1905-1923: Her Early Years

January 1, 1905

1905: Helen Huntington Hooker is born in New York City to the prominent family of Elon and Blanche Ferry Hooker. Young Helen displays an early interest in art. She crafts her first sculpture at age 6: a small rabbit. Insert image of the small rabbit. The piece is at 124. Perhaps have faded type print in backround with lines from HH 1979 poem, “Discovery”. ’I recognized age eight/Close link between hand and clay/The soft, smooth wetness pleased my fingers,/Was cold and slippery, ready to be shaped. Insert image of young long-haired HH next to sculpture on pedestal. 1912: The Hooker family tours Europe. Blanche Ferry Hooker’s architectural photographs presage Helen’s Irish pictures from 1935 to 1975. Insert BFH’s photo of carved arch of Jedburgh Abbey COM found (HF07 BFK UK1912).Needs to be scanned although COM took a photo of image. If a lower resolution image is needed, this a perfect, instant, in-house job for free” Photoscan”   It eliminates glare and is a better reproduction than photo of photo. All images are saved in your photos and on Google photos if you have that. Or if pictures are located, I can come shoot the scans. Need to find photo Helen took of similar Norman (?) archway in Ireland (perhaps among those in Box 10 or 13? Perhaps of Clonfert Cathedral?). Family, social and school albums contain images and portraits taken of and by Helen prior to 1923. Need photos of HH as young girl, family portrait (if extant), as tennis…

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  • 1905: Helen Huntington Hooker is born in New York City to the prominent family of Elon and Blanche Ferry Hooker.
  • Young Helen displays an early interest in art. She crafts her first sculpture at age 6: a small rabbit.

  • Mid-1920’s: HH travels to England, France, Spain and Italy to explore artistic interests. She records scenes in sketches, paintings and photographs.
  • 1928-1929: 23-year-old Helen and her older sister Adelaide set out on a nine-month odyssey across France, Austria, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the Soviet Union. The sisters spend six months in Russia where Helen studies art with avant-garde painter, Pavel Filinov. Helen’s photographs of her transcontinental journey demonstrate a keen eye for angle, composition, lighting and subject matter
      • Insert/layer photo from Valamo Monastery, in Finland
      • Include one painting/drawing of Red Square or with Red Army (or another Russian photo)
      • Insert early image of a monastery, perhaps the one depicting arcade that was in photo/art inventory photographed before the auction. There might even be one with an Orthodox priest in the background.

Travel and the Arts: 1924-1935

September 15, 1924

1930: Helen’s photographs and art appear in Good Housekeeping magazine to illustrate her sister Adelaide’s 3-part series on their time in Russia. Insert scan of GH Mag print as faded background image. Late 1930/Early 1931: HH spends Christmas in France where she photographs and paints. She heads to Italy and Greece to pursue painting, photography and dance.  Helen returns home during Great Depression and curtails travels to California and New England while she volunteers at the Hartford House. Insert photo of carvings of debearded youth and lamb (COM took photo of original). Need any photos of USA tour for this time period. 1933: Helen meets Irishman Ernie O’Malley at a luncheon in her parent’s Connecticut home. Impressed by his determination and profile, she asks to sculpt his head. In preparation, Helen shoots the iconic portrait of Ernie facing the camera while writing his memoir. Insert photo “Writing the Past” Insert image of EOM’s sculpted head Spring 1935: Helen, her mother and sisters visit Yosemite in California en route to Japan for a Garden Club tour. The sisters proceed to travel Asia en route to London. Helen’s photos demonstrate continuing interest in subject matter, lighting and composition. Like Ernie, Helen had a strong interest in indigenous peoples and their spiritual practices. She sends many of her travel photographs to Ernie during their illicit correspondence. Insert photos she took in Asia: photo of Hooker Electrochemical Plant; Asian woman with child on ferry; Ovoos (sacred stone shrines) in Mongolia. 27 September 1935: Defying…

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Early Life in Ireland, 1935-1938

