Signed ‘Helen Keller’ painting remains a mystery

AskATheaderLET-Q I have stumbled across a small painting signed “Helen A Keller” that has been in my family for many years. And yet, until a move that broke the frame, I had no idea that it might be an authentic painting of hers.

Unfortunately, I am on a budget, and don’t have the resources to pay for it to get appraised.

Any suggestions or collectors that you can refer to me who may be interested in this? I am considering selling it.

Thanks so much.

— M.F., via email


AThe question you ask about the Helen Keller painting is intriguing. Unfortunately, the only photo you sent is incomplete and does not show a signature. That being said, Helen Adams Keller is not known to be an artist, although she wrote at least 12 books which were published, and several articles.

Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1880 and lost her sight and hearing at a very early age, which would probably preclude artistic work. Known for her political and social activism, she traveled widely and campaigned for women’s suffrage and other progressive causes, dying in 1968.

She did learn to print her name in block letters using a template as an aid. Her signature is very distinctive and easily recognized on the chance it is there. These sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars by themselves, depending on the format in which they are found. She usually signed Helen Keller with no middle initial.

The source of your painting is possibly the Helen Keller Art Show, which has been held since 1983, with winning entries from children with impaired vision being sold. Or the American Foundation for the Blind, for which she did considerable work, and which has sold items relating to her. There are also other sites on the Web which sell a wide range of her images. Any of these may explain why her name is associated with your painting


LET-Q I have a 10-pound wall hanging with what I think is a picture (mold) of Mirandola. It has a date of MDCXXX – which I think is 1630. 0122011333webWas it someone’s school project? If you have any idea, that would be great. Thanks for any help.

— D.H., Reynoldsburg, Ohio


A The Pico family gained control of Mirandola as a fief from Holy Emperor Henry VII, and lost it in the 1600s when it came into the possession of the Dukes of Modena.

Viens (which appears on the border of the plaque) indicates seigneur, or lord, of the town of Mirandola, the lords being the Pico family. In 1630, 70 percent of the inhabitants were killed by the plague, devastating the city and the family. Viens Mirandola retired to a monastery. Your plaque, which is probably bronze, commemorates this period and was originally placed on a wall, perhaps in the modern city of Modena. The photos reveal no marks such as initials or signatures, or foundry marks, so there is no way to analyze the item further at this time. It appears to be well executed.

About our A.I.A. appraiser: Dr. G. Marchelos is an honors graduate and certified appraiser of the Asheford Institute of Antiques. Additionally, Dr. Marchelos has a PhD in history, is a professor of antiquities at the University of Alabama, and is a nationally recognized appraiser working for both private and public institutions across North America. Dr. Marchelos is also a well established antiques dealer, operating both in the U.S. and Europe.

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