Helen Turner (American painter) 1858 - 1958
Helen Turner was born into a wealthy Louisiana family, whose home and fortune-her father had been a prominent Southern coal merchant-were destroyed in the Civil War. Having lost both parents by age thirteen, Turner was raised by an uncle in New Orleans, where she first turned to painting around 1880. A two-year stint as an art instructor at a Dallas girls' school made her aware of her own lack of formal training. In 1895 she moved to New York City to complete her studies at the Art Students League with Kenyon Cox and Douglas Volk, and at the Design School for Women at Cooper Union. Like Susan Watkins (see objects 46.76.147, 46.76.137, 46.76.142), Turner emerged as a trailblazer for women artists in early twentieth-century New York. An energetic promoter of her own work, she mounted her first solo exhibition at the Milch Gallery in 1917 and that same year was included with Mary Cassatt (see object 71.498) in the influential exhibition Six American Women. By 1921 she had become a full academician at the National Academy of Design, only the third woman (after Cecilia Beaux and Lydia Field Emmet) to be so honored. To ensure herself a steady income, she taught life and costume drawing at the New York YWCA from 1902 to 1919. In 1906 Turner spent her first summer painting at Cragsmoor, an artists' colony in the Shawangunk Mountains eighty miles north of New York City (see object 71.554). By 1910 she had constructed a house there, "Takusan," where she returned to work virtually every summer until 1941. Inspired by Cragsmoor's tranquil, rural surround, Turner produced her finest work there during the 1910s and early 1920s-a succession of idyllic Impressionist landscapes and genteel genre scenes featuring comely young women in summer gardens, on porches, and in elegant interiors.