January 1, 1935

1937: After the birth of their first child, Helen and Ernie continue their photo tour of Ireland. Ernie’s diaries detail recommended angles and times for best light at some locales. Many of Helen’s photos echo her earlier world travels. She takes snapshots of Ernie and his brother, Kevin using their own cameras. Insert faded image of Ernie’s 1937 diary entry re Wicklow Insert image of white stone cairn like the ovoos of Mongolia Insert picture of EOM and Kevin at Kilteel The couple develop their film in Dublin. Old prints have hand-cut templates made by HH . Some photos have written directions for finishes and cropping on their reverse. Sometimes photographs were chosen to be made into the O’Malley’s annual Christmas Card. Insert photos of Mason and matt on back of one print; Envelope from developer. Need in-house phone scan of example of template on photo – Kilmainham fan of snakes in chains may be best. Need phone scan of Christmas Card. Might insert photo of 1930’s Kodak developing envelope advertising using photos as cards. 1938 and beyond: HH & EOM move to Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland to escape Dublin and pursue photography. They record rural, coastal, island life in pictures and words. Helen shoots sights significant to regional history and legend. She takes formal portraits of Ernie’s family. Insert photo of Ernie talking with local near castle or another Granuaile locale like the photo of the Murray family in front of her Castle on Clare Island….

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  • 1935: the newlyweds settle in Dublin. Helen designs and decorates their Rathmines’ home. Ernie resumes his medical studies. On the weekends, the couple take short trips into the nearby countryside to explore and photograph archaeological and religious sites.
  • 1936: Helen takes haunting images of Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Jail where Ernie had been tortured, imprisoned and later escaped during the 1920’s.
    • Insert photos of both places. Instead of DC alleyway, use ghostly images of Ernie in passageway.

Disillusioned with public life, the O’Malleys leave Dublin and pursue their photographic interests. Helen purchases, Burrishoole Lodge, a farm near Newport, Co Mayo and and leases additional land to become a “Model Farm,” nearly self-sufficient and able to contribute to local economy by providing employment.  Helen undertook design, renovations and supervision of construction of additions to housed and grounds. Having spent summers on her mother’s family farm in Upstate New York, Helen was familiar with some of the day-to-day matters involved in operating a farm.  After the birth of her 2 younger children, Helen turned to photographic subjects near at hand having to do with farming and living off the land.

‘The Emergency’’ 1939 to 1945: World War II era Ireland

January 15, 1939

1939: War is declared in Europe. Ireland is neutral but still affected. During “The Emergency” wartime restrictions make travel and photography difficult. Helen and Ernie channel their energy into creating a “Model Farm” and expand their family. Helen turns to local scenes having to do with farming and living off the land. Insert photo of rural life during that era Early 1940’s: Helen spends time in Dublin and London to enjoy company of other artistic types and escape rural life for a while. 1942: Helen uses part of her inheritance to purchase Burrishoole Lodge and lease additional farmland. She designs, renovates, and supervises construction at Burrishoole. Insert photo of milking parlor (shows use of light and HH’s design) Insert photo of archway and garden of Burrishoole 1943: Helen photographs the Kelly family gathering hay near their home. Insert photo of Kelly’s in field 1943: Helen’s sculpture is displayed at first Irish Exhibition of Living Art, the Irish Modernist’s Movement equivalent of the elite and very traditional Royal Hibernian Academy. Insert photo of sculpture exhibited. Need to find/take scan of “Island Woman”. 1945: Helen helps found The Players Theatre in Dublin where she designs sets, costumes and playbills. Insert image of restored maquette (scan?), costumes, program if possible.

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By 1942, the youngest child (Cormac) is born.  Pictured here in 19??  shows one of the pictures of the family altogether.

Family Time for the O’Malley

July 20, 1942

Back in America: 1950’s-60’s

January 15, 1950

1950: Helen returns to America, estranged from Ernie. By now, they have photographed over 200 Irish historic and archaeological sites. 1952: Helen obtains divorce in Colorado where she now lives. She designs and builds a house, studio and gardens in Colorado Springs. Insert photo/scan of designs and property 1956: Helen marries Richard Roelofs, Jr and returns home to Greenwich, CT. She continues to photograph, sculpt, design, and write poetry. She exhibits many of her own works and personal art collection. Float photos of various artworks on background of timeline 1957: Ernie O’Malley dies after decades of poor health. Helen returns to Ireland to attend her former husband’s State Funeral with their three children. Insert photo of family at State Funeral Late 1950’s – early 1960’s: Helen has her photos developed at Lester & Weiman in NYC.. Insert picture of L & W envelope or picture of actual storefront if one can be found. 1960’s: Helen explores the use of Kodachrome color film for both family and casual shots. She renovates Burrishoole, spends several months a year in Ireland and continues to amass a large collection of Irish art. 1963: She purchases a German Rolleiflex camera to take both color and black & white images Insert scan of Rolleiflex receipt. SK has copy of photocopy. Is there a better original?

