Helen Shafter Feyler Biography

Helen Shafter Feyler




Biography sourced from an obituary written by Norm Hodgson, Cal State University East Bay Curatorial Associate and Willits Center Gallery Director. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Sculptor, painter, printmaker, and photographer Helen Shafter (later Shafter Feyler and Shafter Feyler-Switz) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 25, 1925. She and her two older sisters were brought up during the Depression by her mother, who had been abandoned by their father shortly after Helen was born. Even under such hard conditions, Helen showed early artistic abilities when, at age eight, a painting she did of one of the Seven Dwarfs was exhibited during a Philadelphia City Christmas Pageant.

She went on to receive her Bachelors Degrees in Art and French at Temple University and her Masters Degree in sculpture from California State Long Beach. She was married in 1949, in a May-December union to a man 25 years older, Alfred Feyler; they moved from Philadelphia to Garden Grove, California where Helen began to teach as well as study. 

From 1965 to 1966 she studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at The Hague, Holland with J.J. Beljon. Her career as a sculptor clarified under his tutelage and their collaborations on various public works. During this time Helen became aware of the fact that she suffered from diabetes – a condition she dealt with for the rest of her life; she also had a small malignancy removed from her right breast. Her personal health issues emphasized those themes in her work dealing with the roles of women, their strengths, and sensitivities.

On returning to the States, she discovered that her husband had terminal cancer and he died soon after. Helen continued teaching and working with the help of a family friend, Lou Switz. By 1970 it was clear that she and Lou were in love, and they were soon married at her sister's house in Brigantine, New Jersey.

Lou and Helen traveled to many places from which Helen drew inspiration for her work, including New Guinea, Ukraine and China. China's influence was very specific to her and some pieces such as her bronzes and cast concrete forms show an Asian influence. In a lifetime devoted to art, Helen shared creative visions with students in her classrooms, teaching at various times at Chabot and Ohlone in the San Francisco Bay Area; Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California; Cypress College in Cypress; and California State at Fullerton.

Many of her works are publicly displayed: “Emerging Spirit”, a wood sculpture at Chabot College; “Sanctuary Cross In Oak” at first United Methodist Church in Fremont; and “Christ and St. Francis” at St. Francis High School in Mountain View.

During the last twenty years [of her life] Helen had to also carry the burden on having a leg bone replaced due to cancer. The metal rod was set into a concrete "hip" which required her to walk with a cane. Helen never allowed her disabilities to slow her down. She had a large work area behind her house where her wooden "monoliths" were carved, where concrete forms were built by her for large artworks, and a kiln was used to create bronze sculptures using a 'lost wax process', [processes which Helen did alone]. Her attention to perfection of technique, style, and form is evident in all her works; as a teacher she would not have had it any other way.  Her works are all examples of artistic perfectionism while retaining a sense of fluid spontaneity and creativity. 

Helen died 8 days shy of her 35th wedding anniversary to Lou Switz. She left a legacy of sculptures, paintings, silkscreens, photographs and other works incorporating the principles of strength and simplicity that she so cherished. …A teacher-artist, she thrilled at seeing her students create and pursue their own muse; the power and beauty of her works' legacy defines the woman and her life.

