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 Bessie Helstrom  (1874 - 1966)

About: Bessie Helstrom
 

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Michigan/Florida / Sweden      Known for: marine-underwater, still life

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
STILL LIFE WITH POTTERY VASE OF PEONIES
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Susan Spradlin:

My grandfather purchased, "Peonies", by B. Helstrom for an anniversary gift for my grandmother in Fort Smith, Arkansas in the late 1920s. She had seen the picture in a shop window downtown Fort Smith and grand dad secretly worked extra jobs to surprise her with it. Grandma gave it to my mother and it hung in her living room until 1975 when a tornado destroyed my parent's house in Neosho, Missouri. The picture was always a favorite of mine at grandma's and in my parent's house. I especially remembered the gold frame which had molded roses all around.

Years later, I was living with my family of three children and husband in Sand Springs, OK and doing my usual garage sale shopping on a Saturday in 1983. It was late, we were all tired and on my way home I saw a sign out on a fence post "barn sale". I good humored the kids into one last stop. The lady said they were closed for the day but I was welcome to look. It was dark and very dusty in the barn. As I snooped around, I noticed a completely dust-covered large picture hanging on a post. I took out a kleenex and wiped off the frame a little and found a bit of gold and a rose shape. Thinking it would be a great frame if at a cheap price so I asked the lady how much she wanted for it. She said $10 and we settled on $7.50.

I took it home and began cleaning it up. The rose molding began to be familiar to me so I began wiping away the layers of dust on the glass and found an Oriental man holding scrolls on his shoulder and standing on a table. My heart began to beat! I couldn't believe it! It was the same picture and frame that had been my grandmother's. I had always looked for another one but to no avail! I cleaned it up and noticed there were water spots on the back and some pits that were all the way through from the covering in the back to the picture.

I called my mom in Missouri and asked her what had happened to the picture and she said dad had put it on a scrap heap and some guy had come buy and carted all the stuff off. She thought the picture was ruined - that's what dad had told her. The next day I went over to the house where I'd purchased it and asked the lady where they had gotten the picture. She said her husband had died and he'd bought it. I told her about the tornado, etc. and she gasped and held her hand to her chest. She said she'd remembered her husband and her talking about the tornado and how he could pick up some stuff to sell so he'd driven his truck over to Missouri and stopped at several houses and that is where he'd bought the picture!

I am convinced it is my grandmothers! I have looked for years for information on the artist but to no avail. I did find another of her paintings just today, "Hydrangeas", for sale in North Carolina. I would be interested in any other pictures available as well as any information about the author.

rsusans@hotmail.com

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A noted and popular painter of floral still life’s, Bessie Helstrom was born in Vastergotland, Sweden on June 6, 1874.  Her family immigrated to the United States in the early 1890’s.  She married Hugo Helstrom in 1896 and the couple soon settled in Chicago where he ran a business and she taught school.  Bessie is later noted as studying art in New York and in Chicago at the Academy of Fine Art.  In the early 1920’s the Helstrom’s began maintaining a summer home in Pentwater, Michigan.  It was there that she started cultivating and painting the exquisite floral works that were often chosen for comment when exhibited.  By the 1930’s the couple spent their summers in Michigan and winters in Miami, Florida.  She maintained a studio at both residences.

Bessie Helstrom was a regular exhibitor with the Chicago Galleries Association beginning in the 1930’s into the 1950’s, while also showing her work at the Swedish American Art Exhibition in Chicago and in Miami and Palm Beach, Florida.

In the summer of 1946 the Duke of Windsor saw one of her paintings and liked it so well he sought out her studio and purchased ten paintings.  In her column in the Chicago Tribune, the art critic Eleanor Jewett commented: “He agreed with the majority of us that in the painting of flowers there is not one in America who can top Bessie Helstrom.”   An obvious favorite of the critic, the artist regularly received favorable comment; on the occasion of her exhibit at the Chicago Galleries in October of 1951 Jewett wrote: “Mrs. Helstrom is noted for her flower arrangements and the present group adds to her reputation.  The paintings are fresh and decorative and the flowers are so real one can almost catch their fragrance.”

Her sister, Agda Viker (1885-1969) of Chicago, was also a noted floral painter and exhibited with the Chicago Galleries Association in the 30’s and 40’s.

Bessie Helstrom died in Miami, Florida on February 20, 1966, at the age of 91.

Biographical references include the artist’s obituary and death certificate in addition to several articles from the Chicago Tribune regarding exhibitions of her work.

Biography provided by Edward Bentley

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