'Man at a Table' by Robert LaHotan, left, and 'Self Portrait' by John Heliker, right, on display on April 13, 2016. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
'Man at a Table' by Robert LaHotan, left, and 'Self Portrait' by John Heliker, right, on display on April 13, 2016. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Heliker-LaHotan Foundation Presents Brenau Self-Portraits of Influential 20th Century Artists

Apr 22, 2016
Brenau Staff

The New York and Maine-based foundation that provides programs for and support of mid-career artists recently added two pieces to Brenau University’s permanent collection – self-portraits by influential 20th century American artists John Heliker and Robert LaHotan.

The Heliker-LaHotan Foundation in Cranberry Isles, Maine, donated the paintings to Brenau in part because of the university’s strong support of fine arts through the maintenance of one of the most impressive permanent collections of art in the region, the role the arts play at the university and the professionalism Brenau employs to share art with the community.

“We hold Brenau University in high regard,” said Patricia Bailey, the foundation executive director and treasurer who personally delivered the paintings to the Gainesville campus in late March. “Learning more about the university and its people has been a pleasure.”

The New York Times declared Heliker to be “a versatile painter who was a fixture in the New York art world for nearly seven decades” until his death at 91 years old in 2000. For more than 30 of those years, he taught painting at Columbia University and the Parsons School.

LaHotan, Heliker’s former student at Columbia who remained his life companion for 48 years, also was a gifted teacher and painter that one critic observed was “a fine abstractionist before he fully turned his energies to landscapes and interiors in his mature works.” He died in 2002.

Brenau President Ed Schrader said the paintings are “a splendid addition” to the Brenau permanent collection, which now has more than 6,000 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and other pieces.

“Many of the artists already represented in our collection were friends and acquaintances of Heliker and LaHotan as they shaped the direction of the art world in the 20th century,” he said. “All of those influences have become a central focus of the Brenau Permanent Collection, and it is an honor that the foundation thinks so highly of us.”

The New York artists Heliker and LaHotan also lived and worked at the former home of a boat builder on Great Cranberry Island off the Maine coast near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Since their deaths two years apart in the early 21st century, the foundation has maintained the property for use in summer residency programs for mid-career artists and managed assets, including artworks, in their estates for assisting artists and advancing the study and appreciation of art. So far, more than 100 artists have passed through the program.

The two paintings, which arrived on the Brenau campus in time for a private showing at the spring meeting of the university Board of Trustees, will be on permanent display in the Brenau Trustee Library starting later this spring. One, Heliker’s Self Portrait, a 40- by 50-inch oil on linen completed in about 1988, was part of John Heliker, 1950 – 1990, a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Art of in Ogunquit, Maine.

Dimond Leslie looks at the paintings 'Man at a Table' by Robert LaHotan, left, and 'Self Portrait' by John Heliker, right, on display on April 13, 2016. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Dimond Leslie looks at the paintings ‘Man at a Table’ by Robert LaHotan, left, and ‘Self Portrait’ by John Heliker, right, on display on April 13, 2016. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Man at a Table, LaHotan’s self-portrait, is also oil on linen, measuring 42 inches by 40 inches. It was exhibited at Kraushaar Galleries in New York. Although some of the documentation indicates that the work dates back to 1969, Bailey says she thinks LaHotan painted it much later because the wallpaper showing in the work was not installed in the Heliker-LaHotan dining room for at least another decade.

Brenau’s relationship with the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation began serendipitously. Schrader, who was on a holiday trip to Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife, Myra, visited a gallery exhibiting Heliker’s work. He liked it and left a business card saying that he wanted to get that same show on the Brenau campus in Georgia.

In the fall, Brenau hosted John Heliker: The Order of Things, an exhibit encompassing 60 years of painting and drawing by Heliker from his early days as an artist supported by the Works Progress Administration during The Great Depression of the 1930s, through his life on Great Cranberry Island. He was the subject of a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. The Brenau show, which also incorporated dance and music in some specials programs around the exhibition, was one of Brenau Galleries most successful.

Bailey, who became close friends with Heliker during the 10 years that they worked together at Parsons, where she ran graduate programs, said that the board of the Foundation decided in January “to make the gift in appreciation for the work Brenau did on that show.” Other board members include foundation president Caren Raphael, a painter and corporate executive; secretary Richard Hatter, a photographer and artist who is also a former director for fund-raising and public relations at the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in Manhattan, which provides fellowships in the arts, sciences and humanities; and landscape painter and art collector John-David Wissler, director.

“We at the Foundation thought every aspect of the Heliker exhibition there, including the publications, publicity and programming, was so professional and well done,” Bailey said. “This gift is in appreciation for the friendship between the university and the foundation and the promise of our developing collaboration as institutions.”

Although neither of the donated pieces was in the Brenau exhibit, Bailey said, “We want to express special gratitude for Dr. Schrader’s appreciation for John Heliker’s work and his role in Brenau’s sponsorship of the exhibition, and to the Brenau Galleries Director Nichole Rawlings for her assistance in making the exhibition possible and for planning and coordinating wonderful programming.”

For more information about art education at Brenau, call 770.538.4764 or go to https://www.brenau.edu/fineartshumanities/art-design-department/. For more information about Brenau Galleries collections and programs, go to http://galleries.brenau.edu/ or call 770.534.6263.