I have admired Helen Knight at a distance for a long time. She served as a Director on the Board where I work for many years and her art is featured in every room of my office building, a gift she provided when we opened our facility. Most recently I have had the opportunity of getting to know Helen personally, including spending time at her home and enjoying in her company. Her youthful spirit, passion for life and creative energy is contagious. I know this is a diversion from my focus on artists and their music at Serenity, but I couldn’t help but share the story of this beautiful woman and her art. This is for Helen.
Raised in the Peace River country of Northern Alberta in the small town of La Glace during the Depression, Helen Knight was raised among 7 siblings by her Russian Mennonite immigrant parents. Learning to live off the land from her homesteading parents, Helen had an immediate connection with the Earth and its gifts from birth. “I know that when I grew up I was aware of the Earth and life on Earth; the creatures and the plants, the flowers and everything like that. We always gardened, we grew all our own food, that’s how I grew up.”
Helen spent over 30 years as a teacher, including working as a special needs educator. During her time working at an institution on the lower mainland, she met her husband Art Knight, a psychiatric nurse. Helen retired from teaching when her husband became ill in order to care for him full time. Following the loss of her husband in 1986, Helen turned to her love of nature and made a career change. She followed her passion to the North Thompson valley where she was hired as a Naturalist for Wells Gray Park in 1988. Between 1988-2000, Helen worked for Wells Gray Park in a variety of roles, including as an educator and writer for the Park Rangers. Her time living and working in Wells Gray Park allowed her to extensively pursue her interests including birding and hiking, and her appreciation for nature grew to new depths. “I have always been a naturalist with a love of the outdoors,” Helen explains, “even as a young child I knew where all the bird’s nests were, when the first robin appeared and the when first crocus bloomed. Nature has always been in my heart.”
Throughout her life, Helen had a love of art inside of her. During her career as a teacher, she was very creative and spent a lot time in photography and embroidery work, “That’s how I got my creative juices going,” she recalls. However, it was not until her friend and eventual mentor Joan Moffat came for a visit and brought paints, paper and brushes with her that Helen discovered her passion and talent for painting.
At the age of 64, Helen Knight became an artist. It took her two years to begin publicly showing her paintings to others. Almost 20 years later, her home is now her gallery, with her work displayed in every room.
Her medium of choice is acrylic, however, she has also dabbled in water colour and oil pastels in the past. For Helen, she feels acrylic paint suits her personality as she explains, “Acrylic works for me because it’s so fast. I am a really fast painter. I may spend a long time wondering what I’m going to do and working up a painting in my mind, and then all of a sudden (when she begins painting), half an hour later it’s done!” Admitting it is in her nature to be fast and not have to plan ahead or wait for paint to dry, working with acrylic paint definitely suits her needs as an artist.
Helen is inspired by her immediate natural surroundings. “My subject matter has followed a natural history theme. I am also very connected to the seasons,” she says. Her garden and riverside property provide endless amounts of subject matter to pull from for her art. Poppies are her true love (you would understand why if you take a visit to her backyard garden), and she is in the process of thinking about starting a poppy series that will surely be something to marvel. Currently, she is leaning more towards impressionism in her style. “I don’t want a picture perfect poppy, I want an impressionist one.” She also makes scrapbooks where she collects images of art that speak to her. “I feel like they informally inform my own art,” she muses.
When asked what advice she would give to children wanting to purse painting, Helen clearly recalls the best quote she ever read about creating art, “Paint what you love.” She also remembers the initial advice she received from her friend and mentor Joan, “She told me that by the time we saw each other again I needed to draw or sketch one hundred items. It didn’t matter what they were or how complicated they were or what I used, I just had to get out a sketchbook. By the end of that time I knew I could draw.” Upon reflection, Helen has come to realize that since she has become more public with her art, she is also inspired by the people who like and enjoy her paintings, “It’s kind of like an exchange of love. It’s a gift.”
You can view Helen’s art in Clearwater BC at her personal home gallery; Yellowhead Community Services (612 Park Drive); and Forest House Wellness Centre (717 Clearwater Village Road). She continues to paint regularly in her home-based studio.
Helen Knight’s art is available. She welcomes anyone who has an emotional interest in her work to contact her directly.
Special note: Helen has been selected as the feature artist at this year’s Clearwater Children’s Art Festival on August 6, 2014, 10am-3pm at the Dutch Lake Community Centre. A selection of her work will be displayed and she will be on hand to meet families and answer questions. Multiple local artists will be providing art experiences for children of all ages throughout the day.