Helen Parsons Shepherd
I enjoy painting in my own environment the things that I am familiar with and like. I feel pure enjoyment when interpreting the objects I see around me every day the way light plays on white, the contrasting red of an apple, how light filters through glass.
Excerpt from artist statement in 12 Newfoundland Painters exhibition publication, organized by Memorial University Art Gallery, 1985.
Helen Parsons Shepherd was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1923. Parsons Shepherd's mother and father, poet R.A. Parsons, exposed their children to countless books and art of various forms. When Parsons Shepherd was a young girl it was a common practice for her to sketch visitors that came to their home. Her brother, Paul, became a well-known watercolour artist and Parsons Shepherd is considered one of the most respected portrate artists in the province.
Parsons Shepherd attended Memorial University of Newfoundland for one year, spent four months at a nursing school in Montreal, then one year clerking for her father's law office before she decided to pursue a fine arts degree at the Ontario College of Art. In 1948, she earned her degree from OCA, making her the first Newfoundlander to do so.
That year she married Reginald Shepherd, a fellow student attending OCA. After Reginald graduated in 1949, they moved to St. John's to co-found the Newfoundland Academy of Art (NAA), the first art school in the province.
Parsons Shepherd was an art instructor from 1949-61. As well as teaching at the NAA, she conducted classes at four St. John's convents and continued with her own work.
The Shepherds decided to close the NAA in 1961, giving Parsons Shepherd time to concentrate on commissioned portraits which were booked as much as two years in advance. She painted numerous portraits of public officials and prominent members of the community, including the mayors of St. John's, presidents of Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a portrait of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip.
In 1978, she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academt of Art, and in 1988 received an honary doctorate from Memorial University of Newfoundland. In addition to the Permanent Collection of the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, her artwork is part of private and public collections including that of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Frederiction, New Brunswick; the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Power Corporation, Montreal.
She continued to pursue her own artwork and commissioned portraits full-time
in St. John's during the winter and at Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland, during the
summer months. Helen Parsons Shepherd died in 2008 at the age of 85.
Updated May, 2008