My Hamptons: Helen Harrison

Helen Harrison, Photo: Yumi Matsuo Photography

Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, has had a long and interesting career in the art and museum world. She’s also recently taken to writing fiction: her mystery novel An Accidental Corpse, published in 2018 by Dunemere Press, just recently won the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award in the Fiction: Mystery & Suspense category. She lives with her husband, painter Roy Nicholson, in Sag Harbor.

BTH: How long have you been coming to the Hamptons?

HH: Forty-two years! First time I came out was in 1977.

BTH: Did you come out for a weekend?

HH: No, I came out for my new job! I was a curator at the Parrish. I’m from New York City originally and I started out as a sculptor. I went to undergraduate school at Adelphi, and then I went to the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Hornsey College of Art in London. When my husband and I came back to America, I went to graduate school in Cleveland to study art history, and then I went into the museum field. My first museum job was at the Parrish.

I was only at the Parrish for a couple of years. Then I did a guest curatorship at the Queens Museum working on a big. comprehensive exhibition on the 1939 World’s Fair. In 1982 I was hired by Guild Hall to be the curator there. I was there for eight years and then in 1990, I came to the Pollock-Krasner House.

BTH: So did you ever meet Lee Krasner?

HH: I did, yes. I worked for the New York Times as the art critic for the Long Island section. I didn’t know Lee well but I did know her slightly. I would occasionally have to talk to her about an exhibition she was in or about some feature article I was writing.

BTH: And you just came out with a novel, An Accidental Corpse.

HH: My second novel, actually. The first, I had self-published. Dunemere Books brought out the second one and is publishing the first as a prequel. The first one is set in Greenwich Village in 1943, while the second one is set in East Hampton in 1956. It is about the art world out here and it is a retelling of Jackson Pollock’s fatal car crash.

I am working on another book, which is set in New York City at the Art Students League in 1967. The way I write fiction is I integrate fictional characters with real people, so the people who are students there are fictional, but some of the teachers and the administrators were real people.

BTH: If you were going to have anybody in your Hamptons dinner party, alive or dead, who would you invite?

HH: I would definitely not invite Jackson Pollock.

BTH: Maybe too much the life of the party.

HH: Yes. Knowing what I know, he would not be on my guest list. I would certainly invite Alfonso Ossorio. He was an amazing person, who was so knowledgeable and so, so cosmopolitan that he would be the ideal dinner guest. He could talk on any topic and he was a world class gossip. I would love to sit down in a room with him and Lee. Over drinks. Those two would be enough. I would just be a fly on the wall.

BTH: She did have a pretty sharp tongue.

HH: Yes, but she was also very funny! I’m going to London soon for the Lee Krasner retrospective in London. [Ed: The first retrospective in Europe in over 50 years of Lee Krasner’s work is at the Barbican in London this summer.] It’s going to be really, really wonderful and it’s traveling to three other museums in Europe.

BTH: What do you like to do in your spare time?

HH: Roy and I like to walk to take advantage of the wonderful nature trails in this area, and of course the beautiful beaches. We do that quite a bit and as well as visiting museums and art galleries. It does seem like a busman’s holiday, but it is what we love to do.