Kingston Improvement Association
Kingston Vignette

Helme House

by Elizabeth J. McNab

OPEN - ART and POTTERY SALE. These words on a sign at the Helme House in Kingston announce the sale of some of the best individual pieces of South County's local artists. Many homes through­out the United States proudly display and use the drawings, prints, paintings, portraits, and ceramic pieces purchased here.

The "South County Art Association" had its begin­nings in 1927 with an exhibition of 12 artists at the private studio of John W. Dawson in Wickford. Two years later five of these artists decided to make the institute a per­manent one. From 1929 through 1933 exhibitions were held in the Guild Hall in Wickford. In 1934 the Peace Dale Guild became the Association's meeting and exhibition home. Meanwhile, the group voted to raise money in 1930 for purchase of the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace. The South County Art Association's president automatically sits on the Board of Directors of the Memo­rial as an ex-officio member. But the course of events took a differ­ent turn. Helme House

Bernon Elijah Helme, a resident and storekeeper of King­ston, was an active participant in many village and town activities. As superintendent of schools in South Kingstown he saw the im­portance of having the Rhode Island agricultural college located in Kingston and worked to that end with Peckham, Hazard and the Town. At the turn of the century he established the Helme Brothers Water Company with the brown shingled tower in the village center. A civic-minded business man, he opposed electricity in the village as he believed the wire would ruin the picturesque elms of Kingston. A member of the South County Art Association, on his death on April 12, 1944 the financial generosity of his will enabled the Association to purchase his home, his former store (then the post office), and some of the contents. His home, originally two buildings, was built about 1802 by John T. Nichols. In 1818 the buildings were joined to become the Landholder's bank.

Today the association of artists and lay members mounts and displays more than 12 exhibits a year. There are juried exhibits with monetary awards which are entered by artists from all over New England. Classes are offered in the adjoining "Workshop" (formerly a private school, the Helme brother's store, and the Kingston Post Office) in ceramics on the first floor and oil, watercolors and life drawing in the Higgins Studio. Tech­niques of sculpture are also offered.

The South County Art Association located in its beautiful historic home certainly succeeds in fulfill­ing its purpose "to promote an interest in art and to encourage artists ... and to support in every way the aesthetic interests of the community...".

South County Art Association Website