Helen Ervin is not a name known to all in the art world. But perhaps it should be.
Ervin's is an unsung legacy, celebrated among family and friends who through the month of January are sharing this gift with Minot with a display in the main floor gallery at the Minot Public Library.
The youngest of 11 children, Ervin was born in 1912 in Indiana. Her remarkable creativity did not surface until she had grown, married, moved to Michigan and then California and raised four children of her own.
Photos by Terry J. Aman/MDN - - Pieces by the late Bismarck artist Helen Ervin are on display in the main floor gallery in the Minot Public Library. Ervin lived in Indiana, Michigan and California before moving to North Dakota.
"I was an adult before all this (art) began," said Sharon Johnson, Minot, Ervin's second-eldest. "She didn't start until she was in her 60s."
Ervin died in 2005 in Bismarck, leaving behind hundreds of pieces of artwork in a variety of styles. The display at the library looks like the output of several highly talented artists working in different fields, with each discipline given its full measure. It is a vibrant exhibit, with works ranging among quilling, filet crochet and exquisite embroideries to paper construction to paintings of flowers, people and places.
Ervin's oils fill the walls with bouquets large and small interspersed with dramatic landscapes and portraits of children. Ervin traveled throughout Europe and did studies of the Eiffel Tower and Rome in meticulous detail.
One of the pieces given to her daughter when Johnson was assistant dean of continuing education at the University of North Dakota is of "Phi-Delt," the building that housed the Phi Delta sorority.
"This is the summer version," Johnson said. "The winter version hangs in the building itself."
Ervin did not sell her works, doing it for her own pleasure and for her family.
"She never sold any of the pieces, but she gave a lot away," Johnson said. "Everybody in the family has some. And everyone agrees that the picture of the pink flowers is her best." Near that is a still-life with grapes, round and deep purple, vivid enough to be mouth-watering.
In the display cases are the textiles and paperworks, each precise in detail, careful in execution, and delightful in appearance.
"She made these decorated boxes out of greeting cards," Johnson said. "And she did a lot of quillwork. The necklaces are beads and wallpaper."
The boxes are tiny, less than 2 square inches, and each is unique. They are colorful and support beads of various sizes as well as small photographs and flowers.
The quillwork can be found framing photos as well as being designs in themselves. The wallpaper is rolled into beads to produce elegant jewelry, strewn over a handmade crochet shawl. There is even stained glass and a mosaic vase, demonstrating Ervin's attention to the tiniest details.
The works represent a portion of the notable output by a talented woman, particularly considering that she was entirely self-taught.
"She went to one art class," Johnson said. "The teacher saw her work in the first lesson and sent her home.
"'There's nothing more I can teach you,' she told her," Johnson said, beaming.
The exhibit is on display for viewing during normal library hours. Admission is free and open to the public.