John Frank Steffl, a great artist and kind person, John Frank Steffl, died June 1 in his home with his wife at his bedside. John was born December 29, 1948, in Mankato, Minn., to Ray and Betty Steffl. He received a BA in Ceramics, Painting and Drawing (cum laude) at Mankato State, before coming to the University of Minnesota Duluth on full scholarship to earn an MA in Ceramics and Painting (summa cum laude). He taught art at UMD for nine years then served the Arrowhead region through the Duluth Art Institute for the next 12 as curator, artistic director, and finally as executive director. When he left that position in 2002, the DAI’s Board of Directors recognized John’s energy and passion by dedicating a wing of The Depot as the John Steffl Gallery. He finished his teaching career at the College of St. Scholastica.
John was a visual artist, which for him meant both a sensual pursuit and an intellectual experience that reflected an innate human propensity to consider relationships with people, nature and the Great Unknown. He capitalized on opportunities to help build a better place for artists and to perpetuate, in all it diversity and glory, the culture of art. His approach blended his life as a visual artist with allied endeavors, including exhibition curator, arts administrator and university educator. His love of teaching was legend and devotion to family, friends, art and nature, palpable.
In John’s belief system, “Earth is Heaven. Nature is Heaven. Life is Heaven. Love is Heaven. Good Work is Heaven.” He found exquisite pleasure and profound beauty in nature and would have fished every day if possible.
John was preceded in death by his father and beloved nephew, Tim Steffl. He is survived by his wife, Tiss Underdahl, mother, Betty, brothers Joe (Chris), Jim (Margo), and sister, Virginia Steffl, along with his nephews, Jay Steffl (Katie), and Jack Steffl (Kendra), niece Naomi Steffl and his adored cat, Meeko.
At John’s request, no funeral service will be held. Please consider donations in his name to the Duluth Art Institute or the “Charlie Fund” for the Tweed Museum of Art.