Helen Hardin

By Stokrocki, Mary | School Arts, April 1995 | Go to article overview

Helen Hardin


Stokrocki, Mary, School Arts


The Artist in a Bicultural Society

Helen Hardin was a bicultural artist with Anglo and Native-American roots. Daughter of the famous traditional painter Pablita Velarde of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, Hardin was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1943 and raised as a Catholic. Her father was on the police force and later worked for the federal government. Her mother frantically painted murals to become a professional artist.

Hardin and her brother learned to be independent at an early age. As a child, Hardin was influenced by her mother's techniques and realistic images. At age nine, she exhibited her small paintings with her mother's. Hardin was determined to be different from her mother.

In high school, Hardin took a drafting course that introduced her to architectural tools and templates. Upon graduation, she studied art history and anthropology at the University of New Mexico. At the University of Arizona, she participated in the Southwest Indian Art Project, which was sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Lacking formal art training, Hardin independently studied Pueblo pottery designs, rock petroglyphs and pictographs. Although she fiercely claimed to be "her own person" and nontraditional, she was slightly influenced by the Cubist style of her teacher Joe Herrera.

Her search for identity was woven with her spiritual explorations. She signed her early paintings in her Indian name, Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh, or Little Standing Spruce, to separate herself from her celebrated mother's reputation. She referred to her painted Pueblo Tewa spirits as saints, which inspired he- he most. They were the invisible life forces or messengers that also guarded such life elements as the rain and the growth of crops.

"A lot of my work has to do with fantasy and spiritual things, with giving a spiritual message," Hardin said.

Although not always intended, she was pleased when her paintings spiritually inspired others. Her work appealed to not one particular religion but to universal spirituality.

Hardin had several notable shifts in her subject matter and painting style: pottery motifs, blanketed chiefs, kachina spirits and female images. Her earlier curvilinear blanketed chiefs were replaced by precise geometric forms and patterns. She died of cancer in 1984 after battling the disease for several years.

Formal and Technical Features

Recurrence is one of the paintings in her kachina series. All the design elements are well coordinated and well balanced. The composition is enlivened by the repetition of line, shape and space. Hardin uses repeated and overlapping geometric forms and patterns made with a ruler, compass, protractor and other drafting templates. She uses a variety of acrylics, varnish, airbrush and ink washes in herwork. Her paintings consist of twelve to twenty-six layers of paint. She filled in large areas with flat opaque paint, spatters (with a coarse toothbrush) and stipples (paints tiny points) paint spots, and adds transparent washes. The spattered texture, formerly used in Anasazi pottery, in the background and foreground harmonizes the images. She applies the dominant lemon and tangerine color tones in both flat and textured layers.

RELATED ARTICLE: Major Themes

Spirituality Elements of spirituality and morality are revealed in Hardin's work and people interpret them differently. Pueblo people see the univerese as a web of relationships of interdependent living things including people, plants, animals, spiritual beings, earth and stars.

Identity Hardin considered herself a wife, a mother and a painter. Her roles as a woman and an Indian were never a driving force in her early work. Towards the end of her life, she finally realized that they were her means of access. Hardin spoke of herlself as changing every six years and "becoming aware of myself as a woman." With the onset of illness, she realized as she was dying, she would always return in her painting. …

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