William O. Steinmetz, an artist and designer who worked alongside his wife as a Village of Cross Keys merchant, died of a heart disease Tuesday at his Riderwood home. He was 89.
Mr. Steinmetz had a 76-year association with Maryland Institute College of Art, where he took his first Saturday classes as a 13-year-old. He became a trustee of the school and its alumni chair, and as recently as last week he returned for its "Baltimore Rising" exhibition.
"I call him a MICA evangelist. In many ways, he and his wife, Betty, are role models of passionate and dedicated alumni," said Samuel Hoi, MICA president. "Their life stories are intrinsically connected to the school. They met here and are our quintessential love story. Their generosity has been outstanding."
Born in Baltimore and raised on Dean Street in Highlandtown, he was the son of George Steinmetz, an Esso refinery worker, and Matilda Steinmetz.
He took MICA courses in a Saturday morning program while on a Carnegie Foundation scholarship because Polytechnic Institute, from which he graduated, did not offer art instruction.
He served in the Army from 1945 to 1947, then earned a degree at MICA in 1950 and immediately joined its faculty.
Mr. Steinmetz taught fundamentals of design and also chaired the industrial design department until he retired from teaching in 1969. He remained active in the school's alumni affairs.
"When I first came to MICA to be interviewed for the presidency, almost 40 years ago, I met Bill and have been part of his fan club ever since," said Fred Lazarus IV, the school's president emeritus.
"Bill had a love affair with Baltimore, MICA, our artists and our institutions," Mr. Lazarus said. "His span of interest went from the painted screens to the work of a young digital artists to our crafts people. He engaged them all in conversation and never forgot them or what they said."
As a 21-year-old art student, Mr. Steinmetz received a phone call from The Evening Sun's editors, informing him he was the grand winner of the paper's annual sketch contest.
"You're kidding," he said, according in a 1948 Evening Sun article. "Just hold the phone while I get my breath."
Steinmetz's brooding picture of a group of rowhouses in the 3500 block of Foster Ave. was selected by the three judges. He won $125, presented by Provincetown, Mass., artist Karl Knaths, one of the judges. Mr. Steinmetz said that it took him "about 20 minutes" to complete the sketch.
A few years later another piece, "Strolling Nuns," took honors at the Peale Museum's annual "Life in Baltimore" exhibition.
Mr. Steinmetz earned part of his MICA tuition by working at the old Esso refinery along Boston Street. He also received a scholarship.
After World War II, while a MICA student, he took a design and materials course taught by Betty Cooke. They later dated — he had a house in the 800 block of Tyson St. and she lived in the 900 block.
They married in 1955.
She designed and made jewelry and also offered art objects for sale. They eventually expanded a shop and design studio into an L-shaped collection of buildings at Read and Tyson streets. They worked with architects to create interiors and color schemes for commercial properties, including shopping centers.
In the 1960s, they used Herman Miller, Eames and Bertoia furniture in a project at Eastpoint's Mischanton's Restaurant. They also had a contract to do interiors and a color palette for Fair Lanes Bowling Centers.
In 1965, the couple accepted an offer from Columbia developer James Rouse to open a shop at the then-new Village of Cross Keys on Falls Road. They called their business The Store Ltd. The business remains open 51 years later.
"Bill had an eye for buying," said his wife. "He was also very good at displays and merchandising. As a graphic designer, he could make an excellent ad. He was creative, and he worked with the other shop owners to made ads for all of Cross Keys."
The couple worked daily at The Store.
"Bill was wonderful with customers," said his wife. "We've been there so long that we've gone through three and four generations of families. His former students followed him to the shop. They would tell him what he taught them in 1950 was as valid today as it was then."
Said Mr. Lazarus: "Bill and Betty were two sides of the same coin — each brought out the best in each other and gave so much to all of us."
In addition to a scholarship Mr. Steinmetz and his wife established at MICA, they also created a lecture series and weeklong design workshop. They also funded a performance space called the B-Box at the corner of Mount Royal and North avenues.
In 2014, MICA awarded him a doctorate of humane letters. A citation in the MICA commencement program read: "William Steinmetz, you are as much a part of MICA as is any physical structure on campus. You are part of the fabric of its culture and a symbol of its heart and soul. ... You have shared your experiences as an artist and entrepreneur with MICA students, helping them fashion their own careers by looking forward through a lens only you can provide."
A visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road. Plans for a memorial service at MICA are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of 61 years, survivors include his sister, Amy Miller of Virginia; and nieces and nephews. A son, David Steinmetz, died in 1982.