1890-1979 John W. Winkler, Master Etcher, was born in Vienna, Austria of a military family. At age 16 he sought adventure so with the help of his mother and grandmother he changed his name and traveled to America under a forged passport. He met hobos, Indians, mined for copper in Bingham Canyon and shucked corn in Nebraska.
In 1911, he impulsively enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute. Although he had never done any serious artwork before in his life, he soon discovered that etching provided a permanent and challenging media, and he was given a life scholarship at the Institute. To sustain himself, he lit gas lamps in Chinatown.
In 1921, Winkler left for France and London where he brought out new plates. The Gazette des Beaux Arts wrote of Winkler, "San Francisco is to Winkler as Tahiti was to Gauguin." Bertha Jaques of the Chicago Society of Etchers referred to him as, "Another Whistler," while his closest friend, John Taylor Arms, wrote of Winkler, "Master of Line--Master of Us All."
In France, Winkler drew the country genre and cathedrals and he etched plates of Normandy's shops and street people. In London, he etched boats, bridges and shipping on the Thames.
Returning to California in 1929 Winkler completed many more etchings and drawings. He enlarged the San Francisco, France and London etchings and began the California Mountain series. He created his Christmas card etchings in the 1930's.
Winkler started a new path with his hand-carved boxes and jewelry. The boxes were made from wood he selectively picked and hand carried down from the Sierra Mountains. This continued for nearly 30 years. He then returned to his etchings in 1974 when over 40 never-published plates were completed and small editions were printed.
During his lifetime, Winkler produced over 600 plates, hundreds of drawings, jewelry pieces and 200 hand-carved, decorated wooden boxes. Winkler chose mediums which could not be changed. He said the difficulty in creating his work was a stimulus and a challenge. Technique was taken for granted, but the personality of the artist was what counted.
Winkler's prints can be found in most major museums, including the following: The Achenbach Foundation, San Francisco, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Boston Public Library, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, The Smithsonian Institution, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum, The Oakland Museum, The San Diego Museum and The Brooklyn Museum, just to name a few.
Winkler was part of the community of artists that included famous photographer Imogen Cunningham and etchers Roy Partridge, John Taylor Arms and Arthur Heintzelman. He hiked in the Sierra Mountains with William Colby, who founded the Sierra Club. His wife, Elizabeth Ginno Winkler was also an artist/etcher and she worked and exhibited at the San Francisco World’s Fair of 1939.
Winkler never printed large editions of his work and never amassed financial security with his etchings, but he did find lifelong pleasure in his work.