Inspiration from a new muse and mentor | THE CREATIVE SIDE

Helga Jaques - Jaris English, For the Renton Reporter
Helga Jaques
— image credit: Jaris English, For the Renton Reporter

I have always known that creative people blossom in their lives partly due to their exposure to mentors and muses.

Webster defines a muse as a source of inspiration, especially a guiding genius, originally inspired from goddesses in Greek mythology. They define a mentor as someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.

I recently met with Helga Jaques, a well-known Renton artist, and after a few minutes I knew I had found my new mentor – or perhaps a muse – for the first time in many years.

When I was in high school, the pastor’s wife at our local Methodist Church fulfilled this role for me. Alice Shaner was an unorthodox preacher’s wife – somewhat Bohemian – with an art studio behind their house. It was during the time when I was still trying to decide whether I wanted to become an artist or a writer.

I spent many hours with her in her studio, trying to emulate her exquisite style with my own youthful efforts at oil painting. But, probably the best time I spent with her was after our painting sessions, when she served me lemonade and chocolate chip cookies, and listened to all of my teenage angst of concerns and troubles. She inspired my creativity and I will never forget her.

Now at Helga’s charming home in Renton, I was taken on a tour of her gardens with gorgeous flowers and sumptuous vegetables. We sipped Pinot Grigio and nibbled on her homemade treats next to her large pond with a stone waterfall, which was filled with water lilies and aquatic life. Beside us was a gorgeous red and gold Japanese begonia plant.

There was a sense of peace and beauty in the designs of her landscaping, where she has put in a lot of effort. This is her art too.

While we were chatting, two 8-year-old girls from next door came into the yard to get a pail of pond water for their pollywog. After telling Helga about the camping trip they were going on, she hugged them and said, “Each of you can bring me back a special rock.”

This spoke volumes about Helga as a lover of nature and being a mentor to youth as well. Then we walked through the rest of her garden, filled with lovely plants and passed a magnificent Sequoia tree.

Helga told me, “Art is life and life is art. If I were to live for hundreds of years, I would embrace all forms of art.”

This feeling is evident in her masterful watercolors and acrylics that she showed me in her second-floor studio. Helga paints in a way that is beyond photography and which captures the joy of life.

“There is so much to see in nature and I like to synthesize it and capture the essence. You should be able to see the same painting ten years later and still see something special. This makes me happy,” she said.

Helga was born in Austria during World War II and remembers well the day the American soldiers marched down the street in her village, throwing candy to the children.

“In Austria, the older people are still grateful for the Americans liberating us from Nazi Germany, and they celebrate that day every year,” she told me.

Later, she studied art in Switzerland where she met her future husband. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and have lived in their Renton home for 35 years.

Her paintings reflect her travels around the world with scenes from villages in many countries, capturing the timeless charm of the old world. Helga said, “When I look at a painting I want it to make me happy – to really feel the positive aspects of the scene. I don’t want to paint negative things – life is too short.”

I asked her who may have been her mentor or her muse. She defined muse as a “kindred spirit” and a mentor as “one who inspires and guides.”  She remembers art classes in Renton with Gerry Becker who taught her how to use rice paper for her water colors. Many of these can be viewed at the old Renton City Hall building on the sixth floor.

Also she noted other mentors: Mike Svob of Bellevue, and Chuck Webster, who told her to “paint the tree from bottom to top – it’s how it grows.”

Then there are the masters, including Matisse, Gaugin and Monet.

She also had a good friend who was her muse who passed away a couple of years ago, Petronella Furfman from Britain who shared painting sessions with her for 25 years. Petronella painted two of the fiberglass pigs in the Pike’s Market project.

Helga added, “My husband is very supportive of my art. He is a great critic and his advice is very useful. He enjoys going to museums with me and knows the life story of many painters.”

Helga’s art will be shown, as in years past, at the Renton Annual Art Show during Renton River Days. It will be all new works in the acrylic genre she is working in now.

She was also invited to participate in a new art show to benefit the Allied Arts of Renton’s youth scholarship program at the Marriott Springhill Suites Hotel on June 18. Unfortunately, she will be off on one of her travel trips to find more inspiration for her work. She believes that Renton would benefit greatly from having an art center co-op where artists can show their work on consignment. You can view some of Helga’s art on her website at

What about the rest of you creative people in Renton – who was your mentor and who was your muse? I would love to hear from you: email me at

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