The woodcuts of Helen West Heller have been a passion of mine since 1974, when I purchased from a second-hand bookshop in Newton, Mass. a copy of Heller's hard-covered book "Woodcuts U.S.A." (1947) - a signed, limited-edition, publication containing 20 brilliantly designed and executed woodcuts by the artist, paired with short quotes by American writers and including a laudatory introduction by the American etcher John Taylor Arms:

"A woman of high intellectual attainments, unusual emotional intensity, and keen sensitivity of feeling, she has been able to combine all these qualities in her work and by long years of self-discipline, training and practice has developed a technical mastery of her tools and her medium which gives her fluent expression of them.

That spiritual quality, that affinity between the artist and the mood of the subject, which raises the level of a sound piece of craftsmanship or a bit of intellectual objectivity and endows it with the spirit of true art, is present in every one of Helen West Heller's woodcuts. . ."

John Taylor Arms

 

When I first learned of Helen West Heller, there was no world wide web (Internet) and their was little information readily available on the artist other than two articles by Dr. Ernst Harms and the introduction by John Taylor Arms to "Woodcuts, U.S.A.." With my first computer in 1993, I created a short biography on Helen West Heller and a timeline and inventory of Heller's known art works - including numerous links to online resources on the artist. Information on Heller's biography and artworks, came from online resources (museum and art gallery collections) and personal contacts.

This website would not exist without the enthusiastic participation of many individuals who shared information and/or images with me - people who had either found and/or owned a piece of Helen West Heller's art or individuals and/or their parents who knew the artist in Canton IL, Chicago, New York City, Allentown, PA, etc.. I am indebted to print dealers, art collectors and peersonal acquaintances of the Heller and her husband, Roger, for sharing their knowledge, memories and images - as well as many art museums, libraries and commercial and non-profit galleries who have added important pieces to a puzzle which in 1974 was meager and extremely incomplete.

 

During January and February of 2003 I had the privilege of curating what I believe is the first significant retrospective of Helen West Heller's artworks since her death in 1955. The exhibition included over fifty of her woodcuts executed between 1924 to 1953 and numerous resource materials; that were culled from three commercial galleries and two private collectors.

 

My goal over the past forty years has been to express my enthusiasm for the woodcuts of Helen West Heller and share what I know of her life and art with fellow artists, the contemporary art world and the general public. As Dr. Ernst Harms, made absolutely clear in 1957, Far too little is known even among artists about this amazing woman. . .

 

. . . it is remarkable how little I could find out about Heller until Scattergood-Moore came along. . . it should be noted that he certainly put her back on the artistic radar where she clearly belongs.

Leonard Davenport, Long Island, NY

 

I am a professional artist, an art educator, a gallery director and independent curator. I am also committed to the role that the visual arts had and continue to have in contributing to social activism. It has never been my intention to call myself an art historian or crown myself the world's foremost expert on Helen West Heller - or with any ambitions in publishing a best-seller, or any seller book for that matter. . . . Of course everyone has the right to research any subject they want and publish their findings - and I will endorse any form of publicity on Helen West Heller - just as long as it is factual and the research had been done with integrity and in an ethical manner.

 

 

 

THIS SITE IS A PERPETUAL WORK-IN-PROGRESS
There will be continual additions and revisions.

YOUR PARTICIPATION and FEEDBACK WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

 

This web site is not supported by any outside institutions, donations or advertising - and has been created and maintained entirely at my own cost since 1993. It will soon be hosted on it's own server at Helen West Heller Network.

 

Due to a combination of personal, professional and physical/medical matters, I have been unable to update this website as much as I would have liked over the last couple of years. I've received some new materials, important documents and images which I will be uploading here and on the image inventory during the spring and summer - and I will continue reediting and updating both webpages. . . Thanks for you support.

 

 

 

IF INTERESTED IN SHARING INFORMATION,   PLEASE LET ME KNOW

Scattergood-Moore

 

 

 

This website was created in 1994 and was designed and developed by Scattergood-Moore, who he is responsible for all posted content unless otherwise noted. This content is copyrighted and should not be directly copied without reference to source (scattergood-moore.com). General information of public record may be used without reference. Helen West Heller's artworks and original documentation - letters, writings, inventories, etc. - posted on this site are not for sale; they are reproduced here for educational purposes only. Anyone who would like to submit additional information to this site may reach Scattergood through the Contact Page

Scattergood-Moore - a professional artist, printmaker, independent curator and educator - began collecting and researching Helen West Heller's art and life in the early 1970s. He was especially attracted to the content and technique of her woodcuts. An active supporter of human-rights, he was fascinated by Heller's, radical activism and participation in socialist protests during the 1930s. Helen West Heller's life-long persistence in overcoming creative and personal adversity had a strong emotional effect on Scattergood-Moore - qualities he shares with the artist.

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen West Heller, cartoon from The Parade of The Chicago Artists, Chicago Literary Times, Oct. 1928
HELEN WEST HELLER
caricature from
The Parade of The Chicago Artists
poster by Emil Armin
Chicago Literary Times, Oct 1928

!!Hellen West Heller!!
One of our most under appreciated Gensues…

poster in Chicago Literary Times, Oct 1923

 

 

Helen West Heller . . . drew her artistic inspiration from the working class. She sometimes idealized them and other times highlighted the hypocrisy of the world she struggled, as an artist, to make her way in.

Leonard Davenport (2)

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

During the last two and a half decades of her life - from 1923 to 1955 - Helen West Heller is attributed as having produced over six hundred woodcuts - establishing her as a major American printmaker. Her exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Hotel Roosevelt in NYC and Columbia University - among many others - won HWH widespread recognition. Institutions such as the Library of Congress and Brooklyn Museum acquired her prints as well as important art collectors. Unfortunately, like many women artists of the period, Helen West Heller was nearly forgotten, accept for the writings of Dr. Ernest Harms, a child psychologist and a pioneer in the use of art therapy, who wrote an important appreciation of her prints, Helen West Heller - The Woodcutter for the Print Collector's Quarterly in April 1942, and an article on her life, Dark to Light: An appreciation of the life work of Helen West Heller, 1872-1955, for American Artist (magazine), November 1957.

 

 

One of Canton, Illinois' most famous and extraordinary citizens was Helen West Heller, the former Helena S. Barnhart of Rushville and Canton, Illinois. he was a wife (at least twice), . . . a farmer, factory worker, house-keeper, writer, poet and an artist's model. At sixty, she was described as a mild-faced and pleasant-looking woman who might have been a small-town grandmother and president of the local woman's club. . . in fact, she was a feisty and independent woman, a social activist, a poet, a Modernist, a talented and innovative artist and an extraordinary woodcutter.

 

 

printer

 

 

The background on this webpage is based on 20 decorative initials from Etwas Neues (1936) by Ernest R. Dodge & Margaret H. Viereck; woodcuts by Helen West Heller; published by American Book Company, 1936

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE & ART

of

Signature

 

aka

 

Helena Barnhart Signature

 

1872-1955

 

 

Seasons (self portrait) 1948
wood engraving, image size: 8" [w] x 10.5" [h]
Based on portrait photograph by Harrison Knox
Created for National Academy of Design
2013, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

 

 

INDEX

INTRODUCTIONindex1872-19211921-19311932-19411942-1955EPILOGUECONTACTCREDITS

HISTORY of WOODCUTTINGROBERT HARDY ANDREWAMERICAN ARTISTS' CONGRESS
ARTISTS of 1936 CONGRESSWOODCUTS U.S.A.PRINT DEALERSWORDPRESS.COM

 

 


 

 

PRAIRIE CHILD STAR-CHILD WITCHFIRE

 

witchfire three prints

 

A child, she would run at evening in the dust of the prairie road;
  Dust still warm where the sun had polled, running, between stars.

 

The image of a thin young female figure - a waif - running, prancing and/or dancing in the moonlight - with arms outstretched and stars at her finger-tips - must have had a very personal meaning to the young Helena S. Barnhart and years later when she was the artist Helen West and Helen West Heller. Helena grew up on the family farm - apple orchard - in Canton, Illinois - the Prairie state. She most likely viewed herself as a child of the mid-western prairie and later as a neglected and abandoned child - who during the 1920s became an aspiring yet "starving" artist - striving and fighting for an artistic and social ideal.

The expressive image, of a figure reaching for the stars in the moonlight, was used at least six times during Helen West Heller's artistic career - in two poems, three prints and at least in one painting. The first was created in an early chiaroscuro woodcut titled "Prairie Child" aka "Star-Child" from 1926 and the last in 1950, five years before her death, in a wood-engraving titled "Bewitched".

