Hardin left Santa Clara Pueblo with her family
at age 6. She was never initiated into a clan, and her paintings
reflect less authentic detail than was employed in her mother's
more traditional work. In fact, strong-minded, individualistic
Helen found the traditional style to be less of a challenge,
less demanding than the complex styles she would develop in her
own sophisticated, dynamic designs. Add to that, Helen's response
to her heritage: According to Helen Hardin's friend, artist John
Nieto (as told to Hardin biographer, Jay Scott) Helen dealt head-on
with the pain of what it actually means to be an Indian in America.
While most Indian artists deal with a tourist's idea of Indian
imagery, Helen Hardin "dealt with the real thing. Even when
it meant remembering the heritage they tried to take away from
her. Even when it caused her hurt."
One of the milestones in Helen's artistic life
came in 1968 in Bogota, Colombia. Until then, she had assumed
that people purchased her paintings because she was the daughter
of Pablita Velarde. But in Bogota, no one knew of her mother
and, on the strength of the work alone, Hardin sold 27 of her
paintings. From that point, she knew she could be an artist and
would not have to paint in the shadow of her famous mother.
In the early days of her artistic life, Helen
painted, in her own words, "cute little Indian paintings" and
traditional realism while simultaneously she struggled with a
personal and artistic revolution. Finally breaking free of the
traditional mold, Helen's work became strongly geometric and
increasingly abstract. Her work frequently incorporated Mimbres
and Anasazi figures and kachina forms and masks; the rich inspiration
of the Anasazi found unique—if not traditional—expression
in Helen's paintings. Her intellectual women series of paintings—"Changing
Woman," "Listening Woman," "Creative Woman," and "Medicine
Woman"—expanded an artistic exploration that would
continue until her death.
In 1982 it was discovered that Helen Hardin
had terminal cancer. Not only did she continue to paint with
a healing determination, but her work following the diagnosis
became increasing spiritual and compassionate. Shortly before
her death at age 41, Hardin said, "Listening Woman is the
woman I am only becoming now. She's the speaker, she's the person
who's more objective, the listener and the compassionate person." Helen
Hardin was a consummate and complete artist at the time of her
death, and one can only wonder where her art would have led her
if she had been allowed more time to confront life.
Helen Hardin's daughter, Margarete Bagshaw is
an artist who lives in Albuquerque. While the grand-daughter
and daughter of two women whose influence and stature could be
daunting, Margarete is creating her own original path through
her love of abstract form and design.
Helen Hardin's life and work is eloquently documented
in a critical study written by Jay Scott and richly illustrated
with photographs by Cradoc Bagshaw. The book is Changing Woman,
The Life and Art of Helen Hardin, Jay Scott, Northland Publishing
Company, Flagstaff, AZ.