Creations of Spirit From the Mind of Helen Harrison
An artist is defined as a creator; someone who does something skillfully and beautifully. There are artists in all areas of life, from a mother with her child to a player in a sports arena making the perfect shot to a writer or actor who bares their soul with a look, or a word. Today, we are lucky enough to meet an artist of the very finest caliber – an artist whose mind and hands come together to create the most mesmerizing work that can be seen in our day and age.
A true artist resides in Key West, Florida, and is the owner of Harrison Gallery with her husband, Ben. If the name sounds familiar, it should. For months we have been speaking about a man named Ben Harrison – a singer, writer, musician, traveler, and more.
But this week we are going to focus on his incredibly talented wife, Helen, and delve into yet another facet of this creative couple. Each of you can come ‘up close and personal’ with the life Helen Harrison has led, the travels she’s made, and the way she has transformed her thoughts, feelings and images into stunning work.
As I do tend to go on when I’m ‘starstruck’ by a person of such extreme talent, (which you already know), I am going to let my ‘voice’ rest and give the page to this incredible lady that each one of you has to meet.
You have done a great deal of traveling, is there a specific location that inspired you as an artist that particularly stands out in your mind?
The tropics…especially Key West. I love going to New York and Chicago where I try to regularly attend the SOFA (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) that are held in each city annually and, of course, visit museums and galleries there. This past summer I visited the Chelsea District art galleries and, though it is always inspirational to see the “Northern” art, it’s generally harder-edged. The vegetation in the tropical climates, where it doesn’t snow, is insanely luscious. The orchids are bordering on pornographic and the palm trees are magnificent in a way that is different from say, an oak. The colors of nature are more intense and flamboyant here in Key West.
Could you tell readers about Harrison Gallery – when it was opened, what forms of art are represented, events, etc.?
Ben and I opened Harrison Gallery & Music in 1986, when we bought a two-story wood framed house right next door to a one-story building. When we first opened, there were no music stores in Key West. Ben made a display case for guitar tuners, strings and general musical supplies. Retail music was now in addition to Ben’s performing on Duval Street. When another music store did eventually open here, we decided we should go one way or the other. Harrison Gallery was closer to our hearts than Harrison Music. For twenty-five years my work has been the focal point which is sculpturally inclined. We have a select group of artists that we show regularly, always featuring something new.
For the past several years we have had our openings on the third Thursday of each month – White Street gallery walk as opposed to invitational shows. Both full time and seasonal residents know about the ‘walk’ and it simplifies things.
Your wood sculptures are unbelievably amazing, how does the artist in you come up with the concepts? Because, I must say, the fluid motion of each piece is startling.
I earned a Bachelors of Art degree from Southern Methodist University, but left there without a true sense of artistic direction. Then came the big deal. Ben and I decided to go to Costa Rica and build a 38-foot sailboat, which we did with our own four hands. Between school and the boat, I had developed the basic skills to begin sculpting in wood, but believe me, I’m still learning. Wood has a way of talking to me. The grain, color and density of certain pieces are the key to imagining what should be sculpted from it. Focusing on shape, texture and movement is exciting to me.
Key West, as you stated, is a stunning location. Are there many inspirations found in that area?
Key West is a stunning place where Mother Nature works overtime. The perception that the area is laid back may be true in some respects, but there is also a strong creative force always hovering. The materials I am drawn to are natural and are the foundation of my sculptures. I feel so lucky to live on the island, surrounded by ocean. The climate is so fine, my studio attached to the gallery is virtually outdoors. My daily walks are almost always rewarded with inspiration.
How did you begin on your Palm Series? I have to say, the Black Magic Palm is a true desire of mine.
In the heart of the island is “Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden.” My work has been inspired greatly by this exotic tropical rainforest. Though I had begun using other fiber to sculpt, I was visiting with Nancy one day when a huge frond fell to the ground. It was pretty exciting. Looking back it was a turning point in my sculpture. The peduncles of the rare Cohune palm are roughly half an inch thick and more like wood than other varieties. There is a sexuality to them. In my own way, I let them tell me how I want to work with each one. Talk to me about the Black Magic Palm, maybe we can work something out! I’m glad you like it. (Forget it readers – she meant me – not you – it’s mine!)
This is an absolutely annoying question (I know because I get it from book bloggers all the time), but I was wondering if there was a specific line – palms, vessels, shoes…that is your personal favorite?
Personal favorite … Whatever I am working on at the time. What has been interesting is the reception to my ‘high heels.’ Men, women – gay and straight – are fascinated by them. Some are whimsical while the wooden ones are more provocative of the female form. Lately, I have been sculpting wall pieces from very large fronds which I love. Gourds, which grow on a vine, and calabashes, which grow on a tree, often have a way of finding their place in my work. Bone and horn are also playfully important to me. I spend a lot of thought and time on each piece, especially on the finish as I prepare my raw materials for a new life.
If you have yet to see Helen Harrison’s work and, like me, want desperately to head to Key West yet life keeps getting in the way, you absolutely have to visit Harrison Gallery online. Whimsical, seductive, moving – each and every piece that comes from the depths of this artist’s mind is something that can’t be copied or imitated by others. And that is the highest compliment I can give. Being unique in a world that is slowly becoming common is not only a treat for the ‘eye’ but is also a bit of a miracle, really.
Intense, flamboyant – Helen Harrison is much like the location she resides in, and her work speaks volumes about life.
Until Next Time, Everybody.
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