 

The Prairie Child aka Star Child by Helen West Heller 1926

Prairie Child aka Star-Child 1926
chiaroscuro woodcut,
private collection,

 

In 1928, Helen West Heller copied the image of "Star Child" in a smaller size on wood and printed it with black ink, resulting in a white-line woodcut with the image reversed; she retitled this print "Witchfire" to illustrate the poem "Prairie Child" in her block book (xyloographica) of woodcuts and poems: Migratory Urge.

 

Witchfire
woodcut for poem "The Prairie Child"
from Migratory Urge 1928

 

 

PRAIRIE CHILD

                                A child, she would run
                                At evening in the dust
                                of the prairie road;
                                Dust still warm where the sun
                                had polled, running, between stars.
                                Woman, she walks
                                With the cold inland sea, strokes
                                His flank when he purrs.
                                Watching to catch his mobility
                                in the permanence called art.

 

Helen West Heller             
Migratory Urge, 1928            

 

 

In "Waif" - another poem from Migratory Urge, Helen West Heller describes herself as an unvalued and hungry waif, supported by the moon while caressing an evening sky:

WAIF

I have caressed the quick
Green of an evening sky.
I have known a scarlet flower.
I have thrown
My arm across the shoulder
Of the moon
And together
We have probed the shadows
of a pond.
Then does it matter that I go
Unvalued and I hunger!

Helen West Heller
Migratory Urge 1928

 

Sometime around 1928/1930, Helen West Heller created an oil painting depicting an evening or night scene with a thin nude female figure, hands outstretched, moving toward a source of strong light outside of the left side of the canvas. Aggressive dark vegetation forms seem to separate and block the figure from reaching the light source.

 

untitled

untitled c. 1928-30, oil painting
2013, © Illinois State Museum of Art, Springfield, IL

 

In 1950, Helen West Heller re-used the image of Prairie Child from her 1926/28 woodcuts in a masterful wood-engraving titled, Witchfire. In this many patterned print the figure, surrounded in moonlight, almost floats toward the moon - her arms are out-stretched - his time surrounded by what appear to be moon-flowers, not stars. Helen West Heller paired this personal print with another powerful wood-engraving from 1950 titled THE DOVE AND THE BUZZARD - the two most likely created to form a diptych.

 

Helen West Heller woodcuts Witchfire and Dove and Buzzard 1950

Left: Witchfire, 1950
Right: The Dove and the Buzzard, 1950
(2) wood-engravings
2013, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

Notice the similar manner in which Helen West Heller executed the hair in the two wood-engravings above to created a sense of motion - like the flames of a shooting star or comet.

 

In A Corner of Chicago (1963) Robert Hardy Andrews retells his article on Helen West Heller from "Midweek" for the Chicago Daily News (1920/30s):

Helen West Heller ". . . will never reach the stars she started reaching for when she was five years old. She isn't sad about it. She pulled a plow, harnessed beside a mule; she went a step at a time then, and still does, and will until the last sunset." This seemed profound to me, but not to Helen West Heller. . . she quoted Rudyard Kipling; 'But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star, Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!'"

Robert Hardy Andrews
A Corner of Chicago [page 160]
Boston Little, Brown & Co., 1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EARLY YEARS
1872-1921

 

 

 

  CHILDHOOD & YOUTH
(1872-1892)

 

Rushville, Illinois (1872-1876)

 

Helena S. Barnhart or Hellen S. Barnhart* was born on the plains of the Prairie state during October 1872 in a small farm in the town of Rushville, located in the western county of Schuyler, Illinois. She was of mixed South-German and English parentage and the oldest of three daughters and a son of Washington Miller Barnhart, a farmer and his wife, Edith Harrington Barnhart.

 

According to the 1900 US Census form, Helena was three years older than her sister Edith (b. 1875), six years older than Elise (b. 1878) and ten years older than Sherman (b. 1882)

 

Washington Miller BARNHART, the son of David Balsley BARNHART and Sabra SILL, was born 11 April 1842 in Dearborn County, Milton, IN and died October 13, 1933 in Bothell, WA. He married Edith HARRINGTON on December 23, 1871 in Chillicothe, Peoria County, IL (Vol. 4, Page 93, License No. 390).

Edith HARRINGTON, was born October 10, 1845, Brooklyn, NY (according to Family Origins) or October 10, 1847, Vermont (according to Lucille Wattles); she died on January 11, 1911, in Canton, IL and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, Canton, IL. (Information from cemetery records)

 

* According to the 1880 United States Federal Census:
  Name: Hellen S. Barnhart
  Birth about 1873 - Illinois
  Residence: 1880 - Canton
  Fulton County, Illinois

 

 


 

 

Canton, Illinois (1876-1892)

 

In 1876 the Barnhart family bought ten acres on the outskirts of Canton, Illinois (3). The land was developed into a fruit orchard. . .

 

Helena Barnhart's lifelong interest in nature motifs most likely developed during her years growing up in the rural farmlands of Illinois. Her love for wood as an artistic material may have came from her father, a wagon maker and self-sustaining farmer - known for making decoys for duck shooting and as a builder of boats (5).

 

 

Ducks at Night

Ducks at Night 1929
woodcut
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 


Photoshopped image of
In The Classroom, 1938
oil on masonite panel from
"Children at Work and Play"

Is it possible that the girl depicted in the mural panel above is a self-portrait of Helena Barnhart? There is no evidence that it is, but something about the little girl's expression and stare makes me wonder. - Scattergood-Moore

 

Helena had little formal schooling and was needed to help on the Canton farm. She remembered her high school years as difficult and she felt socially isolated.

Of all my career as a public school pupil the happiest memories are of summer suppers in our country home - just outside the "city" limits . . . - when my mother served fried chicken and strawberry shortcake to our teachers, mine and my sisters. And in the high-school era, literary evenings in my principal's home. There were other evenings there when this man was coaching me in Latin & Greek so that I might enter a prep school in the autumn. These were a strain on us both, sometimes we almost nodded over a page from weariness. The literary parties were my only social life, the town boys and girls were paired off and went to dances & 'shows' but I was apart. I was dreaming of college and cities and further art training. I already had one year in an art school
(during 1888 at the age of sixteen) in Saint Louis, before I entered high school and was already a prizeman & found no thrill in sitting on a dusty bank under a hedge and being kissed. (O hell). (2)

Helen West Heller
letter to a friend
July 2, 1943

 

The following information is from the 1900 Census form:
• Helena S. Barnhar, born 1872, age: 27, occupation: Artist, oil painting;
• Edith Barnhart, born 1875, age: 25, occupation: unknown;
• Elise Barnhart, born 1878, age: 22, occupation: Art designer;
• Sherman Barnhart, born 1882, age: 18 occupation: at school.

 

 


 

 

A Strange Tale by Robert Hardy Andrews

 

Robert Hardy Andrews (b.1908) was a reporter, then city editor for Minneapolis Journal and later of "Midweek" for the Chicago Daily News during the twenties and thirties. He was also a writer-producer for radio, motion pictures and television, author of books, screenplays, television scripts and short stories.

When he was writing for the Chicago Daily News, he was given an assignment by the chief editor to head up a project which was to be an outlet of sorts for writers and journalists called 'Midweek.' In his book, A Corner of Chicago, published in 1963, Andrews retells his piece on Helen West Heller. It seem high unlikely that it is all based on fact - it might have even been invented entirely by Heller herself.

Regardless if Robert Hardy Andrew's story was true or not - it remains an interesting tale and may contain a kernel or two of truth:

 

In Midweek, I told the story of Helen West Heller. She began trying to paint when she was five years old. Her parents were dismayed, because nothing she painted looked like a dog or a horse or a tree. She got little formal schooling; she was needed to help on the farm. She was young when her parents married her off to a neighbor, a widower. One of his two mules died during the first week of their marriage. He yoked her to the plow, beside his other beast of burden. She rose at dawn to milk the cows, hurried back to the farmhouse to cook breakfast, then dug in the kitchen garden, then worked in the fields with the mule and her husband. He let her keep one fifth of the egg money. When she saved enough (it took almost a year), she sent away to Sears Roebuck for a box of primary paints, a Children's Holiday Special, the first Christmas gift she ever received. Thereafter, she hurried breathlessly through the final chores of her daily servitude, until at last she could hurry out to the west side of the house. Then, straining her eyes while the sun died and twilight darkened, she mixed colors on a broken plate. Then, in the kitchen, in the circle of light from a kerosene lamp, she painted. Like a pianist transposing score for violin, she tried to paint colors as she remembered them by daylight, not as she saw them at night. She did this for six years, until her husband said he was sick of her silly wastefulness. She could no longer keep any of the egg money to buy paints. When she protested, he whipped her with a harness-strap. That night, while he slept, she left him, walked five miles to town, and caught the train for Chicago.

