The late artist Carolyn Heller painted on fabrics, metal, umbrellas and more in her later years. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
Published: March 2, 2013
Updated: May 22, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Carolyn Heller (1937-2011) was known and loved for her thick Alabama accent, her wit, her sense of humor and, of course, her art. Though she was born and raised in Alabama, she has left a wonderful legacy — her art — to the city she called home for most of her adult life. The Tampa Museum of Art honors her memory in an exhibit that will hang in the Saunders Foundation Gallery through March 10. The 30 pieces are organized according to three distinct painting periods in her life: Early Career, Middle Career and Later Career. The arrangement mimics the way her art is displayed on the website her family put together after her death. "When I went to build the website, I thought it would be nice for people to view them in their logistic metamorphosis," said Fran Heller, one of the artist's daughters. "Her style is so visibly different from when she was early in her artistic career to later in life. Stylistically she grew and changed."
In the years of her early career, from 1950 to 1979, there are many florals; they show the beginnings of the bold, loose, vibrant, style that later came to characterize Heller's art. Many of them were done while Heller was a student at H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College in New Orleans. During her middle years, she created the signature piece to be auctioned at the benefit for the Tampa AIDS Network. The museum is displaying a signed poster of the original, which was sold. At the bottom of the piece is the handwritten phrase, "I'll tell you how the sun rose… a ribbon at a time." "Everyone has always loved that line," Fran Heller said. "The Tampa Museum of Art wanted to know if we knew who had purchased the original in the auction. We didn't. We asked everyone we knew, posted the question on Facebook and asked many in the Tampa art community if they knew, but no one knew." Any information about who owns the painting can be given to the family via the website, www.carolynhellerart.com. In her later career, beginning in 2000, Carolyn Heller got more into abstraction, with lines and forms that might or might not represent something in reality. Everything is still bold and bright and full of energy. She also began painting on objects other than canvas. "If anything sat there long enough she would paint on it," said Josette Urso, a friend and fellow artist who grew up in Tampa and now lives in New York City. "I didn't know her in her earlier days when she worked on the easel. I knew her when she was painting on things. She would always eye surfaces. Every surface was a possible project for Carolyn. " It seems propitious that the museum exhibit of Heller's work spans the two-day Gasparilla Arts Festival taking place today and Sunday next door at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. "The timing is perfect," said Fran Heller. "She loved to go as a patron, but she never had a booth. That was one of mom's favorite shows, and we used to go with her even as kids." Gathering their mother's art after her death was a family affair, a nostalgic adventure into the past for the four siblings: Fran, Emily Heller, Janet Heller and Alan Heller. They found nearly 150 paintings spanning some 60 years. And sometimes they got a surprise. "We found this whole series of prints that we had never seen before," Fran said. "They were titled and signed. Usually she would tell me if she was in the process of working on a new screen. But I had no idea about these. It was just a fun find for us." Several of these "found" screen prints are in the exhibit, including one called "Good News." "Since we don't know exactly when she did these, we wondered what good news had arrived that day," Fran Heller said. The family is keeping their mother's memory alive in other ways. In October they loaned Heller's artwork to Kate Jackson Community Center on Rome Avenue so children in the After-School Activity program could paint something in her style. "She loved to sit with her grandchildren and paint, [They called her "Cacky"] Fran said. "Whenever we had a family reunion, she would bring her paints and spread them out and paint. And the kids just loved it." The family is negotiating to donate three pieces of Heller's art that will hang permanently in the Kate Jackson Center. The siblings also have sponsored a monetary grant through the Hillsborough County Arts Council that will be awarded each year to a deserving Hillsborough County resident. "She was such a big supporter of the arts in general," Fran Heller said. "So we wanted to continue her support of the arts on her behalf and in her memory." The Tampa Museum of Art is at 120 W Gasparilla Plaza in downtown Tampa. Call the museum at 813-274-8130 or go to www.tampamuseum.org. 'Myth of the Buccaneer' You won't want to miss the exhibit devoted to pirates and piracy at the Gasparilla Arts Festival in downtown Tampa this weekend. Along with the tents of original art set in rows along the waterfront, an exhibit called "PIRACY REDUX: Re-examining the Myth of the Buccaneer," will be set up in Kiley Gardens. Curated by TEMPUS PROJECTS and Hampton Arts Management, the exhibit features art, video, dance and music from local and international talent. Artists from diverse cultural backgrounds will present their interpretations of the myth through various mediums, including sculpture, video and installation Visit www.tempus-projects.com for information about the artist-run organization.