Helen Parsons’ art medium chose her when, at the age of eight, she was presented with a cigar box filled with sewing paraphernalia and—surrounded by women who made functional fabric goods in their spare time—she picked up the fundamentals quickly. Her first project was a doll made of scraps. “I was in awe that I could make something from nothing. We were so poor at the time that having a new doll alone was exciting, but even more exciting because it was by my design,” she says. “It was a powerful, life changing moment for me.”
Enthralled by the artistic animation of Disney’s Fantasia and inspired by her first trip to a museum (Legion of Honor in San Francisco), she unwittingly started planning her future; she got her first job at a fabric store and would often cut school to go to museums, no doubt discovering that coloring books were overrated and that language was not only about words: “I realized that artists were people I could relate to; they were speaking my language.” In no time, what she knew (sewing) converged with what she loved (fine-art) and she became a textile artist, focusing on ingenious, thought-provoking designs and the occasional doll. Family obligations caused her to forgo a scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising but she has no regrets; she is right where she belongs, communicating what cannot be said in words through the universal language of art. “I live in a world I don’t understand,” she says. “Through art, I can often find a kind of understanding.”
Born and raised in California, Helen moved to Spokane in 2001 when her then-husband’s grandfather left them a house in his will. She raised her son and continued to create textile art which included engaging in play in her studio and experimenting by deconstructing fabric and reconstructing it to her liking in two and three-dimensional designs that seemingly grow and flow organically, like life tends to do. Unexpected elements throw curveballs at viewers, instigating thought and change; again, like life often does.
Helen’s most challenging curveball came when, five years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of arthritis, causing her to stop making art for a couple of years. She died twice during that time and experienced receiving last rites. Now, it’s all about self-care, which includes good food, good people, and creating beautiful things. She nurtures, mentors, and connects artists through her group Spokane Art Calls and spearheads projects and collaborations.
At times navigating the world with a cane, she maintains a childlike curiosity and is constantly finding inspiration and recording her findings visually. With hands often stained with dye, she works diligently at uncovering some sort of meaning to life.
For the last nine months, she has been working on Excavate, a collection that attempts to reveal what’s underneath with representations of lava, ocean currents, canyons, tools and bones innovatively connected. Layer upon layer she creates wholeness out of fragments and tells her story while simultaneously helping others recognize their own.
Helen’s first solo show, Excavate, will be at Kolva-Sullivan Gallery, 115 S. Adams St. through the month of April.