See Helen Hardin “Spirit Lines” at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento

Helen Hardin (Santa Clara) takes center stage at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento with an exhibition featuring 57 of her paintings, prints and etchings debuting February 21. The show, “Spirit Lines: Helen Hardin Etchings,” which debuted at the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, runs through May 16.

“With tenacity and vision, Hardin rose to fame in the 1970s as a young Native woman in a male-dominated art world,” James Museum curator Emily Kapes said. “She helped break stylistic boundaries in Native art with the development of her modern, geometric compositions.”

Helen Hardin, Messenger from the Sun, 1980. Etching. On view during ″Spirit Lines: Helen Hardin Etchings″ at James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Helen Hardin, Messenger from the Sun, 1980. Etching. On view during “Spirit Lines: Helen Hardin Etchings” at James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida.JAMES MUSEUM OF WESTERN & WILDLIFE ART

Helen Hardin expressed those compositions through copper plate etching, a medium where a metal plate is acid-etched with an image, then the plate is inked to produce a set number of prints. The exact processes and precise techniques of copper plate etching were fitting for the labor-intensive, detailed compositions created by Hardin.

“Up until 1980, Hardin had been a painter, but her linear work with meticulous detail was very much suited to the etching medium,” Kapes explains. “She was deliberate and controlled with every mark and her precision was impeccable; she produced some of her very best work in those last years with thoughtful compositions and intricate layering.”

Kates’ comment foreshadows the tragic ending to Helen Hardin’s story. Hardin was diagnosed with breast cancer at the height of her powers. She continued creating art until her death at age 41 in June 1984.

“She had so much she wanted to say through her art,” Kapes said. “Even before she found out she had cancer, she worked to produce art with such focus and urgency.”

Helen Hardin family artistic tradition

The exhibit is supplemented with art by Hardin’s mother Pablita Velarde and Hardin’s daughter Margarete Bagshaw.

“The title ‘Spirit Lines’ references etching lines as well as family lines,” Kapes said. “It’s powerful to see three generations of Native women artists represented together.”

Unlike her mother, who painted scenes of traditional Pueblo life, Hardin chose to interpret images of ancient pottery and rock art designs into contemporary, abstracted, highly individualized compositions. Choices that would influence the artists who followed in her footsteps.

“I think she helped to pave the way for stylistic experimentation,” Kapes said. “She was also one of the first Native women artists to receive the prominence that she did, inspiring many younger artists.”

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