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Helen Sewell Rennie (1906-1989)

  • Helen Sewell Rennie was a painter, graphic designer, WPA Artist, and New Yorker cartoonist. Over a six-decade period she created a diverse body of work that reflected her life experiences and the artistic avant garde of the times.

    Helen was born in Cambridge, Maryland and educated at the prestigious Corcoran School, the National Academy of Design in New York and under Charles W. Hawthorne (founder of the Cape Cod School of Art). In the 1920s she sailed off for a “grand tour” of Europe, soaking in the work of the masters as well as the emerging modernist sensibility.

    During the Great Depression of the 1930s Helen joined the ranks of the WPA in the Federal Art Project and worked on various projects, including a noted mural at Roosevelt High School in D.C. Helen was later represented by the Franz Bader Gallery and was an integral part of the art community in the DC area. Some of the sketch portraits included in this collection are of fellow artists from that place and time. She was also represented by the Capricorn Gallery and the Bridge Gallery (1965).

    Helen exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, the Corcoran Gallery Biennials, the Baltimore Museum, Phillips Memorial Gallery and at New York MOMA in 1946 and 1956.

    The work of Helen Sewell Rennie is now in the permanent collections of the following institutions: The Phillips Collection, American University, The Clarendon Trust Company, the U.S. Department of Commerce and many others. Her personal papers are part of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian.

    Passionate about both art and life, Helen was a distinctly independent spirit. She was married twice, spent a great deal of time in England and loved to sip on her sherry.

    We would like to thank Helen’s niece, Baker Moorefield (also an artist), for bringing this beautiful collection and story to our attention.

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