Robert Hardy Andrews
A Corner of Chicago
Boston Little, Brown & Co., 1963. [365p..]

 

 

  MORE HERE  

 

 


 

 

  EARLY ATTEMPTS AT A CAREER   (1892-1914)

 

Chicago, Illinois (1892-1900)

 

During 1892, at the age of twenty, Helena Barnhart left home to go to the city of Chicago, where she intended to educate herself in the arts. To support her artistic self-training in sculpture and painting, she became a professional model and took many menial jobs. She lived an extremely isolated and destitute life and characterized her life there as "starving," a word appearing all too often in her letters describing the phases of her life. Late in life she spoke to Dr. Ernest Harms bitterly of the pains and suffering as a disregarded model - her only concrete relationship to the social world of art. Every cent she could spare during these early years was spent to hear operas and to mail the poetry she wrote to magazines. (5) An early success came in June, 1899, when "The Criterion" (a little magazine, published by G. L. Davidson in New York City) accepted a sketch (signed 'Helena Barnhart') illustrating one of her poems.

 

Helena's formal art training was limited and according to Dr. Ernst Harms, poor health, which she apparently suffered from for much of her life, made her school years difficult. The two attempts to study at an art school failed although generously supported by patrons impressed by her early and distinctive sense of color and form (5) The strong individualism of her artistic temperament could not adapt itself to the conventional training of that time. Dr. Harms tells how in 1888 Helena briefly studied art in St. Louis, at the age of 16. The catalog of her first solo exhibition at the Walden Bookshop, Chicago in 1922, indicates that Hellen S. Barnhart studied at the St. Louis Academy of Fine Arts.

 

Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant illunimated by Helena Barnhart aka Helen West Heller
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant illunimated by Helena Barnhart aka Helen West Heller

 

In 1898 Helena created an illuminated rendition of "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant. The book was in hand-tooled leather covers and the text was completely hand-lettered; there were no figurative drawings, just the lettering with embellishments. The book's title page includes: Bryant's Thanatopsis illuminated - bound by Helena Barnhart, 1898. In November, 1921 Appie Lewis, a Chicago artist who had studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY in 1903, acquired the illuminated book from Helen West Heller in Chicago. Heller inscribed the book: "Helen West Heller to Appie Lewis, November, 1921" on the first page. It is possible the two art students knew each other during the early 1900s; Helena was in New York around 1901-04 studying at the Art Student League and Miss Lewis was at Pratt in Brooklyn during 1903.

 

 


 

 

New York City,  NY   (circa 1901-1906)

 

By 1901 Helena Barnhart had moved from Chicago to New York City where she attended the Art Student League and attempted to make a living with embroidery and factory work, so she could concentrate on her painting - but she had little artistic or financial success - as in Chicago, she lived a life of destitution. In autobiographical notes composed in her latter life, she complained of a New York surgery that, she claimed, had made only Lesbian sex, which she found unthinkable, possible for her - if true, this may be the reason for Hebert's possible "Adultery!" (1.) Dr. Harms wrote, She felt herself an artistic and social rebel, unable to cope with life, and after a struggle with suicidal tendencies she retired for years to an Illinois farm - a few years before she retired to Illinois, she met her future husband and apparently they spent five years in New York City.

 

 

In 1901, Helena S. Barnhart married Herbert Warren West, of Pennsylvania.

Little is known about Herbert West or his marriage to Helena S. Barnhart.

 

During 1902 Helena Barnhart West exhibited in the annual show of the Architectural League of New York, where the catalog showed her contribution to be Bookbinding and Illuminating. (3)

 

 


 

Illinois New York City Illinois (circa 1906 - circa 1912)

 

There is not a lot known about Helena's life during this period. Around 1906, Herbert and Helena Barnhart West were living on a farm in Canton, Illinois - possibly at the Barnhart family farm. According the Dr. Harms, Helena scrimped to buy art materials and stamps to send her poems to magazines.

 

During 1909, Helen West may have been briefly in New York City.

 

Helen's mother, Edith Harrington Barnhart, died on January 11, 1911
   in Canton, IL

 

Around 1911, after five unsuccessful years of submitting her poems to magazines, Jane Heep, a poetry critic of the time, gave Helena West a break in local poetry magazines. At the same time a successful exhibition in an Illinois town "gave air to her wings" and she decided to make a new attempt in the art world. It is not known if Herbert was a factor in her decision or what did did during this period.

 

 


 

New York City   (1912-1913)

 

True liberation begins neither at the polls nor in courts [but rather] in a woman's soul.

Emma Goldman (qtd. in Lyon 223)

 

Anarchists in New York, led by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, founded the Francisco Ferrer Association in 1910 to perpetuate the work and memory of the executed founder of progressive schools in Spain: Francisco Ferrer. The Ferrer Center and Modern School in New York opened its doors in January 1911 in St. Mark's Place in Greenwich Village. After a fund-raising drive, the center moved to a building on East 12th Street. In 1912 the youthful Will Durant took over the school; under his leadership the Modern School became one of the most important centers of the Radical movement in New York. The adult classes thrived; students flocked to art classes conducted by Robert Henri and George Bellows. Famous people who lectured at the Center included authors Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Manuel Komroff; Lola Ridge, an anarchist poet and influential modernist editor of avant-garde, feminist, and Marxist publications; and Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, whose son attended the School.

 

During 1912 Helen West was enrolled in the Center; she is listed among the students of . . . Robert Henri and George Bellows. Among her classmates were Rockwell Kent, John Sloan, Emanuel Rabinowitz (later Man Ray), and the Zorachs, William and Marguerite. While she was there her signed drawing of a small child. . . was the cover of the Winter, 1912-13 Modern School Magazine. - Larry E. Stanfel (Independent Research Professional) (3)

 

In July 1914, following a bomb explosion in an apartment building a few blocks away from the Modern School, the school relocated from New York to Stelton, New Jersey. The Ferrer Center remained in New York lasted until 1918.

Modern School Collection

 

 


 

January 1913: Helen Barnhard West and Herbert Warren West
  divorce in New York.

 


 

The Armory Show, New York City

 

   On February 15th, 1913, The Armory Show opened in New York City.

 

poster

The Armory Show was the first exhibition mounted by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and was run by their president, Arthur B. Davies, secretary Walt Kuhn, and Walter Pach. It displayed some 1,300 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 avant-garde European and American artists. Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist works were represented.

News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy. . . terms that Helen, during this period, might have identified herself with.

Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp's cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase, painted the year before, in which he expressed motion with successive superimposed images, as in motion pictures. . .

The purchase of Paul Cezanne's Hill of the Poor (View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph) by the Metropolitan Museum of Art signaled an integration of modernism into the established New York museums, but among the younger artists represented, Cezanne was already an established master.

The exhibition went on to show at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in Copley Hall in Boston, where, due to a lack of space, all the work by American artists was removed.

Armory Show: Facts, Discussion Forum

 

 

 


 

 

Around 1912-13 Helena West met Roger Paul Heller - an "eccentric genius" from Bethlehem, PA - when he was attending the Ferrer Center and panhandling in Greenwich Village.

Despite his intelligence, "Roger never could maintain a job."(LES)   While in New York City, around the period he met his future wife, Roger lost three job opportunities: "the initial position with a Manhattan consulting engineering firm, another with an architectural company, and the last as an electoral sub-inspector at the Brooklyn Navy Yard." (LES)

 

 

  Roger Paul Heller 
(1888-1975)

 

Roger Paul Heller was born on October 9, 1889, in Bethlehem, PA. His parents were Llewellyn Heller (1856 - 1923) and Anna Giess Heller (1858 - 1943). He had two sisters, Miriam (1880-1880) who died before Roger's birth and Claire Heller Moxon (1893-1988). Roger's father had a nervous breakdown in 1918 and killed himself on July 29, 1923 by leaping out of a third story window of his home; his mother was the owner and general manager of the Bethlehem Times, she died of apoplexy on July 10, 1943.

 

Roger graduated from high school in Bethlehem in 1904 at age 15 and won a scholarship from Lehigh University - but because of his age he was not admitted. Instead he spent a year attending prep school. . . He graduated from Lehigh University, class of 1909, with honors, scholarships and a degree in Electrical Engineering.

 

 


 

 

Allentown, PA   (1913-1914)

 

Sometime in 1913, Helen West and Roger Heller shared the same address in Allentown, PA. It was during this time that Helen painted a portrait commission, "Mother and Child," a rather conventional oil painting.

 

 



IMAGE

1914 pen and ink drawing of woman writing or drawing on table, possible self portrait, signed "Helen West" and "Helen West Heller." Drawing of female fantasy figure on reverse.

