ArtsOhio Blog

The ArtsOhio Blog is the Ohio Arts Council's way to share stories that highlight the arts in Ohio, feedback from the field, interviews with artists and staff, and more. Sign up for the ArtsOhio newsletter to receive a curated selection of posts each month.

Marlene Von Handorf Steele and Zack Steele

Continuing the Legacy: Ohio Artists Strengthen the Bond of Mother and Son Through Painting

Keeping kids entertained takes no small amount of creativity, but luckily for Marlene Von Handorf Steele, all her eldest son Zack needed was some butcher paper and drawing supplies.

“The two boys (Zack and his brother Raphael) would spend endless hours with pencils on long pieces of paper, making battle scenes that told the story from one end of the room to the other,” she said. “I just remember how boys like to make noise about everything, every aspect of the battle.”

Laughing, Zack Steele affirmed his mother’s description.

“Every kid had to know how to make machine gun noises,” he said. “I was in awe of garbage trucks, tornadoes, nuclear power plants, elevators ... I would draw all these pictures and I would spend hours doing it.”

Zack now lives in Dayton with two children of his own, but he still finds time to document the world around him through his art. Currently working for a plumbing contractor, Zack said he keeps a sketch pad in his van for whenever inspiration strikes.

“I’ll stop and draw little pictures and maybe take it home and think of something I can do with it or use it for something else,” he said.

Much of Zack’s work reflects the sights he passes while driving Ohio’s back roads and state routes. He said he is drawn to the aesthetic of industrial landscapes dotted with drive-in theatres and diners, which he views as the last bastions of old road culture.

Zack’s signature subject matter is depicted in WYMPEE, an acrylic rendering of a now-shuttered 1930s diner situated in downtown Dayton.

“I saw that building, and it was such an incredible day, and there was a storm that had just passed,” Zack said. “The light was kind of shining right underneath it, and the wires were almost like a curtain holding up this storm cloud.”

WYMPEE will be on display at the Ohio gubernatorial offices until December 2018 as part of the Ohio Governor’s Office and Residence Artwork Loan Program. Zack’s painting is one of 50 pieces created by 33 Ohio artists. Also taking part in the loan program is an artist with whom Zack is extremely familiar: his mother, Marlene.

“As far as being able to exhibit with my son, this is a personal dream that I’ve always wanted to occur,” said Marlene, who resides and works in Cincinnati.

A graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Marlene’s work has been showcased in galleries and exhibitions nationwide. Currently serving as the Ohio ambassador for the Portrait Society of America, Marlene has enjoyed being a courtroom artist for more than a decade, providing artwork for trials garnering national attention.

The piece chosen for display at the Governor’s Residence in Bexley, Cincinnati Union Terminal: Southern Fog Bank, is a landscape Marlene can see through her west-facing studio windows. Part of a new series she is working on that focuses on the Cincinnati Museum Center, the painting conveys an unconventional inner-urban beauty that is at the heart of Marlene’s artwork.

“I have been inspired by other artists who have this idea that the everyday can be poetic, that the everyday can be beautiful in a different way … I like the architecture and the geometrical elements in space and time,” she said. “I love the winter light that comes up on the face of the building … then you have the snow colors and tones with different nuances that also relate to what’s in the sky.”

Both mother and son agree that an inclination toward artistic expression runs in the family. Zack’s grandfather, Jack Keijo Steele, was a Michigan-Ohio Regionalist who trained at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Zack’s childhood was spent frequenting his parents’ studios.

Now, with Marlene also serving as an artistic mentor, Zack said he is hoping to continue the family legacy. 

“The more I look at … my grandfather’s paintings on the wall, some of mother’s paintings, some of my father’s paintings, I sort of take away from that,” he said. “I hope that I can produce some pieces that go up to that level of quality. I’m hoping that they get to that point.”

For more information about opportunities available for individual artists through the Ohio Arts Council, visit

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Photo credits: Zack (left) and Marlene Steele, pictured with a charcoal self-portrait of Jack Keijo Steele dated 1938, photo courtesy of Marlene Steele; WYMPEE, image courtesy of Zack Steele; Cincinnati Union Terminal: Southern Fog Bank, image courtesy of Marlene Steele.

Comments are closed.


Sign Up for the Monthly Newsletter

From deadline reminders to artist interviews--sign up to receive the monthly ArtsOhio newsletter directly to your inbox.

*indicates required
Which audience do you identify with the most?

View previous campaigns.