John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::


John Steins in his studio

So, I’m attempting to throw everything (including the kitchen sink) at this website over time. I’m reluctantly giving in to that autobiography ‘action alarm’ that so many of my contemporaries have embraced. It must be the ticking of a biological clock or some evolutionary reflex compelling people of my vintage to begin introspecting on their spent life using the printed page, like a very long debit and credit ledger. I’m not into nostalgia or dwelling on the past too much, but I’ll give it a go with a long list of topics to tackle. So, stay tuned if there’s any interest on your part.

In the meantime, here’s a smattering;

Not long ago, I finished seven years at the Yukon School of Visual Arts (, where I supported our students, faculty and staff as their Studio Technician. Once in a while, I got to give a talk on print-making. Or an instructor will bring a class over to my studio for some show & tell.

Lucky me! I had a resident art instructor living in my house while growing up, my father, Ilgvars Steins. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1959, winning the Lieutenant General’s Award for excellence in drawing and painting. He enjoyed a very long and productive career. According to traditional Latvian belief, he left our world to take up residency on the other side of the sun – in November of 2011, on my birthday! Ever the joker!

I attended a unique 5-year course at a high school in Ottawa that prepared art students for the world of commercial art or college, a very excellent program that produced quite a few career artists. I loved the lettering class, where we learned to draw perfect fonts by hand using French curves, lining tools, quills and India ink.

One instructor had a mantra that stuck with me; “Simplicity, unity and harmony: the elements of good design.”

Unlike my fellow students who went on to various art colleges, I went headlong into the world of commercial art, beginning a career with a principal ad agency in Toronto at the tender age of 18.

When our family moved to Toronto, I joined an ad firm called Vickers & Benson when I turned 18. They were one of the top advertising agencies in North America at the time. They hired young people who showed promise and groomed them for a future in the ad game. Of course, I was destined for the art department or creative arm of the company. Even though I was on the periphery for a short time in this crazy environment, I can relate to the TV series Madmen. It gives me a nostalgic twinge.

I switched horses in midstream and went over to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, taking a junior position at the Information Services Department. Job opportunities that offered promise continually stared me in the face. Despite lovely offerings on a silver platter, I decided to pursue a music career as a singer-songwriter in the late sixties and early seventies. That effort had mixed results mainly due to my penchant for not choosing between oats or hay, like the donkey that eventually starved. Happily, I didn’t know hunger. Another great job was at the University of Toronto Book Room, and I moved into a communal house in the downtown area with some fellow employees. Not to mention my gig as the projectionist at Cinema 2000 on Yonge St. near Dundas, which was fun. But not nearly as fun as being the night manager at the Olympia bookstore on Yonge St. near Isabel. Back in the day, this was one of the best bookstores in town featuring hard-to-find titles and international magazines.

Restless Youth

future wood engraving practitioner John steins hopping freights
Riding the boxcar 1974

1974 rolled around, and my buddy and I decided to leave hot and dusty Toronto for unknown destinations in Canada’s northwest. We hopped freight trains across the vast prairie to the foothills of the Rockies, turned north and ended up in Dawson City, Yukon, home of the great Klondike gold rush when stampeders came looking for treasure.

We hooked up with some other travellers in our age group, built a  ‘skookum’ raft and set off down the Yukon River in late June. Huck Finn and Jim would have been envious. It was the perfect raft made from Dawson City boardwalk sections lashed to 45-gallon drums keeping us high and dry for the six-week lazy float down to Eagle, Alaska and finally to a town called Circle.

After exploring Alaska via Anchorage and Fairbanks, I got on Haines’ ferry to sail to Prince Rupert. At this time, I was fixated on returning to Dawson and its voodoo magic.

My New Etching Press!

Various exploits kept me employed and active in the mid to late seventies. The spring of 1978 was a highlight because I took delivery of my etching press that came in a massive crate from Ontario. I remember the delivery guys from White Pass Freight grunting and groaning, trying to push the thing through a narrow doorway into my little log cabin. While they were pinching their fingers in the door jamb, I prattled on about how their suffering was worth it because it was all in the name of art, if looks could kill!

What a thrill it was to unpack my shiny new press made by Emil Praga back in Scarborough. Little did I know it would be underwater the following year during the devastating flood of  ’79. The press survived, and I am still using it today.

So much more to talk about; besides just making art. (To be expanded upon).

