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Dranga painted in Hawaii for approximately 25 years. She was among a number of visiting and newly resident artists in Hawaii in the early 1900s who wished to express in their art a sense of Island color and culture. Along with Dranga, some of these artists were Theodore Wores, Bessie Wheeler, Hubert Vos, and Matteo Sandona, all part of a general movement to capture on canvas images of Old Hawaii before it disappeared. She became primarily known for her landscapes of Hawaii and portrait depictions of her friends who were Hawaiian and Chinese, many of these works showing notable sensitivity. Flowers were also some of her subjects.
Helen Thomas Dranga was born in Oxford, England in 1866. In 1896 she married Theodore Augustus Dranga. They lived in Oakland, California until 1901 when the couple moved from Oakland to Hilo, Hawaii. There her husband became a merchant and they raised their son, the marine conchologist, Theodore Thomas Dranga (1901-1956). Helen's husband, Ted, is mentioned in various references about Hawaiian history. He is known to have observed the 1924 explosions of the volcano Kilauea, and is also credited for having discovered the first living specimen of a rare cowry (mollusk), which he found at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in 1928. In 1929, Theodore T. Dranga is noted in National Park Service records as having made arrangements to repatriate certain Hawaiian cultural items, namely some burial items. These varied details about her husband's activities may eventually shed additional light on the life of Helen Dranga and the places she may have visited and painted.
1800 to 1940 was considered the 'golden era' of Hawaii, and artworks specifically from this period were gathered for the first time in the show 'Encounters in Paradise', which was exhibited at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts. Most of the pictures were obtained from museums and private collections, and included works by some of the above named artists, as well as Jules Tavernier, Charles Furneaux, John Kelly, and Hilo-based Helen Dranga.
Helen Dranga's compositions also regularly appeared as covers of Paradise of the Pacific Magazine throughout the 1920s and 1930s. These magazines themselves have become collectibles. A rare Paradise of the Pacific issue from December 1934 was auctioned around 2002, and its auction description mentioned the issue as particularly notable because it featured paintings by D. Howard Hitchcock, Lionel Walden, and Helen Dranga.
She died in Hilo in 1940 and was buried in San Diego, California.
Dranga was a member of the Hawaiian Society of Artists (Exhibited: 1917). Her works are held in the Lyman House Memorial Museum in Hilo, Hawaii and the Honolulu Academy of the Arts as well as numerous important private collections. Listed In: Forbes and Kunichika, from Hilo 1825-1925 A Century of Painting and Drawings, the catalogue of an exhibit held at the Lyman House Museum, Hilo in 1983-84); Finding Paradise written by Don Severson in association with the Honolulu Academy of Art).
Source: AskART; Wikipedia