Helen Hooker (left, 1930) was born in 1905 to a very prominent Greenwich, Connecticut family. At an early age she started sculpting and playing tennis with her three sisters. In 1923, when she attained the rank of National Junior Tennis Champion, she decided to pursue a career in art. From 1924 to 1931 she travelled extensively throughout Europe and the USA and established herself as a sculptor in New York City.
Ernie O’Malley was born in 1897 in Castlebar, Co Mayo. While at medical school his nationalist sympathies were aroused during Easter Week, 1916. In 1918-24 Ernie joined the IRA full time, became Commandant-General, went anti-Treaty, was captured and imprisoned. After recovering his health in Europe he showed interest in the arts and travelled to America. In 1928 Eamon de Valera, yet to become president of Ireland, asked him to fundraise in the USA for the Irish Press newspaper. Ernie lived in California, New Mexico, Mexico, and New York.
The couple met in 1933 in Greenwich and were married two years later in London. When Ernie secured an Irish military pension the couple moved to Ireland. In 1937 Ernie published his memoirs, On Another Man’s Wound which became an immediate success. The couple left Dublin and moved to the west of Ireland to concentrate on photographing early Christian Ireland. During the war years of 1939-45, they farmed in Co. Mayo before returning to Dublin to educate their three children and participate in theatre. In 1950 the marriage ended and Helen returned to the USA with her two older children. Helen married Richard Roelofs in 1956, and continued her sculpture and photography. Ernie continued to write. He died in 1957.
In 1971 after the death of her second husband, Helen’s work as a poet, sculptor and photographer began to flourish. She moved regularly between Greenwich, Dublin and Mayo. In her last twenty years she produced more than half of her life’s work, which was featured in several exhibitions. Helen died in her home town of Greenwich in 1993.
Learn more about Helen Hooker O’Malley
- HH displayed an Interest in creating art as early as age 6 when she crafted her first sculpture. It was of a rabbit Childhood family photo albums and later ones from school contain photographs of others taken by Helen.
- 1923: Helen Graduated from exclusive Chapin school in NYC and refuses to attend college. She sets up an art studio and begins attending the Art Student League of New York City. Here she is taught by many distinguished artists from various fields.
- Mid-1920’s: travels to England, France, Spain and Italy where she explores her artistic interests recording them with sketches, paintings and photographs.
- 1928-1929: at just 23 years of age, Helen and her older sister Adelaide set out on year-long odyssey across Germany, Finland, Sweden and the Soviet Union. The sisters spend 6 months in Russia where for six months, Helen studies art with Pavel Filinov, avant-garde painter (style: Analytical Realism/Abstract). Helen takes many photographs throughout her transcontinental journey demonstrating a keen eye for angle, composition, lighting and subject matter .
- 1929: Helen’s photographs appear in Good Housekeeping magazine illustrating her sister Adelaide’s 3-part series about their time in Russia
- 1929-1930: Helen photographs and paints in France where she visits with her sister Barbara at Christmas. She remains Stateside at beginning of Great Depression volunteering at the Hartford Housed and curtailing her travels to California and New England. Later that year she journeys to Greece and Italy where her renderings of pastoral landscapes foreshadows her photography later taken in remote rural Ireland Her photographs of Greek statuary and architectural detail are museum quality
- 1933: after meeting Irishman, Ernie O’Malley, at a luncheon in her parent’s Connecticut home, Helen is quite taken with Ernie’s determination and profile. She asks to sculpt his head and shoots this iconic portrait of him in preparation for her modeling. After 3 sittings, she “was so completely in love with him” she could not finish her work.
- 1935: Helen visits California and is photographed in Yosemite. Although Helen did not take the photograph, she may have set it up as evidenced by the careful placement, sense of layering, and echoes of peaked angular shapes from her knees to her hat to the mountains. elen, her sister and mother later travel to London via Asia and a return to Russia. The photographs she took in Japan demonstrate a keen eye for light, form and space. This picture of the Hooker Electrochemical Plant in Japan (1935) captures the essence of light and dark, placement, and geometric form. She captures whimsical and evocative moments in portraits from Korea and Mongolia. A series of photos depicting Mongolian ovoos presage her pictures of cairns and other sacred sites in Ireland They are also reminiscent of Helen’s strong identification with Native American spiritual principles learned at the Wabanaki School where she was educated prior to Chapin. Helen probably explored and captured similar sights during her travels across the American West.
- 27 September 1935: In London, Helen marries Ernie in a simple Registry office ceremony in Marlyebone.
- 1935: the Newlyweds settle in Dublin where Helen sets about designing and decorating their home in Rathmines whilst Ernie resumes his medical studies. On the weekends, the couple would take short trips into the nearby countryside to explore and photograph archaeological sites, medieval monasteries and abbeys.
- 1936: Haunting images of Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Jail where EOM was imprisoned, tortured and from where he escaped. She used light, mist and shadow to create air of foreboding, mystery and eeriness. These impenetrable fortresses are now shrouded in fog like a bad dream. Ernie’s deliberately blurred image is representative of awful memories and nearly foiled escape. Perhaps the silhouetted man refers to his comrade who chose not to make a third attempt at escape so that Ernie and his companion would have a better chance. The man left behind was executed 2 days later.
- HH & EOM move to Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland where they both record rural, coastal, island life in photographs and words. Frequently, Helen takes pictures of locally significant sites included in regional legend and folklore which Ernie and others were collecting. Oftentimes, sites were of significance to the O’Malley clan such as castle of Granuaile, the Pirate Queen (Grainne O’Malley).
- EOM made detailed notes on waiting for the right angle of the sun to illuminate an object in certain way. In some of Helen’s photographs, one can catch a glimpse of Ernie supporting artificial lighting or carrying equipment. Helen took shots of Ernie and his brother photographing and they took some of her
- 1938 photos: echo earlier photos from world travels
- 1938 ff: the O’Malleys continue to record over 150 sites in Ireland of sacred and architectural significance. They travel to local villages and islands off coast of Mayo capturing everything from farm, village and fishing life to festive occasions like Regattas and horse races. She even takes some portraits of locals and the O’Malley family.
- Helen and Ernie attempt to label photographs with location and item, but have limited time and are erratic at best. HH struggles with spelling of unusual sounding place names. Often Ernie’s writing is nearly indecipherable.
Early photographs would have been sent to Dublin for development [