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Sold at Auction: Helen Hardin

Alias: Little Standing Spruce Tsa-sah-wee-ehHelen Harden


Helen Hardin (May 28, 1943 – June 9, 1984) (Tewa name: Tsa-sah-wee-eh, which means "Little Standing Spruce") was a Native American painter. She started making and selling paintings, participated in University of Arizona's Southwest Indian Art Project and was featured in Seventeen magazine, all before she was 18 years of age. Creating art was a means of spiritual expression that developed from her Roman Catholic upbringing and Native American heritage. She created contemporary works of art with geometric patterns based upon Native American symbols and motifs, like corn, katsinas, and chiefs. In 1976 she was featured in the PBS American Indian artists series.

Helen Hardin was born on May 28, 1943 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the daughter of Pablita Velarde, Santa Clara Pueblo artist, and Herbert Hardin, a European-American former police officer and Chief of Public Safety. Hardin's first language was Tewa. She was named Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh at a naming ceremony at the Santa Clara Pueblo about a month after she was born. Hardin was raised by her artistic mother and her family at the Santa Clara Pueblo and she went to school and lived among the Anglo world for much of her life. She saw herself as "Anglo socially and Indian in [her] art." At six years of age Hardin won first prize for a drawing. Her works were sold when she was nine with her mother's at Gallup ceremonial events. Although she was influenced by her mother's techniques and works, Hardin wanted to create her own style. Her relationship with her mother became increasingly difficult as Hardin became more artistic and as a consequence of her parents' divorce in 1957 or 1959.

She studied drafting at Albuquerque's St. Pius X High School, a parochial Catholic school. In the summer of 1960 Hardin attended the University of Arizona's Southwest Indian Art Project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Also while in high school she was featured in Seventeen magazine. In 1961 and 1962 she attended the University of New Mexico, where she studied architecture and art, although her mother wanted her to study business. Her mother also said she didn't like her paintings. Hardin considered her own work to be non-traditional, yet she was influenced by native pictographs, petroglyphs and pottery designs and the works of her teacher Joe Herrera, who was a Cubist[ from the Cochiti Pueblo.

Hardin's relationship with her high school boyfriend, Pat Terrazas,[5] continued after graduation and they had a daughter, Margarete Bagshaw, in 1964. Hardin had to sneak opportunities to paint because both her boyfriend and her mother disapproved[7] She went to Bogotá, Colombia in 1968 as a respite from the abusive relationship with Terrazas and an unhealthy relationship with her mother. She said of that time, "I awoke to the fact that I was twenty-four years old, I was locked into an unhappy [relationship], and I was not painting. I didn't know who I was or what I was. In search of personal freedom, I took Margarete... and left the country."
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