Helen Hardin, Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh- Little Standing Spruce, was born into the Santa Clara Pueblo tribe in 1943.
She began her life struggling with her identity, given that her father Herbert Hardin, a Caucasian civil servant, and her mother Pablita Velarde who was a famous American Indian painter, created strain on their daughters life by neither families accepting Helen because of her “half-breed” recognition- also the reason why she had two different names.
Traditional ceremony dances were banned for Helen to participate in, that of which led her having to go to High School in Albuquerque, NM. Helen’s parents eventually divorced, so she resided with her mother who continued her painting career. At an early age Helen created art on her own, but never wanted to take it seriously in fear of her mother treating her as a competition.
She then studied history and anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and briefly studied weaving and textile design at University of Arizona, but eventually returned to painting in acrylics, inks, and washers.
Regardless of Pablita preventing her daughter’s artwork from being pursued, Helen continued her paintings and in 1962 she had her first one-person show at the Coronado Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1964 she had another one-person show, this time in Enchanted Mesa Trading Post also in Albuquerque. Then in 1968 she moved in with her father at Bogota, Columbia., and had another one-person show that her father set up, and to her surprise she had sold 27 copies of her paintings.
Helen’s paintings were not traditional like her mothers or her mother’s peers, but they were contemporary works of art that displayed Native American symbolism with distinctive geometric patterns.
In the 70s she became famously recognized for her Katsina figures, but was heavily criticized from the elders of Tewa for showcasing much of their spiritual symbolisms, but Helen felt a deeper connection with the spirituality she felt from the Katsina figures and the history of her people, and continued to communicate her love of her culture through her artwork that we see today.
Unfortunately Helen became diagnosed with Cancer, which pushed her to create three-years worth of her most infamous “Women series”-which displayed her own experiences of women versus man, tradition versus modernity, indian versus anglo. And in 1975 she won the Avery Memorial Prize at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.
Helen Hardin passed away in June 1984, but left a legacy as one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century and has several of her collections in museums and galleries across the country, including Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Four Winds Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA.