“My visual concerns run the gamut from careful study to poetic, symbolic and sometimes political representations of nature and human nature.”
“I believe the act of making art can be an act of self-determination and empowerment. My paintings examine how in re-claiming, re-visioning, and re-membering ourselves as whole people, we bring our art, our action, and our voices to the world. We have to be able to imagine the world we want in order to achieve it. In our creative work, it is important that we notice and examine how awareness occurs on the path to finding a creative and critical voice. When we recognize that our place in the world is a part of larger social patterns, we can start to change those patterns to create the world we want to live in.” — Helen Klebesadel.
Helen Klebesadel is an artist, an educator, and an activist. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, her art has become the place where she explores how we learn our deepest values. Best known for her environmental and women centered watercolors, she is particularly interested in how myths and stories socialize us to have different expectations for some people than from others. She uses the creative process to re-examine and re-present narratives that resist and contest existing power structures by revealing they exist.
Helen’s watercolors push the traditional boundaries of the medium in scale, content, and technique. Ranging in size from the intimate to the monumental, her paintings are transparent watercolors on paper and canvas. She starts with detailed drawings and developing the images with layer upon layer of color washes and dry brush technique mixed with occasional areas of wet-into-wet spontaneity.
Helen exhibits her work nationally and internationally, including being invited to show her watercolors in several American Embassies through the Arts in the Embassies Program. The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum presented her first solo museum exhibition in 1994. Her artwork is represented in the art collections of the American Council on Education, West Bend Mutual Insurance, Lawrence University, UW Hospitals and Clinics, Central Wisconsin Center, the Dubuque Medical Clinic, the St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, Nebraska and numerous private collections. Several of her watercolors addressing environmental themes are also in the collections of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. as well as the University’s Trout Lake Research Station. Helen’s public commissions include a twelve-foot watercolor for Ellen and Peter Johnson HospiceCare Residence, and a series of large watercolors for the new University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Helen Klebesadel earned her BS, a certificate in Women’s Studies, and a MFA in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also certified as a creativity coach through the national Creativity Coaching Association. Helen has taught courses and workshops on creativity, studio art, and the contemporary women’s art movement for two decades. Helen taught studio art and chaired the art department at Lawrence University from 1990-2000, before leaving to accepting the position of Director of the University of Wisconsin System’s Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium in 2000. In January 2013 the Women’s Studies Consortium’s administrative home shifted to the UW-Madison Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. From 2013-2016 Helen was the Director of the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies’ Wisconsin Regional Art Program which was started by artist John Steuart Curry, and has offered exhibition and creative opportunities for Wisconsin artists for 75 years. Helen retired from her position Directing the Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium in the fall of 2018. She continued to focus on her studio art work, as well as offer private art and creativity classes, art workshops, and consultations through her website Creativity Lessons.
Helen believes good collaboration can be a model for world survival. It is both the hardest and most rewarding creative work she has done. She is co-facilitator of the Exquisite Uterus Project with artist Alison Gates, The project, focused on reproductive justice, has over 200 participants from thirty states and four countries. She also continues to exhibit and expand The Flowers Are Burning: An Art and Climate Justice Project created with artist Mary Kay Neumann.
A dedicated educator and mentor, Helen contributed a chapter entitled Re-Framing Studio Art Critique and Practice, to the book New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction, and co-authored with Lisa Kornetsky the chapter, Critique as signature pedagogy in the arts, in Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits.
Helen Klebesadel’s watercolors and prose have been published in Frontiers, Feminist Studies, Interweave, CALYX and Femspec. Her artwork was included in 100 Artists of the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, published in June 2012 by E.Ashley Rooney, and her art and activism is included in the book, Vision, Passion & Purpose: ARTISTS As World Changers, by Renee Phillips.
Helen Klebesadel is a past national president of the national Women’s Caucus for Art and served as a member of the Wisconsin Arts Board from 2006-2013, and on the Madison City Arts Commission from 2003-2006. Helen has also served in leadership roles on the boards of the Grassroots Leadership College, and the National Women’s Studies Association.
Check out how the Artsy Shark blog which featured Helen’s work recently.