Helene Heman Thorhaug

Helene Heman Thorhaug (1908-2003) did not live a conventional life. Born in Chicago, her father was a real estate developer nicknamed “Two Gun Heman” for his way of threatening renters who were late in their payments. It wasn't just renters who he threatened and abused. When Helene was a teenager, her father shot up their family home. Helene and her mother moved out and moved on.

After studying at the Art Institute, Helene worked as an interior decorator at the John M. Smyth furniture store in Chicago. There she met Frank Lloyd Wright who subsequently invited her to Taliesin, his Wisconsin home and studio. She also became a close friend of inventor/architect/futurist R. Buckminister Fuller and helped him test out his 3-wheeled Dymaxion car.

When Helene married a playwright/owner of a bakery company, she focused her energy on running the bakery business 6 days a week but took one day a week off to paint. Her artwork which combined Impressionism and Cubism was shown internationally and won awards in several art shows including one in which her painting was displayed upside down (yet still took first place). In her golden years, Helene had homes in San Miguel d’ Allende, Mexico and in Florida where she took part in the Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 1980 installation Surrounded Islands in Biscayne Bay. After her death, memorial services were held in Mexico, Florida and near Taliesin in Wisconsin.

Why this stop? Walk a block north of the Rockwell Brown Line stop, catch the #81 Montrose bus headed east. In ten minutes, you’ll be in the neighborhood where Helen Heman Thorhaug grew up.

Learn about the Surrounded Islands project.