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Separation from Ernie and return to States. Ernie still helps to identify photographs from their time together even though they are separated and over 3,000 miles apart.

HH moves to Colorado Springs. As in Ireland, she designs home, studio, gardens to complement and reflect the surrounding vistas. As in Ireland, her interior decorating scheme draws inspiration from local materials.


  • Photo exhibition A Modern Eye: Helen Hooker O’Malley’s Ireland at Gallery of Photography Ireland in conjunction with, and the National Photographic Archive of National Library of Ireland Publication of book by the same name.
  • Prolific interest in the exhibit and her images. Strangers would come in off the streets drawn in by the photos only to realize they recognized family members and subjects from over 40 years ago or more.


  • Debut of documentary, A Call to Arts, a which traces Helen and Ernie O’Malley’s involvement with the arts in Ireland and features many of her photographs
  • Son, Cormac O’Malley’s continues HH’s photographic legacy by launching ‘Irish Vision’s’ website sharing HH’s story online and featuring some of her more 4,500 images of Ireland.

The Art lives Beyond the Artist

January 1, 2019

Thriving on Arts: 1970-1993

September 15, 2020

1970-1971: Helen tenderly nurses her second husband during his final illness. Richard Roelofs, Jr dies in 1971. Float faded image of RRJr’s obituary? 1970’s: To combat mourning, Helen embarks on most productive period of her artistic career: sculpting, designing, and re-photographing many of the sites she and Ernie had recorded decades earlier. Insert 1973 arkeo photos. Compare one to 1930/40’s version, preferably Kilteel. Perhaps use 1940’s and 1970’s turf photos? 1970’s: Helen proves an excellent street photographer. She captures spontaneous whimsy and influence of modern culture on  Ireland using both color and black & white film Insert photos from Summerhill (b & w); color of her “self-portrait” in mirror; color shots of Dubliners; b & w photos of Irish people and scenes (air hostess, Fran Fagan’s shop ladies, bog cycle). 1973: American Irish Historical Society of NYC sponsors exhibit of HH’s photos, sculpture and art at her home in CT. Mid 1970’s: Helen photographs and sculpts many family and friends, including famous Irish artists, writers and performers. Her work captures the soul and spirit of the Irish people. Helen’s photos take on a poignant edge as if she’s saying goodbye to Ireland’s former way of life. Insert 1970’s photos of Seanachai and the contemporary sheep negotiations. 1979: Helen, determined to leave a legacy of her Irish Art to the nation, proposes a museum be created in Ernie’s home county of Mayo. The Irish American Cultural Institute welcomes the initial O’Malley Collection project. 1989: with help of her son, Cormac, Helen…

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  • Woman as photographer — actually not that unusual for women to become photographers at the time, particularly if they were of affluent means as they frequently had more free time, means and access to equipment and classes. Many turned to portraiture. However, like Dorothea Lange, Helen exhibits fluency in capturing all sorts of images from people to landscape to abstract.
  • Woman as photographer as both a Yank and a female in chauvinistic Irish society.
  • Challenges of film supplies and developers—transcontinental, finances, availability.
  • Many of the sites she captured no longer exist. Others have been moved or vandalized.  Still others have not weathered impact of time, man and nature well. They capture a lost Ireland: ancient monuments, pastoral landscapes, rural lifestyles and nostalgic scenes from an era long-gone.
  • Photography just one of her highly successful artistic endeavours including sketching, painting, writing, sculpture and design of interiors, stage sets and landscapes. She could be considered one of the best photographers of her age.
  • Her Irish legacy continues both in modern day exhibits, current books, gifts of images to national institutions, and now in photographs never before seen by the public
  • Would it be possible to display 3 of her photographs from 20’s through 70’s portraying a similar scene to show her progression as a photographer over 5 decades?

Helen in context with other Women’s photographers

September 15, 2020