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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Orlin Helgoe's Visions of the Prairie

When you google the web for Orlin Helgoe, you don't come up with much. He's mentioned briefly by name a few times and, oh, there's an out of print book about him and his paintings . . . and there doesn't seem to be any copies available. It gets even worse when you search web images with his name, all you come up with is misleading photographs of other peoples paintings which would lead the unsuspecting investigator to have a very wrong picture of his work. To me, this is a shame.

Lucky for me, I live in Pueblo Colorado. Now, I haven't used that sentence an awful lot in my life, and I do not use it lightly in this instance. This is Orlin Helgoe's hometown and so there are clues about him to be found here. Many of his paintings are collected at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center some of which are displayed through the year. The Pueblo City County Library District has a copy of the out of print book. There are other local artists living here who were students of Orlin Helgoe. His family and friends still live here.

The late Orlin Helgoe is known by some as "The Shaman of the Prairie." His work often depicts life and inspired moments on the prairie which he both loved to roam and paint. To me he was one who had absorbed the spirit of earth and sky, and took strength from the visions he recieved of the prairie. His powerful paintings exhibit that he was one who sought to pierce the veil between the seen and the unseen, to unify the outer landscape with the inner world.

His paintings are, well . . . full. Full of images and emotion and something else. Something they draw from the observer, elements which lead the mind of the beholder to translate, or fill in the blanks. Some of his paintings are close up shots of something, like the one of the dead deer he painted after killing his first and last deer on a hunt, or bleak landscapes with mysterious circles floating in the air, or some like the one these pictures come from which is an enormous painting depicting a scene which seems like a multiple exposure shot of several moments and perspectives at one level and then one finds that this multiplicity of scenes is comprised of many other smaller elements, smaller scenes and micro-mysteries.

When I found this stone the scene depicted in the picture jasper was instantly recognizable to me as Helgoe-esque. Although nowhere near as colorful or complex, it definitely reminded me of the elements in his work. When my subconscious mind sought to interperate the imagery of this stone it's only corroborating connection was "Helgoe." Here was a desert scene of mystery complete with the floating wheel within wheel orbs. No mistaking it, this piece was some kind of memorial to Helgoe and and the mystery of the wilderness of the local landscape. Were the stones speaking? Did they miss their lone wanderer? Did they miss the seeker of meaning and mystery, the "Shaman of the Prairie?"


  1. Your words have been a gift to me this morning. It has been a mystery to my why he was not heard and his gift not embraced more than it appears to be. As the emotions of him leaving allowed heart wrenching hurt to invade, the reality of his beautiful hands being still overcame my being more. At that moment I realized the world just lost a gift.
    A tremendous gift.He would never again create the beauty that danced across the surfaces. His intimate and passionate understanding, his love affair with the prairie and spiritual vision of what is beyond would go no further. To know you still hear him, see him and embrace what he shared is has allowed much respect and appreciation to breathe with in me for you. Sending heartfelt thank you for sharing thoughts and understandings from with in you. May your day unfold with amazingly perfect moments.....Kimberly

  2. My aunt, Hazel Higgins was a good friend of Orlin & Ruby. His work is truly amazing! I am looking for a work of his that sold at the Arts Center in the late 80's. It was a round canvas, that is all that I remember. If there is anyone who knows of someone who has this or other works they would be interested in selling, shoot me an email. Kathi (Higgins) Pasciak

  3. Once in a while, Orlin pops into my mind and I Google his name. Like you, I've thought he's been unjustly neglected. I was a student of his in the late 1970s, at USC in Pueblo.
    I'm lucky enough to have a few pieces he did near the end of his life, using crayons and ballpoint pens. They depict mysterious, colorful people with hidden eyes.

  4. Hi I have an Orlin Helgoe painting for sale. Do you have any idea of it's value? It is quite large, a prairie scene with cattle and hooved animals moving towards a transcendant state,. There are a few shaman or angleic figures and birds rising in the sky. It is primarily greens. It truly evokes a sense of emotion and ascent. It is about 4 by 3 1/2 feet.

  5. I have an original Orlin Helgo 1971 pencil drawing of his southwest series, titled "American Eagle". I wonder who I may talk to about the value of this piece for insurance.
    Please email

  6. I was a student of Orlin Helgo 1975 and 1976.The thing I remember the most and have often wondered was his office door and where it is now, or does anyone remember the VW,s he painted on. I wish I had photos of them, good memories. I have one piece of his which is a original called Prairie Travelers, It a Indian a coyote with a owl riding on it's back and his birds in the background. I don't think it been seen all that much I had it put away for a long time when one day Mr. John Mendoza came over and said let me take it home and I will frame it for you. I am so glad he did I have had it up on display in my home ever since. Sometimes I look at it and can picture Mr. Helgoe helping me paint using his criss-sross stroke that he used. I had the opportunity to buy this painting when he donated it to the Art Guild at Mineral Palace Park in Pueblo. I am glad I found this site he should be remembered more he inspired so many.