Helen Atkinson, painter and Prudhoe Bay expert

Ted’s Cabin by Helen Atkinson, Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer Collection

My office wall at the News-Miner was mostly bare except for a calendar in Polish. This past week I purchased a low-budget painting of a cabin in the woods signed by watercolorist Helen Atkinson.

The artist was born Helen Linck in 1915. Her birthplace was Gold Road, Arizona, off fabled Route 66. Her father worked as an accountant for a gold mining firm. The boomtown later deteriorated into a ghost town during World War Two because the federal government outlawed gold mining.

The town stands 2,854 feet above sea level. Young Helen and her pals enjoyed views of Nevada and California from the top.

When Helen was 11, her father transferred to a job in Fairbanks and purchased a home on Illinois Street. She enrolled in the early 1930s at Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines to study civil engineering. In college, she played basketball and excelled on the rifle team.

Her facial features were striking. The Business Club crowned her May Queen of at the Empress Ballroom.

Alaska’s outdoor sports suited Helen. She learned to hunt moose and duck and caught a prize pike at Lake Minchumina in the Yukon-Kolukuk Census area. She volunteered at a TB sanitarium and taught children with orthopedic disabilities to knit.

After graduating in ’36 from college in Alaska, she moved to Seattle to study architecture at the University of Washington. When World War II broke out, she learned to fly and worked for Boeing as a flight instructor.

Her initial solo flight was in 1943. Glamour Magazine published a striking photo of photogenic Helen in 1953.

Helen married four times and worked at numerous diverse jobs as a civil engineer, editor of a petroleum newsletter, News-Miner reporter, Fairbanks building inspector for the Golden Valley Electric Association, Alaska State Housing Authority project manager, and the Fairbanks Exploration Company. The University of Alaska Fairbanks named Helen a distinguished alumna in 1987 and awarded her an honorary doctorate of laws in 2003. She was an expert on Prudhoe Bay oil exploration and published papers often.

Painting landscapes was her way of relaxing. She traveled the world and painted the landscapes she encountered.

My acquired painting by Helen is titled “Ted’s Cabin.” The cabin’s roof is buried in snow. The chimney and one window are lit up with gold paint. Behind the cabin in silhouette are towering spruce.

New Horizons Gallery featured 37 of her watercolors in a 2005 exhibition. She was 90 then and lived until dying of a stroke at 98 in 2014.

On the back of the painting, I read Helen had given it as a gift to Kay J. Kennedy in 1986. I read about Kay who loved adventure and knew more about bush pilots in Alaska than just about anyone. I’ve started writing that column, too.

When my wife finally moves here late April, I’ll gift this lovely painting by Helen Atkinson to Gosia on our wedding anniversary.