Women Who Art: alumna Helen Gaus’ artwork at Tucson Jewish Community Center Fine Art Gallery
H FC alumna Helen Gaus is one of seven women known collectively as Women Who Art. Their artistry is showcased in the exhibit*, “The Spaces We Inhabit” at the Tucson Jewish Community Center Fine Art Gallery – better known as the Tucson J in Tucson, AZ.
* [Note: the J is currently closed due to the coronavirus. Dates for re-opening and the continuation of this exhibition have not yet been announced.]
The group Women Who Art – comprising Gaus, Barbara Brandel, Jo Valandry, Kimberly Lund, Greta Ward, Lisa Hastreiter Lamb, and Leslie Epperson – is a mutual admiration society of artists with an overarching love for the earth’s beauty. They are influenced by other female artists, including Mary Cassatt, Laurie Anderson, Judy Chicago, Carrie Mae Weems, as well as all the gifted female artists in Tucson.
The members of Women Who Art share seven unique points of view, aided by their imaginations. With works of art that range from colorful creations of landscapes to stark statements about the present political climate, Women Who Art are bound together by the need to create and the desire for support as each woman navigates the challenges of work, family, health, and finances. In short, life itself.
Similar perspectives on life and art
“Our exhibit is very cohesive, even though we didn’t consult each other. So much of it approaches the same perspective on life and in nature. Our group has a wonderful focus on supporting each other and sharing skills,” said Gaus, who’s lived in Tucson for nearly 50 years with her husband. They have one daughter.
Women Who Art work in a variety of media: acrylic and collage on paper, oil on canvas or panel, pencil on paper, and cold wax on panel, et al. In Gaus’ case, her medium is mainly colored pencils. She also works in pastels, wycinanki (Polish paper-cutting), and pysanky (designing batik-dyed Easter eggs).
“My drawing skills have always been of paramount concern to me,” explained Gaus. “For me, it’s a pleasure to draw from life, particularly animal husbandry, which continues to be my interest. Color plays a lot in this process, too.”
Their exhibit was originally scheduled to run from March 16 to April 27 (new dates for the exhibition have not been announced).
“I sold my first piece before it was even displayed,” said Gaus. “This show’s been received as the best show at the Tuscon J yet.”
Drawing her whole life
A Dearborn native, Gaus has been drawing since the time she could hold a pencil.
“I’ve been drawing my whole life. When I was a little girl, my mother gave me manilla paper that was 12x18 and brand-new crayons – the crayons were my favorite! She thought I didn’t need her because I wouldn’t come out for hours, drawing away the day. I’ve been drawing ever since,” she recalled.
After graduating from Fordson High School in 1967, Gaus attended HFC (then Henry Ford Community College), where she studied studio art. In fact, one of her classmates at HFC was fellow artist and Fordson grad Gary Ciccarelli, who has done artwork for NASCAR, McDonald’s, Ford Motor Co., and Marvel, to name a few.
“A lot of my friends went (to HFC) right out of high school. I was from East Dearborn and met students from all over the Metro Detroit area,” said Gaus. “It was the first really good formal art instruction I had. I learned a lot.”
“I love being an artist”
Gaus would also complete coursework at Michigan State University, where she studied studio art and art education. In 1977, she graduated from the University of Arizona with her bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art.
In the 1980s, she illustrated and produced greeting cards. She also illustrated a book for an Arizona school system. She has done commission work throughout her career, mostly people’s pets and illustrations.
“I love being an artist, having the ability to create and seeing the joy it brings people,” said Gaus. “I really enjoy that. I’m not looking for accolades. I just appreciate watching people enjoy my work.”