Image originally published by Illinois Heritage, Jan-Feb 2012, William Furry, Executive Director, Illinois State Historical Society

REMOVED at REQUEST of LARRY STANFEL



 

 

The following year (1914) Helen (age 41) and Roger (age 25) were married in the Lehigh County Courthouse following brief incarcerations.

 

 

"Here is an interesting and important reference to the Hellers from the Washington Post, March 23, 1914" (page 4) following Roger's incarceration at the Allentown State Hospital - located in a section of the city known as Rittersville and known as the Rittersville Asylum.

[sent by C.R., March 12, 2012]

 

MARRY BY OWN RITE

Socialist Pair Sign Record
of Their Wedding.

Act Under An Old Law

Court Clerk Forced to Issue License Stating That There Is No Barrier to Couple Joining Themselves Together in Marriage - Woman Just Freed From Prison and Man From an Asylum.




Special to The Washington Post:
white blank Allentown, PA, March 27 - By "Marrying Themselves," Roger Heller and Helen West are under a declaration of the marriage license bureau of Lehigh county, husband and wife.
white blankFor some time they have been in Allentown advocating socialism and preaching free love. Finally they were arrested. The woman was sent to jail and the youth to the Ritters-ville Asylum.

He Is College Graduate

white blank Heller is 25 and a graduate of Lehigh University. After getting a job at the Brooklyn navy yard, he fell in with the Ferrer Society in New York. He is one of two heirs to family wealth said to aggregate $250,000. Among his new acquaintances was Helen S. West, 41 years old, a native of Illinois and a divorcee. She was a writer for a Socialist paper in New York.
white blank The charge that the two had stolen a gold watch from their boarding house fell through and he was released from prison. The young man's family, once he was in the asylum, relented, and he was released yesterday. Contrary to his promise that he would not rejoin his companion, he met her at once, and they went to the courthouse, where they demanded a license to wed without a preacher.

Forced to Issue License

white blank Clerk Koenig was nonplused, but they showed him the law of 1885 , which says that by certification a pair can web themselves, and he said that under this act he was compelled to issue a license with their certificate.
white blank "Legal evidence having been furnished me, I am satisfied there is no impediment to your joining yourselves together in marriage." to this the two subscribed. "We, the undersigned, have joined ourselves in marriage." Several witnesses signed the document. Forthwith they went to Socialist headquarters to celebrate their union.




According to Larry E. Stanfel, Helen West Heller wrote on her second marriage license application, "Adultery!" - presumably Herbert West's and not her own with Roger Heller!

 

 

Shortly after their marriage, Helen and Roger left Allentown, PA for a farm in Canton, Illinois.

 

 

  CANTON, ILLINOIS   (1914 - circa 1921)

 

 

From 1914 to around 1921, Helen West Heller and her new husband worked on a farm in Canton at the East Walnut Limits. Helen spent her days doing farm chores and evenings writing poems and painting pictures in the dim light of a kerosene lamp.

. . . in autobiographical scraps composed in her latter years, Helen West Heller noted a hospitalization from hard farm work in the 1914-1921 period and poor eyes that opticians had not learned to correct. (3)

 

 

Diana Foret 1915 & 1924
written by Edwin Osgood Grover
illustrated by Helen West Helleer
published for P. F. Volland Company, Chicago

 

In 1915, at age 43, Helen West Heller illustrated three books published for P. F. Volland Company in Chicago: "Yesterdays with You" written by Wilbur D.Nesbit; "Diana Forget" written by Edwin Osgood Grover; and "Let Us Do The Best That We Can" written by Madison Cawein. She received credit for the illustrations in the last two books but not for "Yesterdays with You."

 

Yesterday with You, 1915
written by Wilbur D.Nesbit
illustrated (uncredited) by Helen West Helleer
published for P. F. Volland Company, Chicago

Lets Us Do The Best That We Can, 1915 and 1925
written by Madison Cawein
illustrated by Helen West Helleer
published for P. F. Volland Company, Chicago

 

Interference aka Two Women key block and color woodcut

left image:
Interference, n.d., woodcut   (enlarge)
Signed and titled in pencil. Initialed in the block, lower right. Annotated in the artist's hand: cat #3 and Key. Blk. #3 in pencil, bottom left sheet edge.
Image size 12 x 7 1/2 inches ; sheet size 14 3 /4 x 10 3/8 inches
Black impression, on cream Japan paper, with full margins (1.25" to 1.50")
Keith Sheridan Fine Art

right image:
Interference (Two Women), no date, color woodcut   (enlarge)
6 colors on cream Japan paper
Image size 7 1/2" x 12"
Arader Galleries

Interference colorbar
The colors used in Interference including cream of paper (left) and black of key block (right).

 

Yesterdays with You, illustrated book, 1915 written by Wilbur D.Nesbit; uncredited illustrations by Helen West Heller. Published by P.F.Volland Company, Chicago

Helen West Heller's early color woodcut, Interference, nd, is very much related - in terms of color and line quality - to her illustrations (above) for Yesterdays with You, written by Wilbur D. Nesbit, (uncredited illustrations by Helen West Heller) published by P. F. Volland Company, Chicago, in 1915

 

 

From 1920 United States Federal Census/Census & Voter Lists:

• Name: Helen Heller (age 47)
• Spouse: Roger Heller
• Birth: about 1873 - Illinois
• Residence: 1920 - city, Fulton, Illinois

 

Late in 1921 Helen West Heller left Roger Heller on the farm in Canton, Illinois and bringing with her fifty canvases returned to Chicago to start again a career as a painter. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICAGO - ILLINOIS

1921-1931

 

 

under construction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK CITY

PART I
1932-1941

 

 

Ellis Island REPLACE

Ellis Island
illustration from
Di Oisgebenkte Sho, 1941
Poems in Yiddish by David Seltzer

 

 

   INTRODUCTION

 

. . . in 1932, at the age of sixty, Helen West Heller left Chicago for the last time. After a brief visit with Roger on the farm in Canton, HWH traveled on alone to New York City; she would live here for the remainder of her life - creating many mature and complex woodcuts and wood-engravings. The move east brought Helen West Heller renewed energy and a strong determination to finally succeed as an artist.

 


Autumn, diptych (2 woodcuts), 1932
left: untitled (apple pickers)   right: Raking Leaves       
© 2014, collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

 

East Wind

East Wind 1932
(2012, © private collection)

 

 

The Chair

The Chair 1932

 

 

The two woodcuts above - "The Chair" and "East Wind" - depict Helen West Heller's love for pattern, which began asserting itself over her earlier white-line woodcutting technique. HWH's love for pattern would become more fully realized in her triptych of 1935, titled "American Earth" and especially in "(see images below).

 

 

Plowman of India aka Indian Plowman, 1932
woodcut or wood-engraving, 12 3/4" high x 9 1/4" wide
2015, © collection of Scattergood-Moore
This work is copyrighted
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

American Earth aka American Soil, 1935
left panel: "Cotton Picking" - middle: "Reforestation" - right: "Corn Husking"
left and middle panels, 2012 © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

Helen West Heller's love of pattern came to . . . a more complete realization in a triptych of 1935, titled "American Earth", in which the subject most favored in this Depression times were people and the work of the land. "Cotten Picking," "Reforestation" and "Corn Husking" were the subtitles of that print. It was praised for the balanced blend of blacks and whites in the three panels, and for the simplicity of the figure of the black cotton picker in the first panel, by a critic (Dr. Ernst Harms) writing for the magazine Print Collector's Quarterly, which recorded the interesting achievements of printmakers. (4) Notice that the facial features in this triptych continue to be in the "white-line" wood-cutting technique.

 

  AMERICAN SOIL aka AMERICAN EARTH  

 

 

   THEMES and SUBJECT-MATTER

 

Helen Garlinghouse, who had a gallery in Greenwich Village in the 1930s and was an important supporter of Helen West Heller . said, I handled both Helen and Maurice de Vlaminck, but I when I bought a piece it was always hers, not his, though I knew his were better investments. Helen West Heller told this same dealer that her paintings were studies for her woodcuts, which she came to see as the final form she strove for - even though many of her paintings during 1932-34 were actually completed after her woodcuts of the same image.

 

 


left: Jacob and Angel, 1932, woodcut
© collection of E.W., Warwick, RI
right: Jacob's Angel, 1932. oil on masonite
      25" high x 21 3/8" wide
      © Indianapolis Museum of Art

 

 

   "INDEPENDENT INDEPENDENTS" EXHIBITION at Hotel Roosevelt, New York City

 

 


Helen West Heller with one of her modern paintings.
Mrs. Heller's work is on view in "Independent Independents"
Exhibition at the Hotel Roosevelt (NYEP April, 19, 1933)

 

 

When the exhibit of paintings by thirty-five ultra-indepentent artists was being hung at the Hotel Roosevelt a few days ago, a pleasant-looking woman who might have been a small-town grandmother and president of the local woman's club sat serenely amid the collection of long-haired young men and strong-minded women who were bringing in their pictures. Shabby but meticulously neat, she watched everything with alert interest, quite unaware of how out of place she looked in that strange gathering.

