Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How I became an artist March 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:44 AM
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MY SKILLS AS A PAINTER are limited. I can paint a wall. I can dip a brush into a kid’s watercolor paint set and swirl colors onto a piece of paper. But I won’t promise a masterpiece.

Oh, no, if you want to see my best paintings, you will need to step back in time to more than 40 years ago. Imagine me hunched over an oilcloth-draped kitchen table in a southwestern Minnesota farmhouse dipping a thin brush into miniscule pots of paint. With great care, I brush shades of blue and brown onto cardboard as a ballerina emerges.

I have never seen a real ballerina. Her dainty features and fancy dress and perfect posture seem so foreign to me as I slump at the table in my rag-tag clothing that smells of the barn.

I imagine this ballerina smells only of flowers, like the ones I paint into the bouquet she clutches and into the wreath encircling her hair. Her bangs sweep in a fashionable style across her forehead, unlike my slanted, too-short bangs.

The paint-by-number ballerinas I painted as a young girl during the 1960s.

This ballerina’s life in New York City is so much different than mine on the farm. For the hours I am painting the flower-bearing ballerina and her sister, the twirling ballerina, I escape into their world. I dance on my tiptoes and spin and bow with grace on the stage of an opulent theater.

If not for Dan Robbins, though, I never would have experienced ballet. The Michigan artist created the first paint-by-number patterns in 1951. That led to a nation-wide obsession that allowed non-artists like me to become painters. The magazine American Profile featured Robbins in its March 25 issue. You can read the feature story by clicking here.

That story prompted me to remember the paint-by-number ballerinas I created as a child. Because my mother saves everything, I have those paintings today and they are among my most treasured childhood possessions.

TELL ME, HAVE YOU created paint-by-number paintings? Or do you collect these paintings? I would like to hear about your experiences and/or interest in paint-by-number kits.

You can learn more about the paint-by-number craze that swept the country during the 1950s by clicking here onto the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “How I became an artist”

  1. Lori-Ann Says:

    I am not a painter, although I have been known to sketch. My sister, on the other hand, did paint and being the older sister she tried in earnest to interest me in painting. She bought me a paint by number of a puppy, which I dutifully completed under her tutelage. And God bless big sisters, the finished product hung in our shared bedroom for years. It was a blob dog at best, but somehow she convinced me it was beautiful and happy. 🙂

  2. I love this story. You brought your youthful painting and dreaming to life so clearly for me. Thanks for sharing. -kate

  3. Jackie Says:

    I almost forgot about those paint by number masterpieces. I remember that my favorite ones to do were the horses. I grew up in the country and 2 of my best friends had horsed, so i got to ride alot. Anyway…. I love your two girls they are beautiful, Such a cool memory for you…and me “)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The interesting thing about these ballerinas is that my daughters do not like them. They claim their BIG eyes make them look creepy. That, however, does not stop me from displaying them in my home as vintage art.

  4. I remember those…but I only ever did paint-by-number books…not nice cardboard ones like those you pictured. How fun that you still have them!

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    I remember ‘paint by numbers’. It was such a fun thing to do when the weather was foul. Sadly, my mother didn’t save any of my creations but I don’t remember them being as good as yours. Your ballerinas are fabulous and I can understand how you treasure them. I do hope you have them framed and hanging somewhere in your home. And thanks so much for your kind words on my blog. I feel the same way about you and your blog and your writing! xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I do rotate the ballerinas into my decor, displaying them in my home. They aren’t framed; I just prop them up. Thank you re. your thoughts on my blog.

  6. kati Says:

    i found these exact two PBNs at my neighborhood goodwill this morning and thought they would be cute (in a kitschy way) on my own 6 year old ballerina’s walls. i didn’t even realize they were painted and not prints until i got them home and got a closer look. whoever painted them did a beautiful job and i’m so pleased to find this post about them 🙂

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