Archive for April 9th, 2013

Baseball  Helen West HellerI was looking for woodcuts that had baseball in them and came across a couple that were by an artist with which I was not familiar, Helen West Heller.  I liked the design and look of the pieces that I had found, more modern and stylized than the others.  Unique.  I began to look up the artist, who lived from 1872 to 1955,  but found little.  No Wikipedia page and a few scant biographies that mainly listed her exhibits and the collections in which her work – both woodcuts and paintings-  was included.

Baseball2 Helen West HellerAnd it was a pretty impressive resume.  A retrospective at the Smithsonian.  Awards from the Library of Congress. Shows at the Brooklyn Museum and other galleries around the country.  Looking at the Metropolitan Museum website, I found that she had over 170 pieces in their permanent collection.  Why wasn’t there more on her?

HellerBut then I came across a site devoted to her life and work, The Extraordinary Life and Art of Helen West Heller.  It’s a rambling website full of references and writings devoted to Heller but even as Heller’s most ardent fan and champion, Dr. Ernest Harms, wrote in 1957, just two years after her death: “Helen West Heller has lived the life of a full blooded personality striving and fighting for an artistic ideal . . . Far too little is known even among artists about this amazing woman.”

The tragedy is that when she did die, she did so alone and as a pauper in  Bellevue in NYC.  Her body remained in the morgue there for over 10 days until Artists Equity arranged for burial in NJ.  There’s a lot more on her in the rambling site devoted to her, much of it quite interesting but never completely revealing.  She lived at a time when there was still room for mystery and mythology in one’s life.  Perhaps that mystery, as well as the personality of her work,  is what makes her  so intriguing to me.




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