problems and bemoaning the rest have not yet come to and end. Thanks for everything, Bill.