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Born in Louisville, Kentucky, but raised in New Orleans, Helen Turner began painting around 1880, when the New Orleans Art Union was formed. In 1895 she moved to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League. She also studied at the Design School for Women at Cooper Union, and privately with William Merritt Chase. From 1902 through 1919 Turner taught life and costume drawing at the Y.W.C.A., and exhibited impressionistic landscapes and figurative works in the local museums and galleries. In 1906 she made her first appearance at the National Academy of Design. From that point through the 1920s the list of exhibitions in which she participated grew to include most of the major juried museum annuals across the country, and her work was avidly collected (Rabbage, p. 5). During this period of success, Turner maintained two studios, one in the city, and the other at Cragsmoor, New York, a summer art colony in the Shawangunk Mountains. There she built a modest house, “Takusan,” and surrounded it with gardens. The sunlit scenes she painted at Cragsmoor are considered her best work. Turner’s paintings of women in floral environments coincide with her move to Cragsmoor in 1906. Gardening was a serious pastime among the summer residents, and the artist developed a passion for it. Turner’s garden climbed in rock-bordered terraces behind the porch of the house she built in 1910. She filled the beds with masses of peonies and delphiniums and phlox, which together formed a brilliant blur in the backgrounds of many of her outdoor scenes (Hill, p. 133). The intimate style and leisurely pace of life in Cragsmoor can be sensed in paintings like Song of Summer. The sunlight filtered through the leafy green foliage and the contemplative mood of the musician breathe tranquility, and draws the viewer into the velvety warmth of a mid-summer day. NRS
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