Helen Returns to the Birmingham Museum of Art

104-year-old Helen H. of Brookdale University Park in Birmingham, AL has always gotten the most out of life. Her wish was to return to the Birmingham Art Museum to see her collection of Asian artifacts and to be reunited with her dear friend Donald Wood, who is the senior curator at the museum and will be retiring at the end of the year. 

Helen grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Bliss. She always valued education and she wound up attending Eastman Corners School and then went on to graduate from Geneseo State College of NY. She became a teacher and taught grade school in both New York and Birmingham. She was also quite the writer. Helen had 6 books of poems published and has been recognized by the National Society of Pen Women and has had her poems read at the national meeting of Arts & Letters. 

Helen also did a lot of traveling in her life, but her most special trip was to the Orient. She collected a few pieces while she was there and she donated them to the Birmingham Museum of Art when she decided to downsize. She hasn’t been back to the museum in 10 years, and upon receiving a note from Donald Wood a few months back saying he was retiring, she knew that she had to make one last trip back. 

Donald first met Helen when he became the Curator of Asian art at the Birmingham Museum of Art in 1987. Helen and her late husband James were founding members of the Asian Art Society at the museum. Over the years, Helen donated several incredible pieces to the museum including a 2nd-century jar from Vietnam, an 8th-century Chinese ewer, a beautiful 18th-century Chinese porcelain bowl, a group of Japanese textile stencils from the 19th century, and many other remarkable pieces.

The wish of a Lifetime and Brookdale were thrilled to send Helen, along with family and friends, to the Birmingham Museum of Art on March 10th. Helen had an emotional reunion with her friend Donald Wood and the group enjoyed a private tour around the museum. Helen got to see all of the pieces that she donated to the museum, many of which were currently on display. As Helen put it, “Just being in the museum and seeing all the things that I gave and other people have donated was just fantastic. I could live the experience over and over again.”

In case you are wondering what a 104 year-olds’ outlook on life is, Helen had this to say, “Look up and don’t look down. Looking down won’t improve your life. I am just as I am. I came from the country. I went to college because I put my sites on it and wanted to be successful. I think for a country girl, I did pretty well.” 

Special thanks to the Birmingham Museum of Art and J. Woody O’Neal