Mary Helme Hale
The nineteenth century brought many new opportunities for American women artists. The number of art schools increased, women were allowed into life-drawing classes and exhibition opportunities in local art clubs, art associations and museums became more plentiful. Kingston, RI native, Mary Powell Helme took advantage of these advances as she began her artistic career. She studied under Augustus St. Gaudens, Rhoda Holmes Nichols, William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, as well as being part of the Art Students League of New York. In 1883 Mary taught at the Friends School of Providence, now Moses Brown, as the Associate Professor of Drawing and Painting. After 8 years at the Friends School, the young artist began teaching as a Professor of Art at the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, (now the University of Rhode Island).
Life circumstances changed for Helme in 1897 when she married Dr. William Hale. In 1897 Helme/Hale resigned from her art faculty position and moved with her husband to Gloucester, Massachusetts. She remained active, painting and maintaining membership in the North Shore Arts Association of Gloucester, Massachusetts, American Artists Professional League, Artists Equity Association and the American Federation of Artists. However, it appears that she did not pursue her artistic career with the same vigor as compared to her pre-marital years, evidenced by the very few examples of her works in collections or on the market at this time.
The Helmes remained in Glocester, where William was known as “The Fishermen’s Doctor” until Dr. Helme retired in 1934 and they decided to return to the Helme family house in Kingston. With this journey her artwork came back to the now historic Helme House, currently owned by the South County Art Association. Mary remained in Kingston until her death on April 26, 1940. In the late 1960’s a concerned Rhode Island collector rescued a small collection of her work from a South County Art Association attic sale. Today we enjoy only a few examples of her work to offer insight into the talent and training of this woman artist.