Helen Olney pastel

Detail from a pastel by Helen Olney of zinnias in a Chinese porcelain vase.

Detail from an Olney pastel.

When I was growing up as a teen in Milwaukee, my family knew an artist named Helen Olney.  She was a wonderful woman of great beauty and dignity who attended the same Episcopal church as we.  She was older than my parents by a generation, nearly; had white hair and beautiful blue eyes; and came to church wearing a hat, along with her daughter Kathy and Kathy’s little daughter, who wore hats, too.

I never sensed the seriousness of Helen’s artistry until we visited her at home one day.  She lived on the east side, in a lovely old place that was full of light and a veritable museum of her beautiful pastels and pottery.  Helen was an established Wisconsin artist who sold her work through galleries as well as through the Milwaukee Art Fair, where she exhibited annually.  Her sister, Ruth Grotenrath, and brother-in-law, Schomer Lichter, also artists, were central figures in the local art scene.

In the late 70s, my parents bought one of Helen’s pastels, which we have today.  After we moved from the Milwaukee area, my parents stayed in touch with her for several decades.  I learned recently that Helen died in 2008, at age 93.

Lately, I have been scouring the internet hoping to find other examples of her work, perhaps even a piece or two available for sale.  So far I haven’t found anything, so I thought I would write this post, hoping that anyone with a kindred interest in Olney would get in touch with me.

Her work gives great satisfaction.  So, perhaps, having been absorbed into society, it will never turn up in public again.

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