Yet that mid-face elderly woman was Helen West Heller, whose work has been praised by critics forits striking modernism plus its sound technique. Nearing sixty, shoo was making her first success as a modern painter, and no one was more pleased than she when one of her wood-cuts was the first thing sold in the exhibition.

Farmer, factory worker, house-keeper and writer, Mrs. Heller has also been a painter for more than fifty years. She started when she was four. Feeling young, looking younger than her hears, and with the enthusiasm of the youngest of rebel artists, she feels that only now has she been able to master her technique as she wanted. . .

"Most of the great thinks of the world have come from mature people," Mrs Heller said cheerfully. Despite the plainness of the one simple room where she lives in Brooklyn, she smiled with satisfaction. sometimes during the last few years she has been unable to buy paint and canvas, but she has gone plodding on with sturdy courage.

. . . Poverty and hard work rather than travel and study at expensive schools have been Mrs. Heller's teachers. . .

Modernist at Sixty
Mrs. Heller Achieves Her First
Success Among Ultra-Independents
New York Evening Post, Apr, 19, 1933

 

 

On April 29, 1933, Paul Harrison (a syndicated gossip columnist) wrote in his syndicated newspaper column, In New York the following:

NEW YORK, April 29 - For the average artist, or even the better-than-average artist, life in New York has been a pretty drab proposition. For it is estimated that there are at least 2,000 capable painters here who have won my recognition. Story books can't overstate their desperate circumstances, either; they do live in attics and lofts and municipal lodging houses. And they have been unable even to offer their work for sale because they have not the price of gallery fees.

But out of adversity has come inspiration, both in technique and business practice. For critics say that modernism in art has been nourished by poverty. And hard times have led to an organized movement for free shows, for colorful curb markets in Greenwich Village and for dignified exhibitions in the big hotels.

Just now, for instance, a group of prosperous artists, like McClelland Barclay (jewelry), and several society folk are sponsoring an exhibition at the Hotel Roosevelt. And the only qualification for entry is praise-worthy work. The show is called "From Realism to Surrealism." Since the latter is most succinctly defined as "an attempt to free the dream realm with reality." you may guess that some of the abstractions are rather startling. Hungry artist have weird dreams.

 

A Real Surrealist

There's Harrison Knox, for one. Besides being a vocal entertainer, he is a real Surrealist, and paints things like "Medusa" - a great purple pace with white arms sticking out of the forehead and a face dangling from the chin. Knox has been painting less than a year, but psychiatrists already have been around to check up on him. They believe his pictures must be an expression of his pent-up musical interest.

A more understandable modernist is Oronzo Gasparo. . .

Another Italian is Pino Janni. . .

 

Once Famous: Now

Helen West Heller started to paint when she was a farmer's wife in Illinois. Egg money bought pigments and brushes, and after a long day's work she would try to register the colors and forms of an imaginary world of beauty. Chicago critics discovered her. She tried other mediums, and has been called the best wood-cut artist in America. But she came to New York and found it completely unresponsive to her skill. Widowed now, and elderly, she lives alone in a tiny room in Brooklyn, and hopes the hotel exhibition will sell enough of her woodcuts and painting to allow her to return to Chicago.

 

The guiding spirit of this show, and of many another, held hear-about in recent months is Robert Ulrich Godsoe. He was a literary prodigy at 13, a disciple of Joyce at 20. Now, at 29, he is an art critic and author and wears a Dino-Grandi beard to make himself look older.

Olean Times-Herald, New York
Saturday, April 29, 1933, page 12

 

 The Anniston Star, Anniston, Alabama
Saturday, April 29, 1933, page 2

 

PS After Mrs. Ferdinand Huntting Cook's death in 1932, her remarkably-surviving townhouse - No. 249 West End Avenue, New York City - became the Uptown Gallery, run by Robert Ulrich Godsoe for a decade - exhibiting the works of cutting-edge artists like Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko.

PS Dino Grandi (1895-1988) was an Italian Fascist politician, minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs and president of parliament. He was an ally to the most radical and violent groups of fascists, always surrounding himself with members of the Blackshirts.

 

 

  Robert Hardy Andrews on Helen West Heller  

 

 

On October 13, 1933 Helen West Heller's father, Washington Miller Barnhart, died in Bothell, WA

 

 

   THE ILLUSTRATOR

 

 

Helen West Heller contributed illustrations - mostly woodcuts - for The New York Times from 1932-1951 and New Masses from 1933 to 1948. She created illustrations for a number of other magazines including Golden Magazine and books such as: Etwas Neues (1936), Bronzviler Gerzang (1941) Di Oisgebenkte Sho (1947)

 

 

Chapter initials for Etwas Neues 1936

 

 

• The New Masses

 

New Masses cover, May 1926 (1st issue)
cover designed by Hugo Gellert

 

Helen West Heller's art was published between
FEBRUARY 1933 and JANUARY 13, 1948

 

  scroll here pointing finger

From 1933 - a year after Helen West Heller arrived in New York City from her farm in Canton, Illinois - until 1948 - the year the New Masses ended publication - Heller was a regular contributor of art work, mostly woodcuts, to the New Masses. She also wrote two letters to the editor and was highlighted in an article on Subway Art and mentioned in a few other articles.

The New Masses (1926-1948) was in direct line of the Masses (1911-1917) and the Liberator (1918-1924). The New Masses launched in May 1926 and was a monthly through September 1933. It was revamped to become a weekly that started on January 2, 1934.

 

Helen West Heller, Word of Praise, letter to editor

 

The November 7, 1944 issue of New Masses included the following review of the "Tribute to President Rossevelt" exhibition. Note: Helen West Heller (1872-1955) is the only woman listed as one of "the most important American artists of an older generation" - which included John Sloan (1871-1951), George Biddle * (1885-1973), Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Leon Kroll (1884-197), Charles Scheeler (1883-1965), Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), Max Weber (1881-1961), and Boardman Robinson (1876-1952).

* Biddle attended the Groton School;
a classmate of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Tribute to President Roosevelt, exhibition, review in New Masses, November 7, 1944

Helen West Heller, Change the Rules, letter to editor

 

New Masses cover May 1926
New Masses May 1926 (1st issue)

 

NEW MASSES (1926-1948)

Early editors of the New Masses were Max Eastman and Floyd Dell - holdovers from the period of lyrical radicalism of the 1910 and early 1920s. But as these two drifted away, the New Masses was run by the likes of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman, who were more strident in their radical political beliefs and argued for stronger revolutionary positions and stronger ties with the USSR.

In 1930, the International Union of Revolutionary Writers met in Kharkov an urged the magazine to become "in every respect the cultural organ of the class-conscious workers and revolutionary intellectuals of the country." The editors happily accepted the challenge and readers saw Mike Gold's campaign for proletarian literature on the late 1920s and early 1930s that helped bridge the gap between art and politics and followed the tradition of the Masses and Liberator.

From the mid-1930s until the end of the decade and during the period of the Popular Front, the weekly magazine enjoyed its peak popularity. The magazine boasted visually exciting graphics and published the cream of the literary left like Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Albert Maltz, but also established authors like Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Thomas Wolfe.

The magazine sponsored literary organizations like the "John Reed Clubs" in the early 1930s, and the "First American Writers and Artists Congresses" in 1936. It also provoked controversial discussion on art and Marxism.

During the first half of the 1930s, the publication's articles stressed on sectarian and domestic issue, but with the opening of the Popular Front the New Masses began to focus more heavily on the Spanish Civil War, and the growing threat of international fascism.

New Masses continued after the Soviet-Nazi pact, from 1941 to 1947, as a weekly. The journal's political and literary scopes were narrower and its influence greatly diminished. By March 1948, the magazine reappeared as the merged Masses & Mainstream, which ran until 1956.

Rebeca Schiller


In 1922 the left-wing journal, The Liberator, was taken over by Robert Minor and the American Communist Party. Many of the people who contributed to the journal such as Michael Gold and John Sloan were unhappy with this development and in May 1926, they started their own journal, the New Masses.

Michael Gold became editor but when he allowed New Masses to become a strong supporter of the Soviet Union, non-communists such as Max Eastman and Floyd Dell ceased to become involved in the journal. Gold produced a visually exciting journal by employing artists such as William Gropper, Art Young, Hugo Gellert and Reginald Marsh. By 1935 sales had reached 25,000.

