Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Museum’

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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Tom Buechner In His Studio-- Photo by Barbara Hall Blumer

Tom Buechner died Sunday, June 13, at his home in Corning  after a short time after being diagnosed with lymphoma.  He was 83 years old.   He is survived by his wife, Mary, and his three  children.

I don’t know how you would characterize Tom’s career, it being so multi-faceted.  He did so many things in so many areas, all at the highest levels.  He was a true man of accomplishment.

 He was well known in the museum world, having started the Corning Museum of Glass, which evolved into the world-class facility it is today,  before leaving to head the Brooklyn Museum throughout the 1960’s.  He was president of Steuben Glass, the company that produced some of the finest American crystal and art glass ever made.  He also was instrumental, serving as President for a decade,  in the formation of the Rockwell Museum in Corning, which has the largest collection of Western Art east of the Mississippi.

He was a leading glass scholar, being one of the biggest authorities on  the work of art glass pioneer Frederick Carder.  He wrote the glass section for the Encylopedia Brittanica.   He also wrote a best-selling book, Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator, that  is one of the definitive works on the great American artist.

He is perhaps best known as a painter.  Trained as a young man at the Art Students League in NY and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Tom maintained a passion for painting throughout his life.  His landscapes, still-lifes and  portraits are highly sought after in the many galleries throughout this country that represent his work and hang in many fine collections and museums, including the Metroplitan Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  His portrait of Alice Tully hangs in the hall named for her at Lincoln Center in NY.

In this area, he was also the biggest influence in our local art community.  Generations of artists benefitted from his talent and knowledge,  many taking his well-known classes in painting as well as painting with him on a more casual basis, in weekly get-togethers.  His influence on local painters was so strong that when I first started going to the West End Gallery, I would have to go from painting to painting to check the signatures because so many of the painters had adopted his style and palette from their time with him.   He was also a huge presence behind the scenes of many local organizations and events, something that probably went unnoticed by many.

That’s just a quick thumbnail version of one hell of a life in art.  There are so many other aspects to his talents that it could go on for many more paragraphs.

Now, I didn’t know Tom well at all.  We talked several times briefly in the gallery, usually about his work, which had a classical appearance.  Actually, I wasn’t sure he was even aware of my work until one evening when he showed up unexpectedly at one of the openings  for a show of mine at the West End.  As I was talking with a lady before a painting, he came up and asked if he could interrupt.  He then gave me several minutes of exuberant praise, telling me that he envied me for creating a body of work that had its own distinct look and feel, that was instantly recognizable as mine.  I think my mouth was hanging open in shock as he turned and was gone.  The lady  that had been speaking with me  gasped out, “Oh my god!  That was amazing!  You should have recorded that.”

I was giddy, trembly inside.  Even though I was well along and fairly well established in my career, I was shocked that these few words of praise meant so much to me, that they affected me so much.  I felt validated.  I felt changed in some way.  To me, Tom Buechner represented  the established art world and even though I never sought its acceptance, to be received so heartily made me feel very … well, I can’t even describe how it made me feel.  It remains one of the highlights of my career.

I think that says a lot about Tom Buechner’s magnitude, that a few brief, kind words given at an opening could make me feel completely different about my own work.  For that moment alone, I will always have a place in my heart for Tom Buechner. 

May his spirit live on…


The photo of Tom from the top  of this post is from the book , In Their Studios: Artists & Their Environments, from photographer Barbara Hall Blumer.  Here are a couple of  pieces from Tom’s body of work,,,

Leslie-- Thomas Buechner

My Still Life– Thomas Buechner


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