Z. Vanessa Helder

Born in Lynden, Washington, Zama Vanessa Helder, also known as Z. Vanessa Helder. She grew up with the influence of her artist mother Anna Wright Helder, who had studied with William Gilstrap and Max Mayer. Under her mother's guidance and influence, Vanessa produced her first painting at the age of nine.

She began to pursue a career in art at a young age. While in high school, she worked at night as an apprentice in commercial art. She received her first formal education in the arts at the University of Washington, Seattle. After graduation, Helder established herself as a well-known local watercolorist. Later, she received a scholarship to the prestigious Art Students League in New York City (1934-1935) and studied with Frank Vincent DuMond, George Picken, and Robert Brackman over the next three years. While in New York, she likely became acquainted with the work of Charles Sheeler, a leading proponent of precisionism, the style of sharply defined and highly scrutinized realism that she adapted and incorporated into her work. In 1935, she became a member of the prestigious National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors and participated in prominent East Coast group exhibitions.

She eventually returned to Seattle after completing her studies in New York. She was still a well-known artist in Seattle and was also well-known locally for her eccentricity including walking her pet skunk Sniffy around the streets of Seattle. While in Seattle, in 1937, she worked as a WPA artist painting murals and civic buildings. She was also exhibiting at museums throughout the West.

In 1939, Helder moved to Spokane, Washington and founded the Spokane Art Center. Unfortunately, due to cancelled funding in 1941, the Art Center closed. While in New York the same year, she met her husband Robert S.J. Paterson and they moved in 1943 to Los Angeles, California. She was still an active artist and exhibited annually there. In 1950, Helder's painting Redwoods, Sequoia National Park was the featured cover art for the June edition of California's Westways magazine. From 1952 to 1955, she taught at the Los Angeles Art Institute. For added income, she produced metal jewelry, glass mosaics, and greeting cards that were sold in West Coast department stored.

She remained in Los Angeles until her death on May 1, 1968.

Member: Women Painters of the West; Women Artists of Washington; American Water Color Society; National Association of Women Artists; California Watercolor Society.

Exhibited: Grant Studios, New York, 1937 (solo); Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, 1945 (solo); Seattle Art Museum, 1936-1941; San Francisci Museum of Art 1936, 1937; Portland Oregon Museum, 1936; Denver Museum, 1938, 1940; Oakland Art Museum, 1938-1941; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1945-1948; California Water Color Society, 1939-1958; San Diego Fine Art Society, 1941; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1942; Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 1943; Women Painters of the West, 1946; California State Fair, 1953.

Works Held: Newark Museum, New Jersey; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane, Washington.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.
St. Gaudens, Maurine. Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960. Vol. 2. 2015. Print.