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 Helen (Little Standing Spruce) Hardin  (1943 - 1984)



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Lived/Active: New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: geometric abstract Indian imagery painting

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Ad Code: 3
Helen Hardin
from Auction House Records.
The New Robe
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New Mexico and as an adult a resident of Espanola, New Mexico, Helen Hardin was the daughter of Herbert Hardin and Pablita Verlarde, famous Indian woman painter.  Helen Hardin's work showed a transition from traditional Indian painting to more modern, abstract images--some of them Cubist*--and a more painterly* style.  She focused on patterns to reflect daily Indian life rather than realistic depiction.  Her work also expresses a deep personal mysticism.  She was a member of the New Mexico Council of American Indians and has performed as an actress on television.

Growing up with a mother who was an artist, she had early exposure to art training. She spent her first years in Santa Clara and then moved to Albuquerque where she attended Piux X High School.  She studied art history and anthropology at the University of New Mexico, was briefly at the University of Arizona, spent some time with weaving and textile design, and then returned to her first love, which was painting. Her mediums are acrylics, inks, and washes.

In 1964, she had a one-woman-show at the Enchanted Mesa Trading Post in Albuquerque, and in 1968 had a one-woman show in Bogota, Columbia, with nearly everything sold.  She has won many prizes including the Avery Memorial Prize in 1975 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Sources include:
Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Jeanne O Snodgrass, American Indian Painters

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Len Wood's Indian Territory,Inc.:
Helen Hardin’s life was profoundly marked by her search for identity and her struggle for acceptance and recognition both at home and in the world.  The art that she created attests to the internal and external conflicts and resolutions that she experienced during her short lifetime.

Born on May 29, 1943 to Herbert Hardin, an Anglo policeman, and Pablita Velarde, a renowned Santa Clara artist, Helen was immediately faced with the emotional and cultural challenges of her mixed ethnic background.  Rejected by the Santa Clara Pueblo elders as a “half-breed,” Helen was forbidden to partake in the dances and traditions of her mother culture, and was thus unable to create a solid identity for herself as a member of Pueblo society.  Living on the outskirts of Tewa culture, Helen found little comfort among her peers and even less comfort in her unstable home environment.  Lacking support from her father who left home when she was just thirteen and constantly abused by her emotionally distant mother, Helen yearned for a way to define herself and to become accepted by others.  In time, her artistic endeavors would prove to be the medium through which she could put order into her life, and attribute meaning to her existence.

Helen never initially aspired to become an artist, and was “in fact negative about the prospect because it would mean competing with her mother” (Scott, 16).  In fact, when Helen finally acknowledged her artistic calling, her mother Pablita Velarde was already a prominent Indian artist in the Southwest and did much to prevent her daughter’s arrival onto the art scene.  As animosity and jealousy between mother and daughter grew stronger, the challenge for Helen to step out from under her mother’s shadow into a light of her own seemed a formidable one indeed.

Yet opportunity came Helen’s way, and in 1962, Helen held her first one-woman show at Coronado Monument, just a few miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Soon thereafter, in 1964, Helen exhibited her works at Enchanted Mesa.  However it would not be until 1968, upon her return from a sojourn in Colombia, that Helen would have true confidence in her abilities and a clear vision of her artistic objectives. Having seen the success of her artworks among the Columbian people, far from her mother’s sphere of influence and control, Helen became aware of her full artistic potential.  In 1969, Helen won first prize “for innovation” for her Chief’s Robes at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico.  In March of 1970, Helen's work appeared on the cover of New Mexico Magazine and was featured in the main article entitled “Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh Does Her Thing”.  With this publication, Helen’s status rose overnight to that of a national celebrity.

No longer simply the “daughter of Pablita Velarde,” Helen Hardin had become an artist in her own right, and impressed the nation with her inventive and painstakingly perfect compositions.  Her fascination with perfectionism demanded a great deal of her time and energy, and at times even “…transcended economic … [and] aesthetic imperatives… her paintings were so full of meticulously executed detail [that] it was impossible for the viewer to appreciate (or even, in some cases, to see) the total complexity of her craftsmanship.” (Scott, 18-19).  Yet in using her art as an escape and refuge from her chaotic life, the exactitude that Helen strived for gave her a sense of order and control that she so needed and desired.

Making Prints:

While Helen’s success in the art world continued to thrive, the time required for the creation of each original piece severely limited the quantity of works produced. In 1979, California art dealer Sue Di Maio went to Helen to propose the idea of making etchings.  While initially against the idea, Helen agreed to make four etchings at El Cerro Graphics in Los Lunas, NM.  The result was more than satisfactory.  Helen would later admit to her contentment with this technique, stating “etching suited me perfectly.”