Most of the well-known left-wing writers and artists produced material for the magazine. According to David Peck: "The New Masses sponsored some of the decade's most important literary organizations (the John Reed Clubs in the early thirties, the first American Writers and Artists Congresses in 1935), provoked some of its most controversial literary discussions (on proletarian literature and Marxist literary criticism), and published some of the best radical literature to come out of the thirties (the reportage of Meridel Le Suer, John L. Spivak, Josephine Herbst, and Agnes Smedley)."

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the New Masses was a strong supporter of the Popular Front government and tended to concentrate on the growing fascist threat and in order to achieve left-wing unity was far less critical of liberals and other non-communists.

The New Masses ceased publication in March 1948.

Spartacus Educational

 

New Masses cover August 1928 by Louis Lozowick
New Masses cover, August 1928 by Louis Lozowick

 

Related Artists

Cornelia Barns *
Maurice Becker
George Bellows
K. R. Chamberlain
Stuart Davis
Hugo Gellert
Lydia Gibson *
Henry J. Glintenkamp
William Gropper
Helen West Heller *
Robert Henri
Rockwell Kent
Louis Lozowick
Reginald Marsh
Robert Minor
Boardman Robinson
Mary Ellen Sigsbee *
John Sloan
Alice Beach Winter *
Art Young

* = women artists

 

THE MASSES   (1911-1917)

 

In 1911 The Masses was founded in New York by Piet Vlag. Organized like a co-operative, artists and writers who contributed to the journal shared in its management. Early members of the team included Art Young, Louis Untermeyer and John Sloan.

In 1911 John Sloan became art editor of the radical journal, The Masses. Although they were rarely paid, Sloan persuaded some of leading artists to provide pictures for the magazine. Artists such as Robert Henri, Stuart Davis, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Robert Minor, K. R. Chamberlain, and Maurice Becker.

John Sloan, National Association of Manufacturers, The Masses (October, 1913)
John Sloan illustration/cartoon
"National Association of Manufacturers"
The Masses (October, 1913)

 

In 1911 Stuart Davis began contributing pictures to the radical journal, The Masses. During the 1930s he became art editor of the Artists' Congress magazine, Art Front. He also painted several public murals. . .

In 1912 Alice Beach joined with other writers and artists, such as Max Eastman, John Sloan and Art Young, in New York to establish the The Masses. She was born in Green Ridge, Missouri, in 1877. She studied at St. Louis School of Fine Arts and Arts Students League of New York. She was a supporter of women's suffrage and a socialist. Alice married Charles Winner, a socialist and supporter of women's suffrage, and the political cartoonist of the Pittsburgh Post. Alice Beach Winter died in 1970.

In 1913 the ideas of Robert Henri inspired the International Exhibition of Modern Art (the Armory Show) held at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York City. The New York exhibition (held between 17th February and 15th March) included over 1,300 works, including 430 from Europe - attracted 250,000 visitors. After leaving the New York School of Art Henri taught at the Ferrer Center (1911-18) and the Arts Students League (1915-28).

In 1913 Maurice Becker joined with Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Bellows and Stuart Davis in taking part in the famous 1913 Armory Show. Becker also began drawing cartoons. He was a great admirer of radical artists such as Art Young, Rockwell Kent and Robert Minor who were using their art in an attempt to obtain social reforms. In 1914, John Sloan, the editor of The Masses, began using Becker's work.

In 1916 Rockwell Kent along with John Sloan and Stuart Davis, left The Masses over a dispute concerning the role of illustrations in the radical journal.

In 1917 the USA declared war on the Central Powers. The Masses came under government pressure to change its policy but refused to do and lost its mailing privileges. In July, 1917 the authorities charged that cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and H. J. Glintenkamp and articles by Max Eastman and Floyd Dell had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offense to publish material that undermined the war effort. The legal action forced The Masses to cease publication. In April, 1918 the jury failed to agree on the guilt of the defendants and the second trial in January 1919 also ended with a hung jury. The charges were dropped.

In 1918 the same people who produced The Masses, including the editor, Max Eastman, went on the publish a very similar journal, The Liberator (1918-1924). Hugo Gellert was chosen to draw the cover of its first issue in March, 1918.

In 1922 the The Liberator was taken over by Robert Minor and the American Communist Party and In 1924 was renamed The Workers' Monthly. Many of the people who contributed to The Masses and the original Liberator, were unhappy with this development and in 1926, they started their own journal, the New Masses.

 


 

 

 

Cornelia Barns, the daughter of a theatre impresario, was born in Flushing, New York, in 1888. She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and her cartoons published in The Masses, The Suffragist, the Women Voter, The Liberator and the Birth Control Review. Max Eastman, the magazine editor, argued in his book, Love and Revolution (1965): "Cornelia Barns possessed an instinct for the comic in pictorial art that few American artists have ever surpassed. She was a gentle brown-eyed girl with soft hair sleeked down around a comely and quiet face. She had no ambition or aggression in her nature, and came through the open door of the Masses like a child into a playroom, moved only by her liking for what she saw there. When its door closed she disappeared from fame as quietly as she had entered upon it - I don't know why." Barns was a socialist and her cartoons dealt with issues as women's suffrage, political corruption and birth control. Cornelia married Arthur Selwyn Garbett, a music critic from England. After the First World War, Cornelia, suffering from tuberculosis, moved to California with her husband and young son. In her later years she designed magazine covers and contributed cartoons to local newspapers. Cornelia Barns died in 1941.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen West Heller illustration, New Masses April 23, 1946

 

The November 7, 1944 issue of New Masses included a review of the "Tribute to President Rossevelt" exhibition. Helen West Heller is the only woman listed as one of "the most important American artists of an older generation" - which included John Sloan, George Biddle, Thomas Hart Benton, Leon Kroll, Charles Scheeler, Abraham Walkowitz, Max Weber, and Boardman Robinson.

 

LINKS:
Subway Art (1938)
"New Masses"   slideshow

 

The mid-1930s was an especially productive and creative period for Helen West Heller; she created more than 30 woodcuts, many book, magazine and newspaper illustrations and an unknown number of oil paintings, murals and mosaics.

 

 

 

   THE FEDERAL ART PROJECT and W. P. A.   (1935-1947)

 

 

Helen West Heller was active during the period of the WPA; she created commissioned woodcut prints for the WPA; mosaic murals for several NYC subway stations that have been lost; and at least one major mural.

 

The Federal Art Project was one of the depression-era work relief programs of the Works Progress Administration (renamed during 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) and was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency. The program was founded in August 1935 to provide employment for artists and to implement visual arts programs in local communities across the country. Helen West Heller, was on the federal payroll from March 1935 to June 1941 and received between $90 and $115 per month. (3) The FAP program ended in 1947 - six years after Miss Heller's last commission.

 

LINKS:
1934 Public Works Art Project

 

 

• Woodcuts

 

Helen West Heller's diptych: "Biology - Resolution of Forces" and "Cosmic Rays - Sulphur" was commissioned by the Federal Art Project and the wood blocks remained in their possession. Copies are in the collection of The Met, NYC; The National Gallery, Washington DC; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Heller's diptych, "Cider Press" was also commissioned by the WPA and printed by L. F. White.

 

Biology and Cosmic Rays
left: Biology - Resolution of Forces
13 1/8" x 10 13/16"
right: Cosmic Rays - Sulphur
13 7/8" x 11 1/8"
linocuts (diptych) 1939
commissioned by the WPA
2012, © The Met, NYC
(Gift of the Works Projects Administration, NY, 1943)

 


Cider Press, 1939
linocut (diptych), image size: 11 1/4" [w] x 5 1/2" [h]
commissioned by the WPA, printed by L.F. White
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

 

• Murals

 

 

Most of the hospital murals in the 1930s were done under the WPA. They were provided as therapy for the mental distress that accompanies physical illness and sought to emulate the Greek ideal of treating the body and mind simultaneously. Most of the hospital murals were those intended for children. At Bellevue Hospital, Helen West Heller proposed to the WPA/FAP a mural about the life of Johnny Appleseed, for incurable and aging patients, which would remind the patients of the places where they had lived and stimulate them to read about American history. Although this proposal was rejected (which angered the artist) her proposal to paint a mural titled Boys and Girls at Work and at Play, for a ward in the Neponsit Hospital for Children on Long Island, was accepted and executed.

 

 

at the loom and carving
2 possible studies for a mural, circa 1938
At the Loom and Making Sculpture
oil on canvas, isize: 30 1/4" [w] x 40 1/2" [h]
(2012, © private collection)

 

The mural was lost when the hospital was demolished during World War II. In 2006, eleven panels were discovered that may be studies for the lost mural. . They depict: children working as sculptors, toy-makers, potters, basket weavers, on a loom, haying, and herding sheep There was also a four-panel series of children with dog, feeding birds, catching school bus and in the classroom. They are very colorful and beautifully painted.

