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Helen’s heart

Helen Davis' "Cheaper Charlie's" series includes this untitled oil pastel drawing.

For Helen Davis (EdD ’61), it all started in the first grade when she made an artist’s palette with her name on it to decorate her desk. It was the beginning of a varied and successful art career.

“Art has been my whole life,” Davis says.

Her background includes heading the Colorado Women’s College (CWC) art department from 1962-71 and running the Boulder Valley School District’s art program from 1971-76. Shortly after World War II, she set up an arts and crafts program for military families and personnel at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center and later became a consultant for similar Army hospital programs around the country.

She’s been an exhibiting artist, curator, juror and lecturer, and helped develop the Boulder Arts Commission and what is now the Colorado Council of Art and Humanities.

After retiring 30 years ago, Davis continued her active involvement in the arts — including hosting a monthly “critique group” of artists in her Boulder home that she continued for 24 years — until she turned 80 four years ago.

“It was like a giant ‘show and tell,’ and anyone could come,” Davis says. “Throughout the years, we probably had hundreds of people.”

Recently, those friends and fellow artists honored her contributions through a scholarship at DU’s Women’s College (formerly CWC). The group raised more than $80,000 to endow the Helen B. Davis Scholarship. Each year, a student will be selected based on both merit and (although the college does not have an art major) “an interest that implies creativity,” says former Women’s College Dean Michele “Mike” Bloom.

Having moved into a retirement community this past year, Davis had to downsize a house that was filled with vast collections of books and art. She donated some of her art to the Women’s College. The works — including paintings and pottery by Davis and others — will be displayed in the Chambers Center, which houses the Women’s College.

“Helen’s life and work have inspired so many women over such a long period of time in Colorado,” Bloom says. “It’s an honor for us to have not only her work but the work of people she taught and inspired.”

Two of Davis’ pieces will be displayed permanently in the Ballantine Room. One is a large, abstract acrylic-on-linen painting, and the other, “Road Graffiti,” is a series of photographs of patches of asphalt on highways in New Mexico, reproduced on one of the early Xerox machines.

“Helen was down on her hands and knees taking pictures of these patterns in the road while her husband watched for cars,” Bloom says of the graffiti piece.

Davis bemoans the state of funding for arts education in the schools and also believes today’s college art professors have much more complicated jobs than she did. But she doesn’t tend to dwell on it.

Married for 62 years to Robert Davis, a retired atmospheric physicist, she continues to keep busy creating and supporting the arts and prefers to “look to the future.” She is most excited about contemporary art.

“That’s where we are, and that’s where we’re going,” Davis says.

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