October 2010: Header image: The Sky is Falling, by Helga Flower
Header image: The Sky is Falling, by Helga Flower

Featured Artist: Helga Flower

Last updated: October 1, 2010

Helga Flower (portrait)Helga Flower is one busy lady. She teaches watercolor and mixed media workshops all over the world and is a frequent juror and judge for art organizations and museums. She’s in demand as a guest speaker and demonstrator and . . . paints. She teaches between fifteen and twenty four or five day workshops each year. (Her favorite was in Costa Rica, but she also loves her fall workshops on Mackinac Island.) Helga’s busiest painting time is the five months of the year she spends in Florida, painting outside and focusing on new ideas, new techniques and new materials. After experimenting, she passes these new ideas on to her students.

Before we talked to Helga, we gathered together all the digital photos we had of her work and we noted the following: The earlier paintings were almost exclusively watercolor, whereas later paintings incorporated collage and acrylics and mixed media. Early paintings were mostly landscapes and florals. Later paintings became more abstract. Early paintings incorporated curving lines and soft edges. Later paintings contained more straight lines and rectangles. Colors in early paintings were primarily pastels. Later colors became more intense and dramatic. We noted many bird nests in her works. Another prevailing theme was birds, including a series incorporating chickens. Naturally, we had questions, including—why did she start painting in the first place?

Helga had a very difficult childhood in Europe (described in her book, Warchild), and says she found art “through desperation, loneliness and hopelessness”, creating her “own little dream world that helped me survive”. Later she studied art in Germany and in the United States. The person who influenced her the most was Edgar Whitney, the father of watercolor workshops, who was ninety-six when she studied with him in Minnesota. She sold her first painting, an oil flora, in Newberry fifty years ago and says she never looked back.

Her fascination with nests began when her grandson, Travis, brought a bird nest home. Examining it, she noted its intricate construction, the varied materials that went into it, and the contrasts—between the straight sticks and round nest and eggs and between the muted colors of the nest materials and the pastels of the eggs. In discussing the nests, she pointed out that art, like life, is full of opposites—contrasts, between light and dark, straight and round, hard and soft, simplification and exaggeration.

Often she lets the paper and materials dictate the form the painting will take. When chickens appeared in the paper and the white spaces, she allowed them to take over, remembering a chicken house she was in, in Wyoming. The result was Board Meeting (all works, see below)—chickens on boards—round bodies, straight boards, white chickens, dark background. Mr. Lucky features a colorful rooster in a rain of broken eggshells, surrounded by fluffy yellow chicks. Helga says the white spaces suggested egg shells, which naturally required the addition of chicks. Again, a brilliantly distinct rooster against a dark background; fluffy yellow chicks and straight black rails; the curve of the rooster’s tail and the dark vertical streaks of the background—suggesting spider webs or light through a leaky roof. The Sky is Falling also features chickens, which we missed at first, dazzled by the fiery sky, which suggests an inferno, or rockets, or a nebula. But, sure enough, the chickens are there—in left foreground, right background, and a large one dominating the center.

In marked contrast is the serenity of Silence, a muted negative, and Speaking Softly.

Helga’s current favorite is the painting that illustrates her book and which took First Place in the annual juried exhibit of the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA), So It Was. She notes, “As a child I lived in the attic of an abandoned, old schoolhouse and I got to know old, broken barn wood, rusty nails and shattered glass. Until I wrote the book, I always wondered why I like to paint these things. Now I know.”

Helga’s book, Warchild, had been in her mind for a long time, but she said she was afraid to recall all those hardships. But “All of a sudden the time seemed to be just right—after being away from Europe for over fifty years and everything seemed like a bad dream. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop! I poured my heart out, knowing after all I went through, being here in America, enjoying a great life, and being a professional artist, life comes full circle”. Warchild is available in the Alberta House Shop, Casual Lifestyles, or from Helga Flower, helgaspalette@att.net, or Helga’s Palette, P.O. Box 736, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783 (or call Heidi at 906-632-3437) for $20, plus $3 shipping. (We discussed it in the February, 2009, issue of Alberta House News, which you can see on our website saultarts.org. Click on “Download, Printable Newsletters” on the sidebar on the home page, then scroll down to February, 2009. The review is on page 10.)

Helga’s paintings can be seen at the Moonshine Gallery in Michigamme, near Marquette; at the Blue Heron Gallery in Elk Rapids; and at Art Unlimited Gallery near Lansing. She will be teaching at LSSU in June, 2011. For more information, call her Sault office at 632-3437 or e-mail: helgaspalette@att.net. She also has a new website: www.helgaflower.com.

Works by Helga Flower
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Board Meeting, by Helga Flower

Board Meeting

Mr. Lucky, by Helga Flower

Mr. Lucky

The Sky is Falling, by Helga Flower

The Sky is Falling

Silence, by Helga Flower


Speaking Softly, by Helga Flower

Speaking Softly

So It Was, by Helga Flower

So It Was

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312