 

 

  STUDIES FOR NEPONSIT HOSPITAL MURALS  

 

If you are interested in purchasing these panels, contact Leonard S. Davenport of Davenport & Shapiro Fine Arts - it would great to keep this incomplete collection together if a all possible, but they are available in pairs and some times individually.

 

 

. . . The mural which Miss Heller will paint for the boys' ward. . . will consist of a series of forty-one panels depicting activities in which the handicapped child may participate. The artist has made a point of including two crippled children in the busy, happy groups on the walls. . . Two of the panels will be devoted to the whittling of airplanes since Miss Heller learned that this was the favorite activity of the boys.

WPA Art to Cheer Crippled Children
The New York Times, Nov. 18, 1935

 

 


Walking in the Rain to School Bus
panel from Children at Work and Play
Federal Art Project, W.P.A.
1938 newspaper press release

 

. . the best types of pictures for children's wards fall into two groups: those that divert and amuse the young patients, and those 'designed for special psychological reasons.' In the latter group is the mural 'Children at Work and Play,' executed by Helen West Heller for the Neponsit Beach Hospital on Long Island. This is a hospital for handicapped children, and the twenty-three panels show children weaving, and making baskets, doing wood carving, picking apples, fishing, and helping in the hayfield - all suggesting healthy, normal occupations in which the handicapped child might share. In one panel a youngster is racing along with the help of a crutch.

Catherine MacKenzie
WPA Art Project
New York Times
May 7, 1939

 

NOTE: If the review by Catherine MacKenzie in the New York Times is correct, only 23 of the proposed 41 panels were completed; however, if the WPA 1938 press release is correct, 39 panels of the mural "Children at Work and Play" were completed by Helen West Heller.

 

 

• Subway Art: Mosaics

 

 

During the W.P.A. Heller also created mosaic murals for several NYC subway stations that have been lost. A study for one of her mosaic murals appeared in February 22, 1938 issue of New Masses and included a photo essay titled "Subway Art" about the effort by the United American artists and the New York FAP to put art in the subways - illustrations included work by Helen West Heller, Ben Karp, Max Ratskor, Joseph Ringola, and Ruth Cheney.

 

subway mural

"A three-dimensional model of a subway station designed and constructed for the exhibition by the New York Federal Art Project showing the placemen of mural and sculpture. The miniature mural is by Helen West Heller."

SUBWAY ART

The Public Use of Arts committee of the United American Artists and the New York Federal Art Project are engaged on a program to beautify the subways of New York City. The Five items on this page are part of an exhibition of fifty experimental works attempting to solve the aesthetic and, especially, the technical problems of art for the underground stations. They are on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

New Masses, February 22, 1938

 

 

   SOCIAL ACTIVISM

 

 

"The owner of the Green Bookstore on 3rd Avenue recalled her (Helen West Heller) fondly as a 'short, almost tiny energetic' woman who lived nearby and dropped in often. The owner, my father and Helen and Nelson Garlinghouse separately all talked about Helen's political and outspoken bent, using the word communist in the context of the 1950s."

 

 

Murder At The Doorway by Helen West Heller

Murder At A Doorway, 1932
wood-engraving, image size: 2" [w] x 3 7/8" [h]
(2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore)

 

 

ART AND SOCIAL ISSUES

 

 

From its inception in 1933 as an informal group within the John Reed Club to its quiet demise in 1942, the legendary Artists' Union of New York had a profound effect on the lives of its members. In the fight to obtain and expand government patronage, the union engaged in mass picketing, strikes, and sit-ins, and soon after the creation of the WPA work-relief program in the sprint of 1935, it became the de facto bargaining agent for wages and working arrangements, the large percentage of the national quote on the New York City Project the generous exceptions to the stringent relief requirements, and the hightest WPA hourly wages were substantially a result of union pressure."

Artists on the Barricades:
The Militant Artists Union
Treats with the New Deal"
by Gerald M. Monroe

Dark Matter

 

 

• Artists' Union   (1933-1942)

 

From its inception in 1933 as an informal group within the John Reed Club to its quiet demise in 1942, the legendary Artists' Union of New York had a profound effect on the lives of its members. In the fight to obtain and expand government patronage, the union engaged in mass picketing, strikes, and sit-ins, and soon after the creation of the WPA work-relief program in the sprint of 1935, it became the de facto bargaining agent for wages and working arrangements, the large percentage of the national quote on the New York City Project the generous exceptions to the stringent relief requirements, and the hightrest WPA hourly wages were substantially a result of union pressure. - "Artists on the Barricades: The Militant Artists Union Treats with the New Deal" by Gerald M. Monroe Dark Matter

 

artists union

 

COMRADES IN ART

 

During the mid-1930s, at the height of the Depression, many artists joined the Artists' Union. Active members attended political rallies, picketed to create and protect government-supported jobs for artists, made posters and exhibited in group-sponsored exhibitions. Helen West Heller was active in these artists' social and political affairs. She was a member of the Artists Equity Association and a signer of the Call for The American Artists' Congress in 1941.

 

If the 1930s can teach us one key lesson, it is the need to organize. Nothing changes when people do not engage in the long and difficult work of building a diverse, multi-cultural, working class movement from the ground up. This includes artists. Fortunately, the 1930s provides us with multiple examples of how artists worked collectively to confront the economic crisis of their time."

The International Artists Union

 

 

• The Equinox Cooperative Press   (1932-1937)

 

The Equinox Cooperative Press, which published 12 books and 4 soft-covered Equinox Quarters from 1932-1937, was the idea of Lynd Ward. In her autobiographical memoir addressed to Fay Gold on October 18, 1955, Heller complained about many things - including about publishing her book of woodblock verse (Migratory Urge), a process she claimed Lynd Ward later took credit for. Regardless of Heller's bitter feelings, she and Ward shared many common interests in terms of printmaking and social concerns - Lynd Ward would be the main speaker at her memorial service on April 13, 1956.

 

Lynd Ward's 1937 novel-in-woodcuts, published under the title of "Vertigo" was meant to suggest that the illogic of what was happening all around us in the thirties was enough to set the mind spinning through space and the emotions hurtling from great hope to the depths of despair. - Lynd Ward. The book focuses on the Great Depression and follows the story of three interconnected lives: a boy and girl who fall in love and are separated by financial struggle, and an old business owner who lowers wages and is responsible for breaking up strikes that result in deaths. It so happens that the boy in the story gives his blood for money in a move of desperation and the blood goes to the old man, who falls ill in the midst of the strike. It focuses on the extreme contrasts during the depression, which put the boy on an FBI watch-list. (Goodreads)

 

 

• The Art Front Magazine   (1934-1937)

 

Art Front (1934-1937) . . . provided a fantastic resource and community sounding board for issues surrounding art and politics during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) period. Based in New York City, the magazine was the official organ of the Artists' Union and served as a main organizing tool. Contributors included Fernand Leger, Harold Rosenberg, Louis Bunin, and Stuart Davis, among numerous others.

Art Front's mission was "as wide as art itself." Stated its editor, H.S. Baron, "Many art magazines are being published in America today. Without one exception, however, these periodicals support outworn economic concepts as a basis for the support of art which victimize and destroy art. The urgent need for a publication which speaks for the artist, battles for his economic security and guides him in his artistic efforts is self-evident."

Long Live Art Front

 

In "Expressionism and Social Change" - an article from Art Front, November 1936, Charmion von Widgand <argued that after seven years of economic 'stagnation' America was now ready for a truly revolutionary, expressionist art, one that could provide 'the destructive action necessary to the new future.' German Expressionist art, she argued, had lost its force after it abandoned social criticism. At present its young American converts embodied the true spirit of expressionism, one that visualizes the 'social struggle of our time as it assumes ever more dramatic and violent form in the United States.' She then listed the U.S practitioners . . .

. . . among them, Helen West Heller and Alice Neel.

 

 

On December 15, 1936, the Art Digest printed an account of the December 1st riot that erupted between artist protesting WPA layoffs and police at the New York City FAP offices, leading to the arrest of 219 artists. Includes statements by Audrey F. McMahon (FAP New York office director) and Elmer Englehorn (business administrator of the WPA Art Projects). Artists Philip Evergood and Helen West Heller contributed statements. . . (4)

 

LINKS:

Art front, 1935 July

 

 

• The American Artists' Congress   (1936-1941)

 

card
American Artists Congress card signed by Stuart Davis

 

 

AMERICAN CONGRESS ARTISTS
Signers of the Call - 1936 and 1941

 

 

In 1936 the 1st American Artists' Congress against War and Fascism was held in New York City at Town Hall and the New School of Social Research from February 14 to 16. Through this Congress more than 400 leading American artists, academicians and modernists, purists and social realists, were brought together on a platform in defense of their common interests. The Congress was also attended by a delegation of 12 from Mexico, including Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

 

 

Restoration

Restoration, 1935
central panel of "American Earth"
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

Although not a member, Helen West Heller attended the Congress where her print "Reforestation" - the central panel of her triptych 'American Soil' - was shown in the group exhibition and illustrated in "America Today: A Book of 100 Prints," published by Equinox Cooperative Press.

