Catching up with local artists

Man of many mediums
Sunday, March 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008


William Helvey’s interest in art began when he was required to take a fine arts class at Mount Vernon High School. Helvey came to Columbia in 1967 and exhibited his first solo show three years later. Helvey’s work has been featured in more than 80 solo exhibits. Recently retired from his position of state communications director/director of media center at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Helvey, 62, still teaches art classes at the Columbia Art League and from his personal studio.


Something of a Renaissance man, Helvey paints with watercolors and oils, takes photographs in black and white and color, directs and produces his own movies, and writes screenplays.

Q. What type of artwork are you most for?

A. The landscapes and the Missouri-scapes in oil paint.

Q. How many projects do you have going at one time?

A. Probably dozens, if you count the ones in my mind. But physically, I probably have two or three oils. Photography I have going all the time. The watercolors happen fairly quickly. They don’t require much thinking. I just knock them out quick.

Q. When you paint, do you look at a photograph as a reference?

A. I do on-site photography or come back with prints and use those for studies. Many times I combine elements of many photographs to come up with one composition.

Q. What types of films have you made?

A. In the ’70s, I did a lot of animation, art films, health-education films, and those were animated in the old cell form. Then when video came into production, I did some video for art-education purposes. I have probably produced, directed and edited maybe 150 or so productions over the years. I have also written two screenplays.

Q. When you do nature photography, do you sit and wait for the perfect moment?

A. An example: Two days ago I was along the Missouri River. You have to calculate the time of the day and when things will be out and you plan on it. So when I was coming through Squaw Creek National Refuge up in Mound City, along the Missouri, this is the time of the year that snow geese are migrating north, so I knew this is approximately the time to be there. And sure enough, they were coming in, just in droves, thousands of them.

I don’t like to sit for long periods of time waiting for something to happen, so I plan first. Some happy accidents happen.

Q. You have so much artwork to keep track of. Are you a very organized person?

A Well, my wife says I’m not, but I try to be. It is really difficult with all of the projects that I have going at any one time.

The hardest thing is to keep track of where the artwork is and what exhibits they have been to and are coming from. So I have designed a software program on FileMaker so that I can keep track of every piece of artwork that I have ever produced. As of now I have 1,881 pieces filed.

Q. Do you sell a lot of your work?

A. I have been selling some — not so much in mid-Missouri. I have been selling more on the Web, on eBay, and then the Art League sells some from time to time. I get commissions for this or that. Over at the Boone Clinic, I have had things there for some time and things sell there.

Q. What kind of commission work do you do?

A. I really like to do portraits and to try to include the person’s personality. I prefer doing portraits on colored paper with colored pencils.

Q. Do you do a lot of portraits using photography?

A. I have had one exhibit called “Figures in Hats.” The show has been in Cincinnati, and it has been here in the Boone County Historical Society.

Q. Do you ever go into your storage room and just look at your old paintings?

A. Yeah sometimes, and I think, “Whoa, man, did I do that?” Even a few hours ago I went through some and pulled out a bunch. You know where they are now? They are in the trash can.

Q. How often do you throw away a piece? Are you generally happy with the outcome?

A. Well, I used to throw away a lot of stuff. For everything you would see, I would throw out another piece, so only half of them survived. The ratio is a little higher now. I used to throw away a lot of stuff because it was inferior work, and I would rather not have people see it or it was an experimental piece.

Q. What type of artist would you like to be remembered as?

A. An abstract artist. They don’t sell as much as the others, but that’s what I like to do.

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