Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Helen, front
Helen, side
Helen has a German bisque head with brown hair and brown eyes. She is wearing a
brown satin ruffled skirt with a fur-trimmed jacket bodice. The notes say that
she is wearing a short fur-trimmed cape, but in the photograph that certainly
doesn't look like a cape. In addition to fur, her jacket has gold and brown braid at
the waist. She wears a belt of gold velvet with a bow in back with long streamers.
Her figure echoes the era's ideal woman's shape, a sort of Art Nouveau s-shape.
Designer Cecil Beaton later remembered turn-of-the-century women as being:

. . . laced into corsets that gave them pouter-pigeon bosoms and
protruding posteriors. Perched on their heads, and elevated by a little
roll just inside the crown, were hats which had grown as frivolous as
the miller's trade could make them enormous galleons of grey velvet
with vast grey plumes of ostrich feathers sweeping upwards and outwards,
or they would be trimmed with artificial flowers and fruit.

Helen's hat was created from an original of the period and, except for the
color, brown velvet with brown braid, certainly meets the description. More
height was added by women's hair being piled upon their heads, and the
hats perched atop that, skewered through the hair with a long hat pin.
To create the proper silhouette in their dress, fashionable women wore an
extra-long, flat-fronted corset that was boned to throw the hips back and the
bust forward. This near bondage along with the strict code of dress that
accompanied it became a form of distinguishing social classes, since poor women
could not begin to accumulate the layers and no woman without a maid could
possibly dress herself in this style. As one scholar said, "Edwardian women were
more assembled than dressed". Vita Sackville-West, in her novel The
, described the ritual her mother went through in that period as
her maid, Buttons, dresses her in the morning:

Buttons knelt before her, carefully drawing the silk stockings
on to her feet and smoothing them nicely up the leg. Then [her mother]
would rise, and, standing in her chemise, would allow the maid to fit
the long stays of pink coutil [a strong cotton fabric], heavily boned,
round her hips and slender figure, fastening the busk down the front,
after many adjustments; then the suspenders would be clipped to the
stockings; then the lacing would follow, beginning at the waist and
travelling gradually up and down, until the necessary proportions
had been achieved. The silk laces and their tags would fly out, under
the maids deft fingers with the flick of the skilled worker mending a
net. Then the pads of pink satin would be brought, and fastened into
place on the hips and under the arms still further to accentuate the
smallness of the waist.

It was, however, the rare period in which the mature-looking woman, "cool and
commanding with a rather heavy bust" was favored over slender dewy youth. Known
in England as the Edwardian Age and in France as la belle poque, it was a
time that featured great extravagance and ornamentation, a last burst of power
and privilege before the cataclysm of the first world war.

Helen Maria Turner (1858 - 1958)

Helen Maria Turner was a painter, designer, teacher, and craftswoman, who was
originally born in Louisville, Kentucky on November 13, 1858. Her father was a
prosperous coal merchant from Alexandria, Louisiana and her mother the daughter
of a noted New Orleans doctor. In her early years, they made their home in
Alexandria where they lived in "substantial comfort and gentility". But as the
Civil War escalated, this ended; her mother died of a lingering illness during
the war and her father's fortune was wiped out by it. He in turn died when Helen
was only thirteen, leaving her an orphan. Her uncle, Dr. Davidson, took in the
Turner children and moved from Alexandria to New Orleans. Little is known about
these middle years of her life, though she did later state that she developed
the habit of making sketches from her uncle and began painting at the age of
twenty-two, becoming one of the first members of the New Orleans Art

After her uncle's death in 1890, she realized she had to fend for herself and
became an instructor at St. Mary's Institute in Dallas, but left after two
years, having decided "what a farce it was for one without education to be
teaching others." She determined to pursue a serious career in art, arranging to
study at the Art Students' League in New York under Kenyon Cox and Douglas Volk,
and then the Women's Art School of Cooper Union, spending four years at each. To
support herself, she served as a temporary instructor at the Fine Arts
Department of Teacher's College based on the quality of work submitted. At the
age of 44, she signed on for two more years of study, including three different
years of summer classes with William Merritt Chase. Most profound among her
influences was her association with the Cragsmoor artists' colony located in
Cragsmoor, New York. From 1906 through 1941, Turner did not miss a single season
at Cragsmoor, only giving it up at age 83 when the trip north from New Orleans
became too much for her.

Turner is considered an American Impressionist, adopting from the style "a
blond palette, broken color, and a fascination with the play of light and shadow
over a variety of shapes and textures." Her work, especially her portraits, had
a sort of mosaic quality; as one contemporary critic wrote, "She seems to build
up her effects by swift piecemeal accumulations like the cover of a thick and
gentle fall of snow." She is considered by many scholars to be among the
important woman artists of the century, receiving innumerable awards. One of the
highlights of her career was her participation in a landmark all-woman traveling
exhibition entitled "Six American Women" along with Mary Cassatt, Johanna
Hailman, Jane Peterson, Martha Walter, and Alice Schille, which was organized by
the City Museum in St. Louis.

Like Cassatt and several of the others, she never married, living with her
devoted sister Lettie her entire life. She died in New Orleans on January 31,
1958, less than one year shy of her 100th birthday.