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Colette Pope Heldner (1902 - 1990)

Born Dorothy Colette Pope in Waupaca, Wisconsin, she was raised in Duluth, Minnesota. Fiercely independent and headstrong, she unsuccessfully attempted to leave home at the age of fourteen, cutting her hair, and obtaining a job as a delivery “boy” for Western Union.

She took art lessons at the Rachel McFadden Art Studio in Duluth while working as McFadden’s secretary. It was there that she met Knute Heldner, her art teacher and a charismatic Swede twenty-five years her senior.

Colette and Knute eloped in 1923.  Shortly after that, the couple visited New Orleans, eager to escape the brutal Midwestern cold, and for much of their married life, they alternated between the two cities, enjoying winters in the South and spending summers in Duluth.


The Heldners traveled abroad between 1929 and 1932, a sojourn underwritten by grant funds from the city of Duluth and prize money Knute had won at the Chicago Art Show. They especially enjoyed the Latin Quarter in Paris, and their paintings began to reflect the influence of the Impressionists. Colette delighted in the bohemian life Paris offered and depicted urban street life in lighthearted caricature sketches.

Back in New Orleans, the pair settled in the French Quarter. The neighborhood’s energy and eccentricity captivated Colette, who described the milieu as “compelling, completely fascinating, narrow streets, balconies, plants, and clotheslines by the galleries.”  Southern artists had long been in the habit of capturing Louisiana’s sultry bayous on canvas. Both Colette and Knute approached the subject with fresh perspectives, creating what she called “swamp idylls.”

In the early 1950s, their marriage became strained. Some sources thought the couple had separated, while others believe they divorced.  Either way, Colette was not listed among Knute’s survivors in his 1952 obituary.

Colette Pope Heldner received renewed critical acclaim in such retrospective exhibitions as "In a New Light: America's Brush with Impressionism", held from March through May 2005 at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia.  In addition, a number of public and private collections own works of hers, including the LSU Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Mr. and Mrs. Amon Carter Evans Collection in Columbia, Tennessee, and others.


Colette passed away on May 3, 1990, in New Orleans at the age of 87.

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