 

American Today; New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1936. First Printing. Quarto. 14pp. Plus one hundred black & white plates. Original cream color cloth over boards with black stamped lettering on spine and front panel. Contains many examples of American printmakers including Helen West Heller, Lynd Ward, Wanda Ga'g, Philip Evergood, Paul Cadmus, Miguel Covarrubias, Rockwell Kent, and many others. Each of the prints was chosen for the exhibition by American Artists' Congress

 

A December 17, 1936 New York Times advertisement for American Today stated: Those who ran New Deal art projects were often artists themselves, but they were artists who thought art should not be limited to an elite. They refused to restrict artistic creativity to those talented enough to paint museum-quality work or perform on a New York concert stage. Most New Deal artist-administrators believed deeply that the projects had a responsability to explore art's many expressions, to reach out to as many Americans as possible, and to put art to practical use.

 

By June 1940, the American Artists' Congress had stopped functioning as a significant force in the art world. Despite defections, it still existed and Henry Glintenkamp became national chairperson. The following year he called for a meeting to take place on June 6-8, 1941, at the Hotel Commodore in New York City. This meeting was sponsored by the Artist's Congress and by the United American Artists. The signers of the Call for The (2nd) American Artists' Congress, 1941 included Peter Blume, Robert Cronback, Adolph Dehn, Philip Evergood, William Grooper, Helen West Heller, George Schreiber, Charles Sheeler, Raphael Soyer, William Steig, Lynd Ward, and Art Young. On June 22, 1941, two weeks after the congress met, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Hitler orders "maximum cruelty" against civilians of Russia. Almost at once the congress reversed the resolution condemning the European war as a "brutal shamefulll struggle," and called for American aid to those fighting fascism.

 

Organize! What the Artists' Union and the American Artists' Congress Can Teach Us Today

Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics

 

 

 


Onya LaTour MODERN ART Exhibition

October & November 1940

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK CITY

PART II
1942-1955

 

Under Brooklyn Bridge

Under The Brooklyn Bridge
illustration from
Bronzviler Gerzang, 1941

 

 

 

 

under construction

 

 

 

 

Bowl and book woodcut for Migratory Urge, 1928

Bowl and Single Spoon (1928)
woodcut from: "Migratory Urge" (pages 53)
2014, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

Beggared woodcut for Migratory Urge, 1928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EPIOGUELINKS

CREDITS
COPYRIGHT

 

 

American Earth aka American Soil, 1935
left panel: "Cotten Picking" - middle: "Reforestation" - right: "Corn Husking"
left and middle panels, 2013 © collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

 

 

 


The extraordinary life and art of Helen West Heller

 

 


Installation view of the retrospective exhibit: "Helen West Heller," January 2003

 

 

An exhibition of Helen West Heller art works and artifacts was held in the Dana Art Gallery, Wellesley, Massachusetts, from January 13 to February 7, 2003. Curated by Scattergood-Moore, the exhibit was the most significant Helen West Heller retrospective exhibition since her death in 1955. Items on display were drawn from three commercial galleries and two private collections. Over fifty woodcuts, executed from 1924 to 1953, plus illustrated books, a painting and copper relief by Helen West Heller were included in the exhibition.

 

 


 

 

tondo
If you know of art work by Helen West Heller
or any new biographical information on her life
I'd love to know.

 

 

I am interested in biographical information on Helen West Heller and/or Roger Paul Heller. I am also interested in Dr. Ernst Harms, Franklin J. Meine, Onya La Tour, Charles J. Bulliet, Helen Garlinghouse, John Taylor Arms, and their relationship with Helen West Heller. I would be grateful for anything you could tell me about any other sources to Helen West Heller.

My email address is pantherprousa@yahoo.com - my postal address is Claflin School Studios, 449 Lowell Avenue, #13, Newtonville, MA 02460

 

 

 

 

In August of 2004, I received an email from a former resident of Canton, Illinois claiming he remembered Roger Heller, but had not known of the scope of Helen's achievements until he read about them on my Helen West Heller website. He stated, I believe each of us might be able to provide something informative to the other. I communicated with and provided information for this retired independent researcher, and like Roger Heller, professor of engineering - by way of a few telephone calls and at least eleven emails - not the "one" that he would later claim online. My expectation was that we were forming a partnership and would be sharing information and even expenses. I gave him permission to reproduce Heller's woodcut "Seasons" (from my personal collection) for a short article on Roger and Helen he was planning to print.

On January 18th of 2005, I received the following email from the professor, I'll certainly show you what I've discovered - and inferred - and am indebted for your help. During the Fall of 2005 he published the first of his papers on Helen West Heller without informing me as he had promised. I never received any information or heard directly from him again. and during the following years he published other papers on Helen West Heller without ever informing me as he had promised.

August 31, 2007 the professor posted comments in discussion boards on Canvas Magazine and AskArt to Bryan Canniff's article "Lost and Found" about "20 inaccuracies and errors on my Helen West Heller website.

The discovery of several of Helen West Heller's mural paintings is very exciting, and Bryan Canniff's article was therefore most welcome. Regrettably, however, the biographical part of the piece contains a number of inaccuracies and errors, apparently contracted from the web site cited . . . It is the purpose of my note to enumerate and correct those . . . and provide additional information. As Mr. Canniff's article suggests, in life her marvelous work often failed to receive the treatment it deserved, and I would like to see that in death, at least, she is treated fairly.

Of course the professor had every right to research the Hellers and publish his findings. To publicize and give credence to his papers, the professor apparently thought he needed to belittled me and decry my work with a series of self-serving and maligning comments - apparently with the motivation of declaring himself "the authority" on the Hellers and with the likely intention of publishing a book on them.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1994-2015   Scattergood-Moore  -  Pantherpro Webdesign   all rights reserved
updated: 03-15-2015

 

Copyright Information: The original text documents on this website are the intellectual property of the artist, Scattergood-Moore and the webmaster, PantherProUSA. The copyrighted images and materials are presented under the Fair Use Provision of the Copyright Act and are presented for noncommercial and educational purposes only. Reproduction or distribution of this material, without explicit permission, is unlawful unless you are distributing the text and images for free and without charge. If you use an image for any educational and/or noncommercial purpose, please provide a link to this site and/or mention this site's address: http://pantherpro-webdesign.com/heller/index.html - thank you,   Scattergood-Moore

 

About Scattergood-Moore: For over 45 years, while pursuing a career as a figurative artist specializing in drawing, printmaking and painting, Scattergood-Moore has been employed as a professional art instructor, educator and gallery director. He has also enjoyed success as an independent curator and gallery consultant.

Since the mid-1980s Scattergood has concentrated on creating large charcoal drawings and conceptual art projects. He has created websites for visual artists and continued his research on the live and art of Helen West Heller. . . Scattergood has worked for artists' rights and artist housing issues and was a founding member of the Waltham Mills Artists Association and the Newton Artists Housing Partnership in Massachusetts - the latter purchased The Claflin Elementary School from the City of Newton and developed it into permanent live/work space for visual artists. He was a founding and active member of the Boston Visual Artists' Union in the 1970s.

More recently, Scattergood served on the Newton Arts Center Board of Directors and was appointed visual arts representative to the City of Newton Cultural Council, which he chaired from 2002-2004. Scattergood-Moore has an extensive record of solo and group exhibitions - participating in over eighty-five invitational and/or juried exhibitions. His drawings and paintings are included in numerous private collections across the United States. Scattergood received three fellowships from the the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and was nominated for the prestigious national Awards in the Visual Arts Program. Today he shares his studio at Claflin School Studios with "The Studio Cat" a calico.

 

 


 

 

"The anger and outrage captured by graphic artists and printmakers have defined revolutions through the centuries, depicting the human condition in all its glories and struggles so powerfully that perceptions, attitudes and politics have been dramatically influenced. . ."

 

 

"If the 1930s can teach us one key lesson, it is the need to organize. Nothing changes when people do not engage in the long and difficult work of building a diverse, multi-cultural, working class movement from the ground up. This includes artists. Fortunately, the 1930s provides us with multiple examples of how artists worked collectively to confront the economic crisis of their time." - International Artists' Union

 


American Artists Congress 1936 | AAC Artists | BVAU 1977 | artists protest fees

 

 

spinning earth from interartunion.com

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REVISED: 03-11-2015