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 Knute Heldner  (1875/77 - 1952)

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Lived/Active: Minnesota/Louisiana / Sweden      Known for: bayou landscape, work genre, portrait

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Knute Heldner
from Auction House Records.
The Pig Woman-A Southern Idyl
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Knute Heldner, born in Vederslov Smoland, Sweden was a painter and woodcarver who spent the latter part of his professional career in New Orleans, Louisiana gaining national and international recognition for his Louisiana landscapes.

His early formal training was at Karlskrona Technical School and the National Royal Academy of Stockholm.  Heldner immigrated to the United States about 1902, arriving first in Boston and moving later to the Great Lakes region.  He held a variety of jobs such as miner, cobbler and lumber camp cook in Minnesota and continued his art education at the Minneapolis School of Fine Art.  His early art work focused on the manual labor of mining and lumbering in paintings titled Veterans of the Mines and The Lumberjacks.  His later work in Southern landscapes including The Cotton Pickers retained a subject interest in the physical aspects of work.

He first exhibited his art work around 1915, when he entered a painting in a Minnesota State Fair competition and won the Gold Medal.  In the mid- twenties, Heldner began spending his winters in New Orleans where he painted Vieux Carre scenes and Louisiana landscapes.  In the summers, he returned to Duluth, Minnesota. He was an active member of local art communities in both New Orleans and Duluth.

In New Orleans, he joined the Southern States Art Union organized by Ellsworth Woodward and was a charter member of the New Orleans Art League.  The Art Association of New Orleans hung Heldner's first one-man show at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art in 1926.  He also taught painting at the New Orleans Art School established by the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans.

Heldner continued to study art through the twenties and thirties at the Chicago Art Institute, the Academy of Scandinavian Art in Paris, and under the direction of artists David Erickson, Dispieu and others.  In 1926, he won highest honors at the Swedish-American Art Exhibition in Chicago, and in 1932 he held one-man shows at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, a gallery in Stockholm, and the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans Gallery.  In the thirties, Heldner participated in the Workers Progress Administration Federal Art Project in Louisiana continuing to paint landscapes as well as portraits.  The New Orleans Assembly of Delphians purchased a Heldner painting Petit Vernon and donated it to the Isaac Delgado Museum in 1937.  His paintings also hang in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute, the White House, and the Luxembourg Museum in Paris.

Heldner married Colette Pope and had two children, Paulette and Franz.  He died in New Orleans in 1952.

Source: New Orleans Auction


Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
A native of Vederlow Smoland, Sweden, Knute Heldner came to the United States in 1902. Upon his arrival, he worked as a cobbler in Minneapolis for several years. Heldner was later a miner on the Iron Range and a forest guide and lumberjack in the woods of northern Minnesota before he decided to devote himself completely to painting.

After making this decision, he studied at the Minneapolis School of Art for three terms. Heldner subsequently studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students' League in New York, and the Academy of Scandinavian Art in Paris. He spent several winters in St. Augustine, Florida before visiting New Orleans in 1922. In 1923, Heldner moved to New Orleans permanently, established himself in the Vieux Carre and lived with his family on St. Peters Street in the French Quarter. He died in New Orleans on November 5, 1952.

Heldner was a socially-minded painter who created absorbing descriptions of lumber camps, mining areas, black Southerners, and sharecroppers. He was a man interested in every phase of life and represented these aspects of life and death in his landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes. Heldner followed no specific school or style and in fact felt equally comfortable in a conventional, impressionistic manner of painting as in a more abstract style.

During his lifetime Heldner was often praised, even marveled at, for his ability to use and incorporate many different styles of painting. One critic commented that viewing an exhibition of Heldner's works actually seems as if one was seeing an exhibition of paintings by five or six men of different techniques and temperaments.

Heldner's landscapes, many of which are of Louisiana's bayous and marshes, possess a symbolic and spiritual quality. It is, however, his "toil and the soil" works which are most sympathetic and emotion-filled. (1) "The Cost of Labor", one of his most well-known paintings, depicts the tragedy of a mine accident. His "Cotton Pickers" inspired several critics to begin referring to Heldner as "America's Millet." "The Pig Woman" similarly represents a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of the rural life of Southern blacks during the first half of the 20th century.

Heldner exhibited for the first time in 1915 at the Minnesota State Fair where he won the gold medal. He won another gold medal at the fair in 1920. Early on in his career, Heldner had become a favorite artist of President Harding and one of his paintings hung in the White House from 1921-1923. By 1927, Heldner was considered one of the leading fifteen artists in the United States by the Art Institute of Chicago. He won the Scandinavian - United States Artist's Award in two separate years, 1924 and 1938.

After 1923, he became a member of the New Orleans Art League and the New Orleans Art Association. Throughout his lifetime, his paintings were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and in Milwaukee. His painting of a black woman paddling a boat in a bayou became a part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution in the 1930s. Moreover, he was an internationally-acclaimed artist, winning honors at the Paris Salon and in Stockholm, during his two-year stay in Europe which began in 1929.

By the time of his death, Knute Heldner was ranked by the American Federation of Artists as one of the twelve greatest living artists. He was considered one of the "old guard" of Vieux Carre artists who "worked, and played. . . obtained glamor from and cast glamor on the French Quarter."1 Although nearly blind, Heldner continued to paint until his death at age 77.

1Duluth News-Tribune, November 8, 1952.

2Times-Picayune, November 7, 1952.

Text derived from file of newspaper articles on Knute Heldner in the possession of Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.


Elizabeth A. Fleming
Copyright 1991 Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.
This essay and its contents are the property of Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced in part or in full without express written permission.

Biography from Kramer Gallery, Inc.:
Knute Heldner studied in Stockholm schools before immigrating to the United States around 1902. He worked as a miner, cobbler, and lumberjack in the Great Lakes region, and eventually studied art at the Minneapolis School of Art (today the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). Heldner found immediate success in exhibiting his work, winning a gold medal at the Minnesota State Fair in 1915.

From the 1920s Heldner split his time between Duluth in northern Minnesota and New Orleans, the home of his artist wife Colette Pope Heldner. He exhibited to acclaim in Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Paris and Stockholm, including the 1933 Century of Progress exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. Heldner’s landscapes, marines, and city scenes are rich in color and brushstroke; he also painted strong portraits and genre scenes with particular sympathy for workers. Heldner was employed on the WPA Federal Art Project in New Orleans.

A collection of archival materials documenting Heldner’s career is in the Louisiana State University libraries, Baton Rouge.

Written and submitted by Thomas O'Sullivan, museum curator and freelance writer.



Citations
J. Gray Sweeney, AMERICAN PAINTING AT THE TWEED MUSEUM OF ART AND GLENSHEEN (1982)
Michael Conforti, ed., MINNESOTA 1900: ART AND LIFE ON THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI 1890-1915 (1994)
Mary T. Swanson, THE DIVIDED HEART: SCANDINAVIAN-AMERICAN IMMIGRANT ARTISTS (exhibition catalogue, 1982)


Museums
Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul MN
Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Duluth MN
Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans LA
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, LA



Biography from Zigler Museum:
Knute Heldner Knute Heldner, born in Sweden, came to America in 1902, frail in physique, but with an unconquerable determination to become an artist. He settled in northern Minnesota, the most unlikely locality to furnish him with academic training. He worked as a forest guide, lumberjack, and cobbler for several years. His determination to learn to paint is almost unbelievable. He went directly to nature for his teacher.

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