Visual

Helmi's World

A woman ahead of her time

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

At times, Helmi Juvonen’s biographical timeline reads like a soap opera.

For example, even though the Montana-born painter, printmaker and sculptor wasn’t technically insane, she still spent the last 26 years of her life at Elma’s Oakhurst Convalescent Center, where she landed after being involuntarily committed to Northern State Hospital in Sedro-Woolley with a (mistaken) diagnosis of schizophrenia.

And although the accomplishments noted in Helmi’s history—from her birth in 1903 to her death in 1985—included exhibits throughout the Pacific Northwest and growing recognition from her peers, her art was often overshadowed by the fact that she didn’t follow the typical path of women of her time.

Instead of getting married and having children, Helmi developed friendships with Native American chiefs, attended ceremonies and potlatches from Bellingham to La Conner, Vancouver Island, and beyond, camped for long periods of time on reservations, studied aboriginal art and eventually created a body of work that helped to preserve a vanishing way of life.

On a recent tour of “Helmi’s World: Symbol, Myth, Fantasy” at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, curator Barbara Matilsky stressed the importance of looking beyond Helmi’s “eccentricities”—her obsession with fellow artist Mark Tobey, residing in an old shack in Edmonds without heat or water, and various other attempts to live independently—to the fact that what she created should be remembered in the annals of history.

“People don’t know much about how important her work was to Native American culture,” Matilsky says. “If she had money—and had been a man—life would have been very different for her.”

“Helmi’s World” features works culled from both before she was committed in 1960, and after her incarceration in Elma, where she was thankfully able to continue her artistic pursuits. Those visiting the gallery can see everything from paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington to watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, linocut prints of the Makah Thunderbird and Wolf dances, mixed-media drawings inspired by ancient Peruvian tapestries, and more modern pieces that suggest Helmi was also on the cutting-edge of modern art.

“Although Helmi has not yet been recognized as widely as other Pacific Northwest ‘mystics,’ such as Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, she was, in many ways, ahead of her time,” Matilsky says. “Her graffiti-like abstractions, mixed-media compositions, and paper cut-outs relate to trends in contemporary art and communicate easily with a new generation of viewers.”

Matilsky admits to becoming slightly obsessed with Helmi while putting the exhibit together. This can be seen in the attention to detail included in the explanatory missives next to each work on display. When possible, she sought and found photographs that corresponded with the pieces Helmi had made, such as “Chief Seattle,” “Mark Tobey’s Eskimo Mask” or that of a Lummi dancer. She also put together the intricate timeline, made sure to include pieces that were representative of various points of Helmi’s life and career, and looked beyond the art to the real woman who—despite setbacks that would have silenced a typical person—never gave up on her visions.

Helmi’s last exhibit at the Whatcom Museum took place 30 years ago, a few months before her death. With “Helmi’s World,” her spirit is remembered, and brought back to vivid life. If you go, you’ll not only be paying homage to a master, but learning something in the process.

BTown
More Visual...
Creative Gifting
Holiday helpers, take two

In an era when it’s possible to knock items off a holiday shopping list without even having to get out of your bathrobe and leave your domicile, it’s refreshing to find that there still remains a plethora of choices for those who are still willing to step away from the computer screen to…

more »
Holiday Helpers
Yep, it’s the season

On the last Sunday of October, Whatcom County experienced record-setting warmth that wasn’t exactly commensurate with the season. By the following Sunday, snow was on the ground and it was dark by 5pm—making it much easier to comprehend that Christmas is just around the corner. Following…

more »
Art's Alive!
Making magic in La Conner

This year’s “Art’s Alive” invitational at La Conner’s Maple Hall features 14 Northwest artists. The striking promo poster for the 33rd annual event that will see the town come alive with visual, literary, musical and culinary art Nov. 3-5 features interwoven images of insects, seeds and…

more »
Events
Today
Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival

3:00pm|Eaglemont

Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Tomorrow
Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act

1:00pm

Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books
Monday
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove Kaeshammer Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1