It's been 10 years since Lawrence painter Dennis Helm succumbed to AIDS Ã¢ÂÂ:quot; 10 years since his friends and fellow artists dreamt up the Red Ribbon Art Auction to honor his life.
A decade later, the auction has become the largest fund-raiser for Douglas County AIDS Project, the organization that helped Helm through his final years.
Ã¢ÂÂHe was the inspiration, really, for the art auction,Ã¢ÂÂ said Sidney Hardgrave, DCAPÃ¢ÂÂs executive director. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs always been somewhat in his memory, but this year we actually hope to have some of his pieces on display at the auction.Ã¢ÂÂ
Even Lawrencians who didnÃ¢ÂÂt know Helm probably are familiar with at least one of his works. He painted the vivid, celestial murals on the walls and ceiling of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence. That was more characteristic of his later work, however. He was really known for his landscapes and still lifes, which often included eggs, fruits and vegetables.
Ã¢ÂÂHe was a most gifted artist,Ã¢ÂÂ said Judi Geer Kellas, a fellow artist and 17-year friend of Helms, who died on June 4, 1992, at age 45.
Ã¢ÂÂHe struggled very hard. I think he amazed all of us that knew him. He really lived longer than anybody ever thought he would. DCAP had a lot to do with that.Ã¢ÂÂ
Helm was one of DCAPÃ¢ÂÂs first clients when it opened in 1989. The agency continues to serve about 60 people with HIV/AIDS each year. The art auction, which brought in $11,800 last year, supports both client services and outreach at DCAP. This yearÃ¢ÂÂs goal is $13,500 Ã¢ÂÂ:quot; a little more than 5 percent of the agencyÃ¢ÂÂs budget.
More than 40 local artists have donated work for the auction. Photographs, prints, paintings, drawings, textiles, furniture, jewelry, sculpture, pottery and other items all will be up for bid in the silent and live auctions on Dec. 1 at SpringHill Suites by Marriott. The pieces are on display from noon to 4 p.m. today at the Carnegie Building, Ninth and Vermont streets.
A serious artist
Works by Helm will be displayed but not sold at the auction. Most of them have been borrowed from peopleÃ¢ÂÂs private collections.
Kellas has three of HelmÃ¢ÂÂs artworks hanging in her home north of Lawrence. Looking at them makes her smile. So do other fond memories of her friend.
The two used to go to lunch about once a week and often talked about opening the Peace Creek CafÃ Â©, where they would serve meat loaf, mashed potatoes and other home-cooked food that Helm had grown up with as a boy in rural Reno County, near the community of Peace Creek. At one such lunch, after several months in the hospital, Helm rebuffed KellasÃ¢ÂÂ declaration that their meal together was nothing short of a miracle.
Ã¢ÂÂHe said, Ã¢ÂÂ'What are you talking about?Ã¢ÂÂ I said, Ã¢ÂÂ'I didnÃ¢ÂÂt think weÃ¢ÂÂd ever have lunch together again,Ã¢ÂÂ Kellas said.
Helm just glared at her.
Ã¢ÂÂHe didnÃ¢ÂÂt like sentimentality,Ã¢ÂÂ she said, laughing at the recollection.
Ã¢ÂÂHe was really quite a serious artist. He took his work very seriously.Ã¢ÂÂ
Helm studied art at Hutchinson Community College and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Kansas University in 1972. He was an enthusiastic supporter of his contemporaries and advocated, in his last years, for a museum of Kansas artists, testifying before Kansas Legislative committees on the proposal. He also regularly donated his work for benefit auctions.
DCAPÃ¢ÂÂs benefit auction will help it keep up with serving the one to two new clients it averages each month. Three clients have died in the past year, Hardgrave said.
The funds also will assist with outreach, which DCAP is increasing toward women and younger people because Ã¢ÂÂnationally, one half of the new infections are occurring in ages 25 and under,Ã¢ÂÂ Hardgrave said. The money raised also will help pay for HIV tests, which the agency has been providing free-of-charge for about a year and a half.
Ã¢ÂÂThe nice thing about this is the funds are unrestricted,Ã¢ÂÂ said Janet Horner, auction chairwoman. Ã¢ÂÂSo many of the grants we receive are for specific things. This allows us to kind of fill in the blanks.Ã¢ÂÂ
The continued support Ã¢ÂÂ:quot; from artists, the community and DCAP Ã¢ÂÂ:quot; of people with HIV/AIDS in Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties is, in a way, part of HelmÃ¢ÂÂs legacy. It was his talent and spirit that inspired the auctionÃ¢ÂÂs creation.
Ã¢ÂÂI will always love him very, very much,Ã¢ÂÂ Kellas said. Ã¢ÂÂHe meant a great deal to me. And I miss him.Ã¢ÂÂ