Honoring Henrietta Helm
Talk to any artist on our team, and you’ll understand that it’s not just about the paint.
For some, it’s about adventure, variety, and seeing things from a new perspective. For others, it’s about offering perspective — taking something overlooked and making it unmissable, amplifying a message to change the conversation, recalling history to influence our approach to the present.
Pictured (left to right): Darius Dennis and Jared Diaz; Photography by Jon Cherry
Darius Dennis and Jared Diaz, two of the muralists behind 2020’s I AM Series, have once again demonstrated the power of their medium in their most recent project. Commissioned by the Portland Museum and made possible by the generosity of Christie Lee Brown, they took to Louisville in March 2021 to reproduce a portrait of Henrietta Helm at massive scale. The mural stands as a beautiful memorial to Helm, and a proud testament to her legacy.
Helm was born in 1865 — the last year of legal slavery in the United States, one that marked the end of the Civil War and brought the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. She became one of the first Black students to receive a public school education, and by the age of 17 became a teacher herself. Later, Helm would run the Portland Colored Evening School as principal, advancing academic opportunities for those around her.
Now looming over the Louisville skyline, Henrietta Helm symbolizes perseverance in the face of sexism, racism, and educational inequity. She also serves as a solemn reminder that a century later, intersectional marginalization and economic stratification continue to undermine the promise of equality outlined in the constitution.
Diaz reflected on their work, saying, “Henrietta Helm’s legacy as a Black woman educator in the first generation after the end of slavery is also a legacy of protest. Her story opens space for discussion about change in society that is built and sustained by people in everyday professions committing or recommitting to their own kind of intervention.”
In addition to the mural, the Museum’s Director Katy Delahanty and the artists agreed to donate half of their commission to start a scholarship in honor of Henrietta Helm. Currently at $37,000, the scholarship will aid Black womxn and femme educators enrolled in University of Louisville’s Louisville Teacher Residency Program and enable the next generation of teachers to further Helm’s legacy. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to make a donation through the Community Foundation of Louisville website.