Jay Steensma was born in Idaho in 1941 and lived most of his life in Seattle where he died in 1994. He developed an interest in becoming an artist while attending the University of Washington and later went on to have solo shows at Francine Seders Gallery, Mazey Hickey Gallery and MIA Gallery in Seattle and Lucia Douglas Gallery in Bellingham, Washington. He was represented in Portland for many years by the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery.
After his death, the Whatcom Museum of Art in Bellingham, the Center on Contemporary Art and the Henry Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle all mounted retrospective exhibitions. His work is in the collections of the Portland Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Whatcom, Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane and the Boise Art Museum. An exhibition at the Mazey Hickey Gallery was reviewed by Matthew Kangas and published in “Art in America” in 1989. Randy Gragg wrote in article titled, “Last of the Northwest Mystics?” which was published in the “Oregonian” in 1994. There are museum catalogs of his exhbitions.
Jay was considered by many to be a member of the second generation of the so-called “Northwest Mystics”. The original group consisited of Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson and Kenneth Callahan. Jay was inspired by the spirituality of their work which he both revered and sometimes lampooned. He is best known for his series of birds and fish painted on paper bags called the “Northwest Extinction Series” and for his moody, evocative paintings of simple, dilapidated houses and barns set in prairie like settings with overcast skies.