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Helen Klebesadel is an artist, an educator, and an activist who maintains her studio in Madison, Wisconsin. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, she taught and chaired the Art Department at Lawrence University prior to accepting a position with the University of Wisconsin. She has taught courses and workshops on creativity, studio art, and the contemporary women’s art movement for two decades.
Helen is best known for her environmental and women centered watercolors and collaborative art projects. Helen exhibits her work nationally and internationally, including in several American Embassies. The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum presented her first solo museum exhibition. Her artworks are represented in many public art collections and she has been commissioned to create works for several medical facilities. She is a past national president of the Women’s Caucus for Art.
What is your medium and your process?
My watercolor paintings are transparent watercolors on paper and canvas.They push the traditional boundaries of the medium in scale, content, and technique. I work in several ways. Most often I start with detailed drawings and developing the images with layer upon layer of color washes and dry brush technique mixed with occasional areas of wet-into-wet spontaneity. I love being inspired by chance when working with the unexpected effects that can be achieved when I allow the medium of watercolor to be my collaborator. I have found that while you cannot always control what watercolor does, you can control where it does it.
Describe what inspires your artwork.
I painted in oils and acrylics for many years before discovering my love of watercolors. I have been inspired by the medium ever since. I think of my art making as my creative research. I use my art to think about the world and to re-examine and re-view the world we live in. Most often I find myself addressing environmental concerns and/or the traditional roles, responsibilities, and art forms associated with women. I am inspired by the ability of art to allow us to approach difficult issues on a personal level. I am inspired by nature, by creativity, and beauty. I am inspired to create artworks that celebrate beauty in the world and us it to ask us to care enough to protect what we love.
What sets your artwork apart from others? What makes it special?
I am very skilled as a painted and know my medium very well. I know my way around the visual grammar that is the most basic language that allows us to communicate effectively as artists because of my years of teaching and making. This lends my art visual strengths.
My subjects and approach are unique. Because I am a colorist, others who love intense color are drawn to my works. Because I love nature, gardens, and flowers, others who love the same are often drawn to my work. Because I am in awe of the fiber artists that I was raised around (quilters and lace makers) I often create artworks that celebrate their work and place it at the center of compositions. Others who feel the same way I do are often drawn to this work.
How would you describe your studio?
I have a wonderful studio that I build as a space devoted to my creative work. It is a 16x24 foot building in my back yard that I am some grateful to have. It has high ceilings and north windows that overlooks my yard and garden. I feel very luck to have the space I need to work.
Do you collect artwork? What is your favorite type and why?
Yes, I have a collection of small works, mostly by women. I have a lot of 3D work but also collect paintings, photos and prints. I have such a large collection that I need to rotate the 2D work seasonally to be able to see it regularly.
What do collectors love about your art? And what have you learned from them?
Beauty, color, and the meaningful subject matter.
What is one of your favorite quotes, and why?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain
It is my guide.
What other interests, besides your artwork, do you have?
Feminism, environmentalism. I am a creativity coach and teacher too. I like to camp and plein air paint.
When and why did you decide to become an artist? Why is this so important to you?
I have been an artist since I was small. I do not remember not being an artist. Its important to me because I did not know of any women artists when I was young which made my chosen path harder. I don’t want the next generations to have that experience.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Gallery 49, Fairbank, Alaska 2013
Grace Chosy Gallery, Madison, Wisconsin, 2012
Benedicta Art Center, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, St. Joseph, Minnesota, 2012
Wendt Engineering Library Gallery, UW-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, 2010-11
Vertin Gallery, Calumet, Michigan, 2009
Nelson Institute Center for Culture, History and the Environment, Madison, Wisconsin, 2008
Grace Chosy Gallery, Madison, Wisconsin, 2007 National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, 2005
Two, Three, Four Person and Group Exhibitions
The Flowers Are Burning, Mary Kay Neumann and Helen Klebesadel, Center for Visual Art, Wausau, WI; and Overture Center, Madison, WI, 2016-2015
Kaohsiung International Women’s Art Exhibition, Taiwan Kaohsiung Women’s Center, Taiwan. An exhibition of international feminist art traveling to Tokyo, Japan and Paris, France, 2015-16
Animal Dreams: Of the earth, water, air & imagination, Artstarts, Rhinelander, WI, 2015
Watercolor Wisconsin, Racine Art Museum, purchase award, 2015
Moving Target, One of fourteen artists invited to create work on the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, 2014. Traveling to: Brushwood Center Gallery at Ryerson Woods, Riverwoods, IL; Art & Environment Gallery, School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI; Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY; Duquesne University Gumberg Library, Pittsburgh, PA
Water: A Universal Human Right, The Robert Morris State Street Gallery, Robert Morris University, Chicago, IL, 2014
Flo Wong’s 75x75x75, The Luggage Store Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 2013
The Art of Human Rights, Human Rights Research and Education Center, University of Ottawa, Canada, 2013
Borders and Barriers, Gallery of the University of Puerto Rico-Maraquez, 2013
Aviary/Apiary, Benedicta Arts Center, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, St. Joseph, MN, 2012
Our Gardens Inside and Out, Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, Jane Brite curator, 2012
Collector's Choice Juried Show, Sylvia White Gallery, Ventura, California, 2012
Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 2012
4 x 6, Art Trend Now-That Gallery, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, 2010
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