Washington State Magazine

Spring 2009

Spring 2009


In This Issue...


What Is Art For? :: Art, says independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake '57, is "making special." It is an act that gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. It is passed from mother to child. Its origins lie deep in our evolutionary past. It makes us human. by Tim Steury

The Love Letters :: In 1907, Othello had no high school, so Xerpha Mae McCulloch '30 traveled 50 miles to Ritzville to finish school. There she met, and fell in love with, Edward Gaines, a few years her senior. The recent gift to Washington State University of her steamer trunk reveals the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University's, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk }

You Must Remember This :: Having reached a certain age, our correspondent sets out to learn the latest from Washington State University researchers about memory. She learns that memory comes in different forms, that the human brain is made for problem-solving, and that the key to much of brain health is the "dendritic arbor." And then she sets out to create an action plan. by Cherie Winner

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEStory: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss }


Privacy and the Words of the Dead :: Do we violate the privacy of the dead when we read what they wrote for themselves? Maybe it depends on our purposes. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Annotated pages from early English editions of Montaigne's Essays. }




:: SPORTS: Coaching with heart

:: GREEN PAGES: Building green

:: A gift toward fuel research

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Yucatecan lentil soup recipe }


Cover photo: Bryan Hall clock tower reflected in the Abelson-Heald skybridge windows on the Pullman campus. By Zach Mazur.

Robert Helm, <em>Iron Ground</em>, 1991, Collection of Washington State University Museum of Art.


Robert Helm, Iron Ground, 1991, Collection of Washington State University Museum of Art.

Robert Helm, 65 - Acclaimed Northwest artist, teacher

by | © Washington State University

Robert Helm, an acclaimed Northwest artist known for surreal imagery and exquisite craftsmanship, died October 21, 2008. He was 65.
Helm was born in Wallace, Idaho, and attended North Central High School in Spokane, where he met Tamara Kimpel. They married in 1966 and had a daughter, Brenna, and a son, Boone. He earned his M.F.A. degree at WSU in 1969 and taught at the University of Colorado before returning to teach at WSU from 1971-84.

After leaving WSU, Helm and Tamara continued to live and work in their studios in their beloved wheat fields between Pullman and Moscow. From there, his art went to museums and galleries all over the world. His work is in the collections of some of the most distinguished institutions in America: the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museums in New York, the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C., and others. But in true fashion, Helm did not seek out acclaim. More likely, he’d rail against it. He just naturally figured it should come to him.

Helm seemed to live in some other time of his own devising. He lived in a time when people read books, rang up their neighbor and just chatted about stuff, and wrote journals in a small neat hand. In his world, people tried to make it on their own and they had strong opinions. In his world, the car could still break down in a snowdrift and you’d have to high step your way in a white-out to some forlorn farm house two miles out. In his world, an outing was when he went to the grocery store and then came home and played with his granddaughter, Rowan.

We traded books throughout the time we knew each other. In Helm’s books, he would write on the title page the date when he began to read the book, and the date when he finished it. “Bob Helm started reading August 12, 2001, finished reading September 3, 2001.” It was a message from a specific time.

That’s how he made his art. His art took a long time and tapped into some deep mythical place that had to do with silence. Even the birds and dogs in his paintings were silent. No wonder: they inhabited fully resonant, atmospheric dream spaces.

Helm made art like a 19th century cabinet maker, through a meticulous process that accounted for every brushstroke, every hair of the brush, and every piece of laminate.

He felt materials contained magic within them. In those rare times when he ventured beyond the Palouse, he’d visit a famous author’s or artist’s house, and he’d take a pen knife and slice off a sliver of wood from the bottom of a desk or chair and stash it away, then grind it up and use it in a painting, thereby preserving some essence of that person.

Through his art he was able to take us to a special place where the familiar became strange, the never known turned into the forgotten, and the forgotten turned to a collective memory that teased the eye and stilled the conscious mind.

Categories: Visual arts, Fine Arts | Tags: Artists, In memoriam

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