CLAUDINE HELLMUTH MIGHT BE an only child, but she knows a thing or two about a woman’s innate connection to sisterhood. Her artwork—a mix of photos, paint, fabric and ink—transplants familiar faces to whimsical worlds, reminiscent of storybook illustrations or even retro advertisements: a woman’s grayscale profile gives way to a drawn-on yellow floral dress and little yellow high heels perched delicately on the floor of a red Vespa, her red scarf flapping in the wind behind her; two women with comforting family resemblance—it’s in their eyes, or maybe their smiles—stand close, so close their A-line floral skirts overlap, clasping one another’s hands before a backdrop of fluffy clouds and rolling hills.
These quirky collages that Claudine calls Poppets® have been featured on The Martha Stewart Show, in Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion magazine, The New York Times, on HGTV’s I Want That! and on the DIY Network’s program, Craft Lab. Not only does Claudine work as an artist full-time, both on commission, transforming family photos into playful picnics or countryside prop plane rides, and as an instructor, teaching workshops in both the US and Canada, but she has also released two how-to collaging books along with three instructional DVDs, the most recent of which features her use of beeswax in collage-making. Claudine also has a line of artist-quality products made for everyday crafting.
Her unique business savvy aside, Claudine’s ability to channel sisterhood through her collages was what originally attracted the TSP sisters. At face value, her art seems to be a sort of nostalgic fantasy, but her technique—namely placing people’s faces like bobbleheads in quirky “perfect” worlds—reveals a more complex irony in the images, what Claudine refers to as “a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor.”
Collages of smiling women baking muffins or vacuuming the living-room rug play up this humor more overtly, while images of families and friends sipping tea or enjoying the ever-sunny sky seem to urge us not to take ourselves too seriously. Sister-friends appear in Claudine’s work often, perhaps because such women have played an important role in her own life (having no blood sisters). Images of friends at the beauty parlor or doing yoga side-by-side capture the fleeting moments of simplicity that define sister-friendships.
As for true-life sisters, Claudine remembers a special piece she did on commission (left) for a woman who had lost her sister and wanted an image of them together, clutching one another’s hands. “They are still together in spirit,” she explains.
Claudine’s piece binds them together in a perfect world, where skies are always blue and the flowers are always in bloom. In one sense, Claudine reconciles the painful imperfections of the world in which we live through her artwork.
THE TSP INTERVIEW WITH CLAUDINE HELLMUTH
Q. “You know you’re a sister when…”
A. “I am an only child so I do not have a sister, but for me a sister-friend is someone who you can go years without seeing, but when you meet up it’s as if you never left.”
Q. What are your best sisterly experiences?
A. “You know you have a sister-friend when as soon as they hear your voice on the phone they know if something is wrong.”
Q. What does the word sister mean to you?
A. “A friend that you can be completely yourself with. Having a sister-friend means that you are not in this alone, they are there for you no matter what.”
Q. What are the pop-culture references that make you think of sisterhood?
A. “Best sister-friend movie: Thelma and Louise, of course!!”
A GALLERY OF CLAUDINE HELLMUTH’S COLLAGES