Helen Breger Biography

Helen Breger




Helen Breger was born in Vienna, Austria in 1918. After fleeing Germany Breger spent some of World War II with her parents and siblings in a Jewish internment camp in the Caribbean country of Trinidad. After the war's end, the family moved to New York with a young American soldier whom Ms. Breger later married. The couple eventually landed in San Francisco, California, where they raised two daughters until their divorce a few years later.

Helen Breger attended the Art Students League in New York, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the California College of Arts and /Crafts, where she earned a master's degree in fine arts and taught for 33 years before retiring in 1988. She was an active member of the California Society of Printmakers and was awarded a MacDowell Fellowship in 1967.

Her teaching career began at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1959 where she taught drawing and was a tenured professor until 1987, She also taught at other art schools in the bay area. At the University of California, Berkeley, in the Environmental Design Department she developed a course for freshmen in sketching and visual communication. She taught drawing and design at San Francisco Art Institute, printmaking at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco and Sonoma State University. And she taught printmaking part-time at the Santa Rosa Junior College.

Between 1954 to 1960, she worked as a freelance artist for The San Francisco Chronicle, drawing illustrations of the latest fashions stocked by the luxury stores of the day. Along with The Chronicle's fashion editor, who wrote under the pen name Ninon, and photographer Arthur Frisch, Breger went twice a year to the now-defunct I Magnin and Joseph Magnin stores in San Francisco to see models twirling in the latest styles. Breger sketched, and Frisch took photos for the inside pages. She also sketched author portraits for The Chronicle's book section; she felt illustrations were better than photographs, telling The Chronicle in 2009, "A photograph just seems flat to me. It just doesn't have ... life."

Helen Breger's primary interest was printmaking, especially etching, although she also worked in ceramics and, in her 80s, learned bronze casting in Italy. In recent years, she wrote two books, "Lines: A Sketched Life" in 2008 and "Sketches Poetical" with Jack Foley in 2011. She was also the subject of a one-hour documentary in 2012, "Vienna in the Heavenlies," made by one of her daughters, filmmaker Michelle Shelfer.

Helen Breger died Oct. 22, 2013 at her home in Berkeley at age 95.