The Stone City Art Colony and School 1932-1933
Helen Johnson Hinrichsen

Home - The Project - The Colony - The Artists - Resources - Credits


Helen Johnson Hinrichsen (1896-1983) - student

Born in Springfield, Illinois and raised in Chicago, Helen Hinrichsen began her lifelong art career by enrolling at the Art Institute of Chicago. In her final year at the Institute, Hinrichsen taught painting while maintaining a private studio and designing movie sets. She then relocated to New York City, where she worked for the advertising firm of Fleischmann Company and took classes at the Art Students League. After a brief stay on the East Coast, she moved back to Chicago and began doing illustrations for children’s books and commercial magazines.

When her main employer relocated to Davenport, Helen followed suit and created artwork for the company magazine of Federal System of Bakeries. After a ten-year break to raise her two daughters, she returned to art and attended the Stone City Art Colony’s 1932-33 sessions. Hinrichsen chose to live in one of the famed ice wagons and became friends with both Wood and the painter, John Steuart Curry, an Art Institute classmate and colony visitor. The two became the subjects of sketches, later -- portraits, and the inspiration for her painting called “The Rotundities,” which won fourth place in the 1934 Art Salon at the Iowa State Fair.

In 1936, Hinrichsen approached the Davenport City Council with the idea to create a mural celebrating the city’s centennial. An old bank building being remodeled for a new Walgreen Drug Store proved to be the perfect canvas. Helen gathered over fifty people, including the mayor, to pose as models for the project; funding was secured through WPA financing in March 1936. With a deadline of July 1, Hinrichsen got the aid of Davenport artist and fellow colony member John Bloom, who did charcoal drawings from her sketches. The painting, roughly thirty feet long and eight feet high, was unveiled on a day that featured sweltering heat, a long parade, and a citizen march to the site.

Hinrichsen’s career as a freelance artist (1938-1970s) was complimented by a wide range of exhibitions, including: the “Iowa Speaks” exhibit (ca.1930); Iowa Art Salon, Iowa State Fair Awards (1932-34; second place in figures [1933] and fourth in figures [1934]); the Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs (1932); and the Great Hall, Iowa State University, Ames. In 1937, she completed a mural for the city of Cherokee, Iowa called the “Prairie Pioneer.” This project was independent of the WPA and Treasury art programs. A member of the Tri-City Art League, Hinrichsen volunteered as an instructor for the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery and was featured in Who’s Who in American Art, 1938-39. She remained active as a professional artist and varied her mediums to include painting, lithography, block painting, and Cliches Verres, a French technique created from painting or drawing on glass and then placing paper under the glass and exposing it to sunshine.

Active in Quad-Cities art circles, Helen was a member of the Friends of Art for the Davenport Art Museum, Studio 15 (Bettendorf, Iowa), and chaired committees for the Davenport Beaux Arts Ball. She remained in Davenport and died there in October 1983.

"Pink Petunia," Hinrichsen's featured image, was the product of a 1941 art lesson that Helen gave to her nine-year-old neighbor girl, Jane Miller Towner. While a petunia sat on her art table, the artist gathered Jane's water-based, poster paint and showed Towner a few, basic painting techniques. The painting, owned by Towner's nephew, Timothy Johnson, was first publicly displayed at the 2008 Grant Wood Art Festival, and was recently gifted to the Davenport Public Library in Davenport, Iowa.

Online Resources for Helen Johnson Hinrichsen:

Bauman Conservation, River Forest, Illinois. "2006 Participating Institutions:#154: Helen J. Hinrichsen, "Davenport Centennial Mural: 1836-1936." Available:

Pink Petunia, the painting created for a child's art lesson. Image courtesy of Timothy Johnson, Madison, Wisconsin.

Helen Johnson Hinrichsen painting famous Davenport mural, 1936. Photo courtesy of Davenport Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa.

Helen Hinrichsen painting famous Davenport mural, 1936.

Photo courtesy of Davenport Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa.


When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School
Published online October 2003 by the
Busse Library,
Mount Mercy University
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Telephone: 319-368-6465
Fax: 319-363-9060

Researcher & Author: Kristy Raine
Library Director: Marilyn Murphy
Editor & Web Designer: Linda Scarth
©Busse Library 2003-2017