Helen Farr Sloan (1911–2005) represents a unique artist on POBA, for she was not only a talented artist and print maker in her own right, but also a patron of the arts, educator, and the main proponent of her husband’s artistic legacy, the American master, John Sloan, often known as a member of the “Ashcan School” of artists.
Helen developed an early and enduring love of the arts, and defied her father’s hopes of a medical career to begin her art studies early. After a brief stint studying anatomy at Cornell, she soon switched to study weaving, pottery, metalwork, woodcarving and jewelry making at the Crafts Student League. By sixteen, she had become a member of the prestigious Arts Students League in New York City, her hometown. There she met John Sloan, who would become her lifelong friend, mentor, and eventually, her husband.
In her early 20s, Helen spent several summers with the Sloan family in New Mexico, becoming an active member of the Santa Fe art colony. For much of this decade she taught art, primarily at the Nightingale-Banford School in New York City, but her life would soon change: In 1944, she married her mentor and friend, John Sloan, notwithstanding a forty year difference in their ages. She devoted herself for the seven years of their marriage and for most of her life thereafter to promoting and organizing the prodigious works of her husband. In the process, however, she became a significant philanthropist of the arts and a scholar in American art history. She also became widely appreciated for her support for women entering the fields of art history and museum studies.
From the age of 16 and through her twenties, she produced ambitious prints and paintings, but she completed little work after 1960. Like many American artists in the 1930s, she found her subjects in daily life. Though only a small number of her original works survived, her paintings and prints depict life in the cafes, streets and subways of New York City and drew on her visits to Santa Fe, NM, from which some of her Native American subjects show energetic line and color. True to her times and training, figure study was central, and her sketchbooks are filled with nudes and model studies. In this vein, Helen produced evocative depictions of the dancer and mime, Angna Enters, in various theatrical poses.
Beginning in 1961, Helen developed a special relationship with the Delaware Art Museum, the organization that has graciously provided these images of her works. Because of her philanthropy and her scholarship, the Delaware Art Museum received more than 4,500 works, including the preeminent collection of the work of John Sloan, including 2700 art works and manuscripts. This has made the Delaware Art Museum the leading repository for the study of John Sloan, who was noted for his realistic images of turn-of-the-century New York City. Helen Farr Sloan died at the age of 94, active in the arts throughout.