Helen West Heller

American , 1872 - 1955

Helen West Heller was born in Rushville, Illinois in 1872. Her father was a self-sustaining farmer, boat builder and decoy maker; consequently, Heller developed a love of wood as an artistic material. Heller suffered from poor health throughout her life, which made her school years difficult. She completed two terms of art school in Illinois, as well as some art classes in New York and Saint Louis. She moved to Chicago in 1892, where she became a professional model to support her artistic self-training.

In 1902, she moved to New York City where she tried to make a living doing factory work and embroidery. Heller returned to Chicago in 1921 and two years later, she cut her first real woodcut. Enlisting the help of other young Chicago artists, she tried to create a woodcut magazine. Her woodcuts were denounced by critics as “too abstract and unrealistic”. Her success in poetry encouraged her to cut a set of woodblocks to illustrate a book of poems, published as “Migratory Urge”.

During the ten years Heller spent in Chicago, she started a real novelty in the American graphic world and sold numerous prints. Heller returned to New York in 1932 and created some of her most beautiful woodcuts.

Her woodcut “Reforestation” was exhibited by the American Artists’ Congress in 1936 and in “Woodcuts U.S.A.”, a book containing 20 of her prints published by Oxford University Press, New York in 1947. In 1948 she was made an associate member of the National Academy of Design. She produced over 600 woodcuts from 1925 until her death in 1955.
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