  1. Early life in Dawson beginning in 1974.
  2. Roulette croupier at Gertie’s, Canada’s first legal casino.
  3. Purchase and delivery of my etching press delivered by Yukon White Pass all the way from Toronto.
  4. Our attempt at establishing an artist’s co-op in Dawson.
  5. Printmaking studio in our Gold-Rush era, 16 x 16 foot log cabin.
  6. Our ‘Gaslight Gallery’ gift store and the venture into retail during a time when not much was available here for visitors.
  7. Security contract at the Bear Creek Compound which allowed for creative time.
  8. Surviving the flood of 1979.
  9. Workshop in backyard. My first serious construction project.
  10. Co-founding of our first Dawson City Music Festival in 1979 and still going strong today.
  11. Pastor Sailor and my short-lived adventures in Fundamantalist Christianity.
  12. DIY construction of our new house on higher ground. Yay!
  13. Got hitched (1981) to the person I am still with and love very much.
  14. Midnight Light album (1981). Adventures in making music.
  15. Expo 86 performance gig turned out ot be too much fun.
  16. Sculpture commission (1986). Public art project at the Andrew Philipsen Law Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon.
  17. Our year in Winnipeg. Should we have stayed or returned to Dawson? Another one of those coulda, woulda, shoulda moments we all have in life.
  18. Oswald and Ingrid Wiener. Befreinded this couple from Vienna and Berlin who chose the Yukon as a tabula rasa for their intellectual and creative life. A very interesting and edifying relationship.
  19. Work with shipwright’s crew restoring the Keno paddlewheeler boat in Dawson for several seasons.
  20. Furniture building contract (1995). I was awarded a five year standing offer for building solid oak office furniure for the Territorial government. Mostly bookcases and computer tables.
  21. The age of personal computing begins (1998) An early adopter, hook, line and sinker.
  22. Helped co-found Dawson City Arts Society and Klondike Institute of Art & Culture. A very successful organization that to this day has helped cultural life flourish in Dawson as well as establish an accredited foundation year university program in the arts among many other accomplishments.
  23. My term as Mayor of Dawson 2006 -2009! Certainly an eye-opener on the topic of human nature and the machinations of petty politics.
  24. More topics to come…


  1. Mike Pearson April 10, 2009

    Hi John:

    Just passing this along – I have the proof of your piece entitled “Obsession.” It is of an acoustic guitar player, is signed by you and dated 1977. It was purchased in the Yellowknife area by a good friend of mine who lived and worked in Yellowknife in the mid-to-late 70s. I’m a longtime guitar player and he purchased it as a gift for me.

    I really love the piece and it has occupied a place of honour in all the homes I have lived in during the past 30+ years.

  2. John Steins April 10, 2009 — Post author

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. And thanks for your remarks about the “Obsession” linocut. I remember when I made that one, it was a bit ambitious for me at the time because of the different colours.

    Good to know it’s still surviving and appreciated.


  3. brian holden June 12, 2009


    just starting out with learning engraving and stumbled upon your site purely by accident doing some research and seeing what is being printed these days by others. You have done amazing work.

  4. John Steins June 12, 2009 — Post author

    Thanks Brian, if there’s any way I can help you with your engravings please let me know.


  5. Linzi Flower October 29, 2010

    Hi there, I’m a student in secondary/high school and I’m doing some work on you in my art class. I know it sounds silly, but when were you born? & why did you start doing lino prints?
    -I chose you to focus my lino print work on as I love everything you do that I’ve seen. I love the ‘Snow and Trees’ photo that’s on here, Im thinking of getting it printed & put in a frame for my bedroom. Love your work.

  6. Barbara May 6, 2011


    Just wanted to thank you again for the informative talk you gave, and to say how much I enjoyed reading ‘About’ you. You certainly are talented in many areas. Your art is amazing and I’ll visit often to keep up with your latest works.

    All the best!

  7. John Steins May 6, 2011 — Post author

    Thanks Barbara,

    Thanks for coming last night and I’m glad you got something out of it. Hope to see you at the opening.

  8. Justin May 17, 2012

    Dear John

    I am an art student at Agincourt Collegiate Institute and i as arts students we’ve been given an assignment to choose an artist that we’re are interested in, i have chose you and i was wondering if you could answer some basic questions for me such as your Birthday, your education in art, where you worked etc.

  9. Lynn Kenneth Pecknold December 6, 2012


    It is always a pleasure to check out your site and see printmaking at its finest. I appreciate your work a lot and have fond memories of friends from Dawson City. I am now retired from teaching and work now on my dreams – making art whenever I can. Best of success to you with the new press. Lynn

  10. John Steins December 6, 2012 — Post author

    Thanks Lynn for those kind words especially from a worthy artist like yourself. As a printmaker with a perverse desire to work in a vacuum where there’s no other printmaker within hundreds of miles it was so uplifting to have you show up in town so many years ago offering me encouragement. As I am working at our own little art school right now I’m trying to carve out some time for my own work. I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Robert Downey (No ... not THAT Robert Downey) December 12, 2014

    Hi John

    It’s been a few years since your cats used me and Philip (Craig) as a climbing device at your apartment in Yorkville.

    I’ve looked for you many times over the years since Ottawa and now … here you are … I think. The last email here is dated 2012, so I don’t know how often you check this site out … or worse, if you’re still with us.

    If you get a moment and are in the mood, please contact me at the email address supplied. I’d love to hear from you.

  12. Alisannah Machaya January 27, 2015

    Hello, I am currently doing an art project on initiation and was captivated by your lino printing technique and some of your artwork. if you wouldn’t mind replying to this message it would be an honor to ask you a few questions and advice concerning your lino work.

  13. John Steins January 27, 2015 — Post author

    Hi Alisannah, Sure I’m happy to help. What were your questions?

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