Helen Hardin died on June 9, 1984, of cancer.

Works Cited:

Scott, Jay. Changing Woman, The Life and Art of Helen Hardin. Northland Publishing Co. 1989.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Her Tewa name was Little Standing Spruce (Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh) when she was born into the Santa Clara Pueblo community in 1943, but she had an Anglo father so she had a second name, Helen Hardin. Neither of her families accepted her because of her so-called "half-breed" identity. She was not allowed to do ceremonial dances with her people, which was a very important part of a child's identity in pueblo life. Her mother was well-known artist Pablita Velarde. To attend high school, she moved to Albuquerque and then went on to the University of New Mexico to study art history and anthropology. She briefly studied weaving and textile design at the University of Arizona and then returned to painting in acrylics, inks and washes.

Pablita and her husband divorced when Helen was thirteen due to Pablita's aggressive nature and problems with alcohol. Helen created artwork from her earliest years, but was careful not to take it seriously for fear she would be competing with her mother. In fact, as Helen's work became more accomplished, her mother did much to prevent her daughter's work from being seen. In 1962 Helen held her first one-person show at Coronado Monument near Albuquerque, New Mexico. She exhibited a one-person show in 1964 at Enchanted Mesa Trading Post also in Albuquerque.

As the hostility grew between Helen and her mother, Pablita continued her angry outbursts. Helen soon left for Bogota, Columbia to stay with her father for awhile. Herbert Hardin managed to arrange for a one person show of Helen's work in 1968, and to her great surprise she sold 27 of her paintings to people who weren't even aware of her famous mother. She came home to win first prize for innovation at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico. Her work appeared on the cover and in the main article of New Mexico Magazine in 1970, which sealed her own celebrity status in the art world.

Helen's artwork consisted of meticulous drawings of colorful abstracted images of Katsina figures and of Native American daily struggles. In 1975 she won the Avery Memorial Prize at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. A California art dealer came to Helen in 1979 to propose the idea of doing etchings of her now time-consuming images, which she agreed to do. Her efforts were well received and she enjoyed the medium. She was again chastised by the Tewa elders, this time for showing too many of the secret spiritual symbols represented in their mythology. But to Helen she was only illustrating the deep spiritual connection she felt with the Katsinas and her culture.

When Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer she began a three-year body of work called "Woman Series" that reflected her feelings about women and life as she had experienced it. She died in June of 1984 at age 41. Her work is included in several collections including the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Indian Territory, Inc. by Len Wood
Changing Woman, The Life and Art of Helen Hardin by Jay Scott
American Women Artists by Charlotte Rubinstein
American Indian Painters by Jeanne O. Snodgrass

Biography from Adobe Gallery:
Helen Hardin, whose Indian name was Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh (Little Standing Spruce), was from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico and was, perhaps, one of the more fascinating, complex, and engaging figures in the American Indian art world in the twentieth century.

Her art was one of definitive struggle; to capture, hold, and relish those aspects of her native heritage and yet depart from the Santa Fe/Dorothy Dunn School of her predecessors, including her mother Pablita Velarde (b. 1918).

Helen Hardin's style, so distinctive and compelling for some viewers, began to emerge in the 1970s with a series of Katsina figure paintings.  Her personal explorations led her into the works of her Woman Series, such as Changing Woman.  Her work is concerned with the intellectual and physical struggle of her very existence, the struggle of woman versus man, patron versus artist, Indian versus Anglo, tradition versus progression.  Complex, it is art that is both forward looking and yet rooted firmly in the ancient past.

Helen Hardin died of cancer in 1984.

Biography from Golden Dawn Gallery:
Tsa-sah-wee-eh, (Little Standing Spruce), was one of the more
significant women in the American Indian art world, second only to, and
at the side of, her mother - Santa Clara Pueblo Artist Pablita Velarde.

Hardin established herself as one of the first female Native American
Artists to cross over into a contemporary modern style and gain
international acceptance and recognition. Her style, instantly
recognizable and for many, intensely captivating, emerged from a look
similar to her mother's paintings and developed through a cubist period
and finally into the abstract yet spiritual work for which she became

Truly one of the most important American Indian painters of the
twentieth century, she had her career cut short when she died of breast
cancer in 1984 at age 41.

Helen Hardin's only child was contemporary abstract expressionist artist Margarete Bagshaw.

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