During World War II, Helen and many other women were suddenly called to the workforce as men served in the U.S. Military. Helen remained in Asheville and went to work as an office clerk in the downtown Grove Arcade, which remains there to this day. An abundance of letters between Helen and Albert now sit in family albums. Those exchanges often included postcards of single panel cartoons illustrating Helen’s misadventures during the war, often by way of a character she titled “The War Widow” or “Just a War Widow.” The cartoons tended to feature scenes of interior domestic life or of her work life at the downtown Grove Arcade. While many of the situations in Helen’s cartoons fret over absent men away at war, such as Albert who was stationed in Lebanon, Tennessee (a recurring reference in the cartoons), many of the workplace experiences Helen depicted echoed newer developments in homosocial spaces for women to interact with each other, first discussed in Part 2 regarding Helen’s education. Further correlation to Helen’s inspiration may likely be found through a more precise listing of comic strip runs in local publication like the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Other drawings Helen sent to Albert were on bigger paper and included exaggerated cartoon depictions of feminine ideals. While Helen’s drawings during the war certainly reflect her training in art and fashion, they also quite literally put forth caricatures of white femininity, some of which remain aspirational while others are challenged or mocked. All of these changing relations of work, war, and labor continue the notion from part 2 that Helen was a “modern” artist in her own right. Another curiosity about these cartoons as artifacts is that they are cross-wired in the throes of intimate exchanges during war. What are now pasted in albums considered a private “civilian” context suggest public distribution from their newspaper-inspired format.
After the war, Helen continued to make art under the conditions of married domestic life and the new mantle of motherhood, which undoubtedly continued to profoundly transform her work. Stay tuned for the next post!