Friday, July 3, 2015

How I Found My Mentor


Tim and I started painting in the early 2000s while living in Detroit.  We admired many artists, and were aware that painter Helen Cartmell was quite the local celebrity.

 
Artwork by Helen Cartmell


In September, 2007, Helen was featured in a solo exhibit called "Destinations" at the Art Center in Mt. Clemens (a Detroit suburb).   Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the opening reception, but visited the exhibition later in the week.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Helen's work was just jaw-dropping.  How could we have missed the opportunity to have met her on opening night?   Oh, how I wanted to take some photographs.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


I talked to the director of the Art Center and she jotted down Helen's home phone number and suggested I call her to get permission to take pictures.   Well, I was too embarrassed to just call her, so I made Tim do it.  Helen not only graciously agreed to let us photograph her artwork, but invited us to visit her home studio the following week.  She also suggested we bring along some of our own paintings and drawings.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Between gathering pieces of art to show Helen, I did a little detective work on the computer.  Just who was this Helen Cartmell or how nervous should I really be?  Well, I got more nervous when I read some of her accomplishments. 

Helen went to Cass Tech, that special local high school for the smart, artsy kids.  Then she attended the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, later renamed the College for Creative Studies, the best art school in the Midwest.  Wyland even went there!


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Multiple fellowships at the Ossabaw Island Project in Georgia and LaNapoule, France were awarded to Helen.  She studied in Italy.  She painted in Greece.   She also took numerous master classes with Jack Beal (the father of the New York Realist movement) and his artist wife Sondra Freckelton on their farm in New York.  She took annual portrait workshops with Milton Kobayashi in Arizona for years.   Helen's work was in public and private national and international collections.  That got my attention.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


So, the day of reckoning finally arrived.  Tim and I knocked on her door at about 10AM.   Thinking back, we didn't have any mutual friends; we could have been Bonnie and Clyde or something for all Helen knew...

Anyway, the door opened and this beautiful 84-year-old woman appeared.  Her big smile melted our nervousness, and we spent the next four and a half hours looking at and talking about art. 

In fact, we spent the next four and a half years looking at and talking about art. 


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Tim and I visited Helen once a week, usually on a Thursday, pretty much without exception.  And the more we got to know Helen, the more we realized how blessed we were to have met this generous woman.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Our weekly visits with Helen ended when we moved from Michigan to Oregon.  Losing our face-to-face time with her was heartbreaking, but Helen's encouragement and "I love you"s can still be heard over the phone. 

In fact, I hear her voice every time I'm in the studio ("Patience."); every time I'm tempted to rip up a piece of artwork ("Not yet!"); every time I sell a painting ("I'm so proud of you!").  


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Helen and I have laughed together and cried together.  I have had the honor of watching her paint,  learning some her painting secrets, and ingesting her excellent advice.  But Helen has also shared important life lessons with me -  things that have taken her years to understand.


Artwork by Helen Cartmell


Because I met Helen, I am not only a better artist, but a better person.


Helen

Thank you, Helen.





25 comments:

  1. Chris, I've been waiting for this post. This is a wonderful story. The part where you were afraid to call and made Tim do it sounds like something I would do - only I have a Jim instead of a Tim. I'm so glad you've stayed in touch with Helen even though you can't visit in person now that you live so far away. Once again, I love her art. What a lovely lady! Thank you so much for this post!!!

    P. S. You're a lovely lady, too!

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  2. Thank you for the lovely comments, Candy. Helen's artwork shown here is just the tip of the iceberg. She has drawings from high school. She has miles of drawings and piles of paintings! And I really wish everyone has a Helen in their life. Have an awesome weekend, Candy!

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  3. I love this post, Chris, and I agree that these paintings by Helen are gorgeous! Isn't it nice to meet someone who not only shares your interests but has incredible talent and a lovely personality? I think you are also very talented, dear Chris, and you are a lovely person, too. Thank you so much for sharing this! :)

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  4. Chris, what an honour to have such a wonderfully talented and giving friend. Thank you for sharing her lovely work as well as yours. Beautiful.
    Sharon

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  5. Thank you, Linda, for your sweet comments. Tim and I were really blessed to have had Helen in our lives.

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  6. Thank you, Sharon. Helen is one in a million.

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  7. Chris, what a great story about this wonderful lady! Art angels are blessed friends to have.

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  8. What a wonderful friend and painter Chris! I have an older art friend who sounds similar and she has always been such an inspiration, we meet up at least once a month.
    We really are lucky aren't we!!

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  9. Thanks, Kristen! That's a good way to describe Helen.

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  10. Glad you have a special art friend, Karen. Maybe someday we'll be mentors.

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  11. De très belles toiles qui nous emmènent dans le monde de l'Artiste !
    Merci de tes nombreux passages sur tous mes blogs !
    Bonne vacances, bises - Cath.

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  12. Thank you, Cath, for the beautiful comment. You're right. You can see into Helen's world through her paintings.

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  13. What a wonderful story! I seem to not be able to find someone to connect with on a heart and art level in Michigan. Maybe some day!

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  14. You both are lucky to have found a friend in each other, Chris. What a beautiful post and honor to your friend and mentor, Helen.

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  15. Thanks, Kelly. You want to connect, so I know you will...

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  16. Thank you, Sherry. I really miss her.

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  17. Helens work is fabulous and it sounds like she really cared for you and truly wanted to mentor your growth. She must have been pleased with your progress over the years and found it very satisfying. You gave her respect and love in return. Seems like a win win situation to me. I was startled to read she took regular workshops from Milt Kobayashi. No clown noses on her work! She was true to her own vision. Thanks for taking the time to share all these pics. Her work is inspirational.

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  18. Thank you, Julie, for your lovely comments. It definitely is a win-win situation. And you're right - no clown (or clone) noses for Helen. She is an original.

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  19. What a wonderful artist and tribute to her. I love the variety and depth of her talent!

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  20. I really love this post and the one previous about Helen. Her advice is perfect and her art beautiful. Thank you for sharing Chris!

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  21. Thanks for the comment, Mary. Helen is one in a million!

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  22. Thank you, Lisa. I hear Helen's voice all the time.

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  23. Dear Chris, a lovely post. I know your feelings and the mentorship very well. In my blog you will find these names : Ann James, Ann Haddon and Helen Chamberlin. Best wishes, Sadami

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