Helen Elaine Jackson, 75, gallerist, curator, collector, and pioneer arts Diva, passed away on February 4, 2021 in Washington DC.
A District native, she was the daughter of Marion and Thelma Jackson. She was predeceased by her parents and brother, Thomas Jackson of Washington, DC and Hawkins, TX. Helen and Thomas were grandchildren of Thomas Buchanan Frost, who founded Jarvis Christian College, an HBCU in Hawkins, TX in 1912. She is survived by nephews Michael (Corlie) and Jeffrey Jackson, niece Tracy Goodeaux (Jeffery), many grand nieces and nephews, cousins, and a host of dear friends including Laura Richards, Kenneth Robinson and Silvia Moody. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Millennium Arts Salon or Jarvis Christian College.
Helen attended public schools in Washington D.C., graduating from Roosevelt High School. She obtained her BA from Goddard College in Vermont. Helen spent a year at a language school in Lausanne, Switzerland, returned home, and studied briefly at George Washington University. Helen was a Renaissance woman of sorts, – an art major with interests in history, anthropology, linguistics, and dance. She became a visual arts practitioner, teacher, writer, and mentor who specialized in representing national and international artists of color.
Helen’s attraction to the literary and visual arts led to her job as an associate editor at Doubleday Publishers in New York City in the early ’70s. Living on the east side of Manhattan, she often hosted “salons” attended by notable men and women artists and writers of color.
While at Doubleday, she promoted writers of the Caribbean diaspora. This evolved into her first entrepreneurial venture, Antillean Bookshelf, through which she further supported contemporary writers from the region.
Helen returned to D.C. and established a residence on Capitol Hill, where she had inherited a house. The location was perfect for Helen to establish her most notable venture, Capitol East Graphics. She operated her magic for nearly four decades from this fine arts gallery, located on the ground floor of her home. Helen acquired, exhibited, and sold work of an amazing array of prominent mid-late 20th century artists. Her extensive collection, with a specific focus on graphic media, drew from Europe, the continental U.S. as well as from the Caribbean and Africa. Well-known names included Herbert Gentry, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden.
Helen also arranged larger exhibits outside of her gallery. In the late ‘80s she curated a major touring exhibition: The South African Exhibit Project – “Voices From Exile” that included a stop at the Peace Museum of Chicago. It was a powerful statement about the impact of apartheid on South African artists and their creative process. Her last major exhibit was a 2018 exhibition at the Brentwood Arts Exchange in Brentwood, MD. It featured an impressive sampling of graphic works from the African Diaspora and brought together a cross-section of work spanning several generations of female artists. The exhibit touched on multiple roles imposed on and displayed by women – mother, goddess, object, and muse.
Helen loved to travel almost as much as she loved art. She relished visiting friends from New York to Paris, but Barbados was her favorite home away from home. Helen even contemplated retiring there.
She was very fond of her nieces and nephews, delighting particularly in keeping up with her grand nieces and nephews as they progressed from toddlers to university graduates and young adults. Helen also loved her network of girlfriends with whom she celebrated small and big life events.
Helen was an eternal optimist who lived life her own special way. She will be missed.
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