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts worked with Dutch Sculptor, J.J. Beljon, the Hague, Holland
California State University, Long Beach, California, M.A., B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa)
Aspen School of Art worked with French sculptor, Francois Stahly, Aspen, Colorado
University of Southern California
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1992: The Bartlett Gallery, Pleasanton, CA.
1986: Ohlone College, Fremont, CA.
1985: Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA.
1979: Bakersfield College, Bakersfield, CA.; Chabot College, Hayward, CA.
1978: Sun Gallery, Hayward, CA.
1969: Hicks Gallery, Long Beach, CA.
1967: Dorian Hunter Gallery, Fullerton, CA.
1966: California State College at Long Beach, CA (solo)
2018: “Something Revealed: California Women Artists Emerge”, with the publication of Emerging from the Shadows: Women Artists in California (2015. St. Gaudens, Maurine. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania), Pasadena Museum of History, Pasadena, CA (posthumous)
1996: Sculpture, “Mother Lode”, Vault Gallery, Sonora, CA.; 19th Regional Conference, Prieto Gallery, Mills College, Oakland, CA.
1995, 1994: Cultural Arts Council Photography Exh., Alameda County Library, Fremont, CA.; "Through the Door", Pacific Rim Sculptors Group, Contract Design Center, San Francisco, CA.
1994:  Print Makers International: Art in the Annex, Hayward Arts Council, Hayward, CA.; National Selections 1994, The Cork Gallery, Avery-Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, NY, NY; "Perception Through Camera and Sculpture 1994" - Bartlett Gallery, Pleasanton, CA.
1993:   Invitational National, "State of the Art '93" - New England Fine Arts Institute, Mass.; Invitational "Recycling Faire '93" - Garbage Museum, Fremont, CA.
1992:  "10th Annual Invitational Exhibit" - Bartlett Gallery, Pleasanton, CA.; "13 Photographers Exhibit" - Center for the Visual Arts, Oakland, CA.; Int’l 'Women in Photography" - Sardinia, Palermo, and Milan, Italy
1991: "Women on Woman" Exhibition, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA.; 61st Annual Statewide Exhibit, Art League, Santa Cruz, CA.; Int’l 1991: "Women in Photography", Kultur Huset, Stockholm, Sweden; "Issue:EARTH", US & Canada Exhibition, Brandstater Gallery, Loma Linda University, Riverside, CA.
1990: "Permanent Collection”, SUN Gallery, Hayward, CA.; "National Exhibition 1990", Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA.; "The Subject is Breast Cancer" National Exhibit, Washoe Medical Center, Reno, NV and Matrix Gallery, Sacramento, CA.; "Body & Psyche" - Accurate Art Gallery, Sacramento, Ca
1989 - 1992: Int’l "Woman in Photography", Pacific Grove - on tour until 1992 - US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand
1989: "Perspectives '89: the Disability Life Experience", Accurate Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA.; "Bridging the Gaps" - National Juried Exhibition-Photo, Women's Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1988: "Women Artists '88" National Juried Exhibition, Matrix Gallery, Sacramento, CA.; Video - Melissa Harmon, Curated by Nancy Franks, Hatley-Martin Gallery, San Francisco, CA.; 4th Annual National Juried Exhibition, Berkeley, CA.         
1987: "Eleven New Artists" Editions Limited Gallery, San Francisco, CA.; “Bay Arts '87", Belmont, CA.; "Forms in Space", Sun Gallery, Hayward, CA.
1986:  Juried Exhibition '86, Centennial Hall, Hayward, CA.
1985: WCA (Woman's Caucus for Arts) Curated Show, Sun Gallery, Hayward
1984: "Bay Arts '84,", Belmont, CA.; "Big sister is Watching", South of Market Street Cultural Center, San Francisco
1983: Forum of Arts, Hayward, CA.; "Organic Geometry", Studio One Art Gallery, Hayward, CA.; Four Artists", Olive Hyde Art Gallery, Fremont, CA.
1982: Invitational - International Sculpture Conference, Centennial Hall, Hayward, CA.;  Invitational - Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA.
1981: "San Jose Regional 3-D", San Jose, CA.
1980: "Sculptors 8", Invitational, Sun Gallery, Hayward, CA.; "Expo '80", Chabot College, Hayward, CA.
1979: Juried Art Exhibition, Livermore, CA.; Invitational Art Exhibition, Hayward, CA.
1978: Invitational Art Forum, Hayward, CA.
1977: Invitational Sculpture, Center of rhte Visual Arts, Oakland, CA.; Juried Art Exhibition '77, Hayward, CA.
1976: "Spectrum", Art Exhibit, Sun Gallery, Hayward, CA.; Juried Art Exhibit, Fremont, CA.
1973: Long Beach Art Association, Long Beach, CA.
1971: Juried Sculpture Show of Southern California
1967: 5th Annual So. Calif. Exhibition, Art Museum, Long Beach, CA.
1966: Juried Show, Lakewood, CA.
1965: Long Beach Art Museum, Long Beach Art League, Orange, CA.
1964:  Juried Exhibit, Downey Art Museum, Downey, CA.
1963:  Long Beach Art Museum, Long Beach, CA.
1996:  Lifetime Achievement Award - NCWCA - Mills College, Oakland, CA.
1991: Symposium - "Women Behind the Images", University of Catania, Sicily, Italy
1986: Honorable Mention, Exhibition '86, Centennial Hall, Hayward, CA.
1979: Second Place, Art Exhibition, Livermore, CA.
1977: PURCHASE AWARD - Art Exhibiton '77, Centennial Hall, Hayward, CA.
1976: Merit Award - "Spectrum" Art Exhibit, Sun Gallery, Hayward, CA.;  Hon. Men., Juried Art Exhibit, Fremont, CA.
1973: SECOND BEST OF SHOW - Art Association, Long Beach, CA.
1971: BEST OF SHOW - Juried Sculpture of Southern California
1966: Best of Show, Juried Art Exhibit, Lakewood, CA.; Hon. Men., Open Art Show, Long Beach, CA.
1965: Best in Show and 3rd Best in Show, Art Exhibit, Long Beach, CA.; Hon. Men. Art League, Orange, CA.; Hon. Men, Downey Art Museum, Downey, CA.
1964: 2nd Best in Show, First Place, 2nd Place, Art Association, Long Beach, CA.; First Place, Downey Art Museum, Downey, CA.
1963: First Place, Open Art Show, Long Beach, CA.; Hon. Men., Long Beach Art Museum, Long Beach, CA.
1994: Private - "Blue/Green", concrete waterfall sculpture, Fremont, CA.
1990: Private - "The Falls" - two bronze sculptures in Reflecting Pool, Rancho Santa Fe, CA.
1981: Public - Sanctuary Cross in oak, First United Methodist Church , Fremont, CA.; "Emerging Spirit", wood sculpture in laminated cedar, Chabot College, Hayward, CA.
1980: Christ and St. Francis repaired in wood, St. Francis High School, Mountain View, CA.
1975: Private - Painting - portrait in oil, Hayward, CA.; Walker Fountain in concrete and stained glass, Fountain Valley, CA.

International Sculpture Conference; Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals; Women's Caucus for Art, San Francisco, (Northern Calif. Chapter of National), President 1985-1987; Center for the Visual Arts, Pro-Arts, Oakland, CA.