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Artist Interview

Helen Miller

May 8, 2014

Helen Miller

We happened upon Helen Miller's artwork the way one might happen upon one's spirit animal--unexpectedly, when we weren't even looking. In this case, it was not in a forest or desert, but at our neighbor's house: Broadside Books. Her use of tribal prints and folk art made us feel "of the same feather"--and her feathers are so pretty! Helen graciously agreed to bring materials and help us all make our Spirit Animal journals. Her background as a teacher made it all the more fitting. Meet Helen:

How did you get started?
I have created art ever since I could hold a piece of chalk. My very first artwork was drawing the letter H over and over again on the chalkboard of my play kitchen. I spent more time in the art room during high school than any other class. The school ran out of possible art classes for me to take and had to make up some independent studies. I knew I wanted to be an art teacher by the end of high school because I enjoyed helping the other students as much as I enjoyed creating my own art. 

What do you love about your job?
I am both an artist and an art teacher. I work with students in grades 7-12 at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, MA. While I love creating art, I love teaching art even more. Every day I get to be with students who are just discovering art. They are exploring their worlds and deciding who they are going to be and it is awesome to watch the process. There is never a dull moment in teaching. I know it sounds corny (and it is) but I am regularly inspired by my students. Some of the students face major challenges at home but they still show up and learn and I am forever impressed by their resolve and strength. It’s not all serious, we all laugh regularly in the art room; sometimes it gets a little wild. Great art is created, despite students’ lack of experience. They approach projects in ways that open up my artistic thinking. The constant learning that accompanies teaching pushes me to try new things in my own artwork.

Creating art for me isn’t a job but a form of centering and I really like that. I prefer to have my artwork be something fun and relaxing rather than my main source of income. I have the best of both worlds.

Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration comes both from nature and my interest in anthropology. I am an avid hiker and love living in the pioneer valley. I frequently paint and draw the world around me. While at art school I became very interested in the connections between peoples. I love comparing and contrasting art and visual culture from different cultures. I even designed an art course for my high school students that specifically looks at the connections between cultures’ traditional art in order to promote tolerance and understanding.  

I am especially drawn to “tribal” patterns. For the animal designs on my note cards cards I was inspired by the patterns found in the folk art of the people who live where the animals live. For example, the seal and penguin designs are based on the patterns found in Inuit art and the elephant is inspired by designs I found on African masks.

What is your dream project?
My dream project changes all the time. Currently I would like to weave a large landscape tapestry of the pioneer valley based on a photograph I took from a hot air balloon.

What are your plans for the future?
I am going to continue to teach and make art, other than that I really have no idea!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be...
If I weren’t an artist/ art teacher I would be a research biologist or maybe a medical doctor. Art and science share a similar curiosity about the world and how it works. They both explore new ideas and things not yet described or seen.

If you were a piece of clothing, what would be and what color/pattern?
I would be my favorite blue Avengers sweatshirt. It is really comfortable and I love the color.

What is your favorite word, and why?
Periwinkle is my favorite word, (as well as my favorite color), because it is fun to say.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Be fearless, and if you can't be fearless fake it till you make it! (Thanks for the advice Mom!)