By Indiana Nash
NISKAYUNA — The path to becoming an artist isn’t always straight, or circular, or even linear. For Helga Prichard, who was a dance teacher for many years, art is another type of physical expression.
Prichard was born in Germany and came to the United States shortly before World War II. “I had an uncle who worked for GE and lived in Schenectady. He vouched for me to come to America and I was able to live with him and my aunt when I got here,” she said.
A few months after moving here, Prichard began to study chemistry and biology at Russell Sage College in Troy, where she also took dance classes. After getting her bachelor’s degree, she went on to marry Mervyn Prichard and start a family — her daughter Denise and her son Daniel.
“Dance was in the background for a little while, until I started to raise a family,” said Prichard. Soon after becoming a mother, she became more involved with dance and took several master classes which allowed her to teach.
She spent 30 years teaching modern dance at Union College and Schenectady Community College. “Fitness and health are still my first priorities,” said Prichard, who is very active even in her retirement.
But Prichard used dance and experienced dance as more than simple exercise. She saw it as an artistic expression. “Dance is really just physically moving in an artist way,” she said.
This is what initially drew her into art.
For the first few years of painting, Prichard mainly worked with watercolors and acrylics in a realistic style. Then she began studying under Karen Rosasco, a watermedia artist who works in an abstract style.
“This is what drew me to Karen … she doesn’t talk about things. She talks about composition and design,” said Prichard. Rosasco has since left the area, but some of her former students (including Prichard) have formed a group they call the Firehouse Group. Each year they set out to complete one challenge per month, which they come up with as a group. “We do this to stretch ourselves. This month’s challenge is called ‘5 lines’ and last month’s was ‘Anything but a brush,’ ” said Prichard.
Besides her classes with Rosasco, Prichard has also studied with Carole Barnes and has taken a few workshops in Greenville. “At one of the workshops, the instructor told us to completely cover our canvas in paint for the first day … now a white canvas scares me,” she said.
There are samplings of Prichard’s work hung throughout her home, ranging from realistic pastels of her former lake house to abstract paintings of telephone poles. But hidden in her bookshelves, she has journals of drawings and water colors of memories and places she has gone. “If I had a fire in the house, the first thing I would take would be my journals … with drawing, that’s when you really get to see. Once I draw it I can remember it,” said Prichard.
One challenge which she is working on is printmaking. “I like the fluidity of acrylics,” she said. But now she’s working on some mixed media pieces and collaging. She takes classes with a print maker at the Ragged Edge in Cohoes. Even though Prichard finds it difficult to work with mixed media, it’s the sort of challenge that she’s always looking for.
By Indiana Nash