photo of Eleanor Heller

Eleanor Heller '39, MA (social work) '41

"My life in no way prepared me for work as an artist. My parents were poor immigrants who lost many children. I was the survivor. They had a small appreciation for music and literature but no understanding of visual art. Philadelphia (my home city) did not have an art museum when I was growing up, and art in public schools was no more than mixing poster paints to copy pictures from magazines. With my abstract way of thinking, even as a child, I did not impress the teacher, but I did have other high academic achievements, which led to a scholarship to attend Bryn Mawr.

"There was no studio art available at Bryn Mawr, but I was strongly drawn to the History of Art department. However, the dean refused to let me major in the field, because there were no opportunities for poor women and I needed a job. I was urged to be practical and accept a grant offered to get a master's degree in social work, which I did just in time for the outbreak of World War II.

"I married in 1947 and Ed was very supportive for me to develop as an artist. We built a modest home near Woodstock, NY with a big studio, where I basically taught and represented myself. I and other artists in the area supported ourselves in various ways; consequently we were not confused about our integrity as artists. We did not see ourselves or our work as commodities. Our purpose was to create and communicate an image of our personal visions. We joined to discuss ideas and share the growth in our work.

vase"My work is a process of self-discovery of development from within. When I saw a potter at the wheel, I felt a tactile response and knew that experimenting with materials would be essential in my art endeavors. From pottery, I developed sculpture ideas. From glazes my sense of color matured. It all eventually coalesced in abstract, symbolic forms that I painted and drew. The content was definitely sparked by my sense of self as a woman and my interest in mythology, particularly myths about women.

photo of Heller and painting"Several threads weave their way through my work: humanity's need for shelter (both physical and psychological), kinship with the myths that focus on woman's suppressed place in our universal development, and an awareness of the brief time we spend as passers-by in this life.

vase"The result is akin to magic, memories of past ceremonials, the varied sounds that make music, the signs left by the wanderer along the roadside, so that those who follow will find shelter and not lose their way. This is the story that I try to tell."

About these works

Eleanor Heller works as an artist in Sarasota, FL where she has lived since 1968.

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