Mrs. Covensky was born Hanka Ciesla on July 27, 1925, in Kielce, Poland. She grew up in Sosnowiec, a city west of Krakow.
Helen Covensky was born Hanka Ciesla, the daughter of a cultured Jewish family in Poland that supported her early interest in art. The Second World War changed her life completely. Her parents and sister died in concentration camps. Only she and her brother, David, survived.
In the early 1940s, she volunteered as a laborer for the Germans near Stuttgart, where she helped inmates in a nearby concentration camp by tossing food over the fence.
After she was liberated by the U.S. Army at the end of the war, she did translation work for the U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Berlin.
She was reunited with her brother, and the event was covered in an Army newspaper. The article's writer became her first husband, in 1946. Improvising in the aftermath of the war, she wore a wedding dress made from a parachute.
The couple settled in Detroit in 1949, and she studied art at Wayne State University. She moved to Bethesda in 1983 to be near her two children and was a member of the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. Further study in Paris and Israel helped Helen to emerge as a sensitive artist whose use of vivid color expresses her passion for life and her strong love of nature.
Mrs. Covensky spent much of her working life in Detroit, and her career culminated in a one-woman show at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1981. Her art was also displayed at galleries in New York and Tel Aviv and in Washington at the Kreeger Museum, whose eponym, Geico insurance chief executive David Kreeger, acquired one of her canvases in 1982.
For hundreds of thousands of years flowers have represented beauty and abundance. Ever since the first flower illustrations appeared on primitive cave walls, people have been fascinated by their forms and colors. Subsequently they have been used not only for physical adornment, but for healing purposes, spiritual symbolism and ritual gesture, gracing modest homes and grand palaces throughout histroy. Flowers have inspired some of history's greatest art masters-Van Gogh, Monet, Manet-and won the affection and sentimentality of the ages.
Helen Covensky's lovely renditions are entrancing and light. She actually captures the essence of the flower-the intense color, the gesture of form and grace, in a manner reminiscent of the Oriental masters and in a very accessible fashion. Executed in a blithe spirit, her images convey the innocence we would expect from such a subject, expressionistic and spontaneous, yet still keeping their form.
The artist's husband, Milton Covensky; her brother, David; and her children, Aviva and Jonathan; have been deeply supportive of her efforts. Jay Belloli, Curator of Modern Art, initiated the show and has overseen every phase of its development. Marlene E. Gordon, Research Assistant, Department of Modern Art, has been helpful in many aspects of the exhibition. I would like to thank the Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts for providing the funds necessary for this project. I must also acknowledge the generous contribution of an anonymous donor to the production of the catalogue. Finally, I wish to convey my warm appreciation to Helen Covensky. Her paintings and complete dedication to her work merit our sincere admiration