Helen Andersen, clowning with a kid


It’s been a while since I posted a Helen Andersen piece and this one may seem like an odd choice. It looks to me like a child’s drawing, not something an adult would sign; not something to be associated with a master like Chagall. But there it is, signed Helen Andersen 80 [1980] and titled Clowns, Clowns, à la Chagalle.

I choose it not because it’s a great work of art, but because it tells us a few things about the artist.

First, Helen loved getting little kids involved with all things creative, especially drawing and painting. She did this by showing kids how to let go and just have fun. She led by example.

I can easily imagine Helen telling a very young Jane Clapp (her child play-partner in this case) that anything goes … that clowns don’t have to stand still on the ground. They can go onto the page sideways or up in the air, if you want. Why, look at Chagall! (She might have added, “You can even misspell his name,” but that was unintentional, I’m sure.)

Helen might have signed and dated her clowns as part of her “showing by example”, but I don’t think so. She believed in signing everything and pretty much did; even the smallest sketches or inconsequential doodles. It was part of being an artist. Keeping all of your efforts was also something she believed in.

One of the best things about Helen Andersen’s work is her determined refusal to self-censor. Anyone who wants to do anything creative has to be willing to crush the doubts and insecurities that make most of us such conformists.

This particular picture still exists, as I discovered recently when Wendy Clapp (Jane’s mom and Helen’s friend) sent me a photo. She continues to hang onto it, because who knows? Someday someone may want to document Helen’s life as an artist, a ban-the-bomb protester, a social activist and an early proponent of recognition for women in the arts during times that seem hopelessly repressive, looking back.

Detail from above: Your reward for reading this far. 🙂