A Life Revealed
Hella returned to art school when the family settled near Newark, New Jersey, and established a reputation as a prominent artist, winning many regional and national awards, while she taught and advocated for the arts. “My mother was an independent, free-thinking, free-wheeling, outspoken, inventive soul,” Bobbi says. Bobbi remembers that by the time she was eight years old, her mother was creating art using a variety of media: casein, pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, and oils. Later, she traveled extensively, searching and observing people, and finding inspiration in movement, light, and human interaction. “She called her work ‘expressionistic,’” Bobbi recalls. “It’s expressing yourself, not necessarily in a photographic way. It’s a way of simplifying things, seeing more of the important things and not going for the detail.”
Lauren Wolk, associate director at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, says that while all artists leave traces of themselves behind when they die, Hella Bailin has left a legacy more complex than some. “There is a sadness in her work, juxtaposed with a celebration of the world and all its peoples, that serves as a reminder of both the Holocaust and her determination to seek out and capture every bit of joy and beauty that she could,” Wolk says. “Her paintings are both beautiful and serious, honest and hopeful.” It is especially significant, Wolk adds, that the exhibit will be taking place during both Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1, and Mother’s Day on May 8.
Parts of the exhibit reflect Hella’s travels, including trips to Europe and the Caribbean, many of them when she was in her 80s. Bobbi says a trip to Haiti launched her mother’s travels. “She went somewhere every summer after that, until her late 80s,” Bobbi says.
One trip was deep with sorrow and personal difficulty. Accompanied by her son Michael, Hella traveled to her mother’s hometown in Germany in the late 1980s. Although by that time Hella had traveled throughout the world, she broke down when she got to her mother’s hometown, Bobbi recalls. “Although she could travel around the world, she couldn’t function,” she says. “She became like a child.”
Hella’s legacy is rooted in everything her art represents: a full life, an open embracing of cultures, a love of people. And then there is the array of art. “My mother was an artist,” Bobbi says. “That was her life.”
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