By Carol Stiffler
That’s how Helga Flower sees the world: Art is everywhere. Flower moves through her days with art on her mind, always thinking, always working. A prolific artist, Flower has become world famous for her work, which is predominantly watercolor paintings, and a sought-after instructor.
At 83, she’s been forced to slow down somewhat, but she says she is still working on at least five art projects at a time.
Some of her completed works are now on display at the Erickson Center for the Arts in Curtis, bending reality and showcasing her rare abilities through August 31. Her “Life is Art” show opened with an artist’s reception on Wednesday, July 20. The small showroom was packed, and several of her pieces sold within minutes.
Flower began making art as a very young child, living with her displaced German family in Czechoslovakia.
“I could hardly walk when I did,” said Flower, who now lives in Lakefield. Her first picture was a simple pencil drawing on an old envelope of birds perched on an electric line.
“I drew that. I drew the lines, and the birds were little dots,” she said. “It was just my way of playing.”
Her childhood is not full of playful memories – see related article “Helga, the war child” – but of devastating and tragic details that she came to peace with as an adult.
She moved to the United States as a young woman in the company of Chuck Flower, to whom she’s been married for about 65 years. The couple settled in Newberry, living on Newberry Avenue in a house that still stands, before moving to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. They moved there for Chuck’s job, but remained there for 60 years to support Helga’s art career.
Flower loves all forms of painting except oils, because the paint dries so slowly and smells of turpentine. When she was first exposed to watercolor, she knew it was for her.
“I thought, ‘This is what I have been waiting for!’” she recalled. It’s the challenge of controlling water on paper, where no barriers stop it from spreading, that Flower loves.
In her decades of practice, she has mastered the control of watercolors and made a name for herself around the world.
One Lakefield-area collector, who did not want to be named, said he has amassed about 20 original pieces of Flower’s art. He purchased another one that is still on display at the Erickson Center.
“She’s a world-caliber watercolorist, and one of the greatest artistic geniuses of the eastern U.P,.” he said. “She is one of the absolute greatest.”
Flower’s resume supports that statement, with awards and exhibitions that crisscross the globe. About 10 years ago, one of her abstract paintings beat out 700 other entries in a competition; that painting is seen on the cover of her book, Warchild.
Flower acknowledges her accomplishments – she knows she’s good – with confidence but not arrogance. She will eagerly spend time explaining her paintings and encouraging viewers to see art everywhere they look.
Taryn Ross, Flower’s grand-daughter, attended the show’s opening in Curtis and encourages anyone who visits the show to go in with an open mind.
“Don’t go there with expectations,” Ross said. “Go, and enjoy. Also, read the title of the paintings. The title will tell you more than the picture at times.”
Though many people are drawn to the bright colors Flower often uses, and the birds eggs and birch trees that sometimes seem like her calling card, Flower also creates stunning abstract pieces that evoke feelings rather than imagery. She also likes to indicate settings and objects – like a tree or a home – without exactly defining them.
She’s still at work. You’ll find Flower in her studio today, and every day, while her devoted husband, Chuck, works in the gardens or bakes bread.
“I will not be able to quit until I cannot hold my brush anymore,” Flower said. “I call it a wonderful life. It’s my last chapter, and I enjoy everything.”