Sunny Acres Gallery
The information below was written by Sharon Boatwright to feature Helena Meek in the monthly magazine “Folio”, published by The Atlanta Portrait Society. Somewhere between Columbus and Americus, along Georgia Highway 26, is the little town of Buena Vista. Approximately 2.5 miles east of its only traffic light is the home, studio and gallery of Helena Meek. A one-story Williamsburg built in 1926 sits well off the road, but a sign by the driveway welcomes guests to enter “Sunny Acres Gallery – Where History Becomes Canvas”.
The home has its own feeling of history. It is warm and inviting, with high ceilings and knotty pine paneled walls that have naturally colored with age. There are several rooms, each with its own personality and character, and all are filled with antiques and many paintings – paintings of landscapes, historical buildings and homes, musical instruments, still lifes, animals, and, of course, portraits.
Helena was born in this home, the youngest of six children. Her father died when she was three, and she remembers her mother single-handedly running the 1,800-acre dairy farm. Her mother was a major influence for her, regarding color and design.
“As some people have what is known as ‘perfect pitch’ in music, my mother had ‘perfect taste’ in color,” recalls Helena.
Several years ago, the farm was divided among the children. Helena moved back to the homestead in 1969, along with her husband, Bill. Together they have three grown children and eight grandchildren. The house rests on a 100-acre tract with the same pastoral views she knew as a child
As we began our interview, Helena Meek said she began painting as a landscape artist, but a little further discussion revealed that she had actually begun with tole painting at the Lois Coogle studio in Buckhead, Georgia. During that process, she often thought how wonderful it might be to paint on an actual canvas rather than a tin plate! She has come a long way, with most of her supports now consisting of 48” x 48” panels, and canvases of all sizes.
In 1976, the Bicentennial year, Helena realized that historical homes would be of major interest. This became her subject, and allowed her to capture history on canvas. Places of interest in the Plains, Georgia area during the Jimmy Carter campaign were much in demand. Some of these paintings are hanging in Miami, Richmond, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, in addition to Japan and other counties.
During this period the artist studied with John Byrans from Washington, D.C., and Everett Kivette from New York City, at “Painting in the Mountains” in Burnsville, North Carolina. Both of these artists were primarily known for their portrait and figure paintings and landscapes. There, Helena was first introduced to painting figures in landscapes. Additionally, she studied with Dong Kingman, an internationally known Chinese artist who came to The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia to teach. Helena was first introduced to oils while studying with Jan Herring, a Texas artist and author of portrait and figure painting books. This course of study influenced Helena to incorporate figures into her historical paintings. In addition, Jan encouraged her to focus on portrait painting. There is nothing Helena finds more interesting and challenging to paint than the human face and body. She loves art and people; portraits are the natural expression of these interests. As with buildings and landscapes, recording history on canvas is her main purpose in painting portraits. She has painted Josh Gibson, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972; Eddie Owens Martin, “the wizard of Pasaquan” (a prominent Folk Art center); and Coach Dan Reeves, to name a few.
Helena is a member of the American Society of Portrait Artists, as well as the Portrait Society of Atlanta. These affiliations have helped launch her fulltime portrait painting career. The Portrait Society of Atlanta has been an important source of information for the artist since she joined in 1998. In order to earn her Juried Status she was accepted into three PSA juried shows, and gained this status in September of 2000. One of the most valuable meetings for her was one covering types of cameras. As a result, Helena bought her Canon Elan II, a 35mm that she uses primarily for all photo references. She does have a digital, but still prefers the Canon. Since joining the Society, she has taken workshops from Margaret Baumgartner and John De La Vega, and has become an ardent admirer of the works of Kinstler and Sanden.
The aforementioned Jan Herring is also the major influence in the primary painting technique that Helena uses. In short, she under-paints in pastel and fixative. The painting is completed in a series of oil washes and finally plain turpenoid is used for subtractive effects. The result is a rich, somewhat loose, wonderfully textured piece. “Raising a Family on the Chattahoochee”, shown below, is an excellent example
    incorporating this technique. She uses this technique for all her works, including portraits, but paints in a tighter style on the face and figure.
This style of painting has brought many changed and opportunities to the artist. Many new avenues for distribution and sale of Helena’s work have come about due to the appeal of the pastel and oil technique. She has learned volumes about networking in a short period of time, from decorators, agents and other artists. Currently she has painting in four galleries: Ann Irwin Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, Dante’s in Macon, and Joseph House Gallery in Columbus. Her artwork is also feature in Main Street CafÈ in Canton. Decorators have given her
their input on what types of paintings will sell to various clients, and she is working larger as a result. As mentioned, many of her pieces are 48” x 48”. While she has always liked painting large, she was a little intimidated at first. She has become accustomed to it now, having done many of this size.
Additionally, she has found that the combination of figures and landscapes is paying off in a whole new way. After attending her first dove shoot, she did her own shoot – photo shoot that is – and now has painted a portrait of three hunters in a fencerow with the doves coming in over the field. This work, “Opening Day”, is currently hanging at the Darious Gallery in Atlanta. Subsequently, she has booked a number of commissions of this type.
Further, Helena has begun producing giclees of her work. She has learned much about this process, primarily from galleries and other artists. The work of Thomas Arvid, the “painter of wine” influenced her to reproduce her art. Recently, she met an art publisher at the Darious Gallery, who also encouraged her to keep working and get more of her work printed. Laura Stamp, an art consultant, has helped her market her work, and Helena is currently working with Rio Fine Art, a publisher.
As if all this were not enough, Helena is also an accomplished member of the American Impressionists Society. Helena’s work was included in the Society’s 2002 Exhibition in Morro Bay, California. She earned an Award of Merit in 1999, and now may use the AIS designation, recognized as a symbol of achievement.
Additionally, she was one of 14 artists chosen for the Georgia Living Center Artist in Residence Program. In October of 2001, she painted demonstrations for this project, located at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Georgia.
Many of the paintings I viewed in Helena’s living room were to be hung at Dante’s Gallery in Macon later in the week. She kindly invited me to the opening and reception, which turned out to be a rather gala affair, as it was the night before Halloween. I also had the pleasure of meeting John de la Vega, who was giving a workshop in Macon that week.
As Helena says, “Art is exciting, and the people are so interesting and diverse.” She realizes that her art career has been influenced by the above-mentioned artists, but knows her talent and inspiration come from the Lord. And it just keeps getting better and better.
rd. And it just keeps getting better and better