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Athabasca University

Helen S. Petersen Bentley, BSc, MSc: Student, Educator, Artist

Curated by Ann Bentley Manson

Helen Petersen Bentley

Helen S. Petersen Bentley's high school graduation photo, Dike, Iowa [ca. 1930]

Helen Signe Petersen Bentley was born in the United States to Danish immigrant parents who met in Seattle, Washington, and married in Fredsville, Iowa. She grew up in Dike, Iowa in a household that celebrated its Danish heritage while embracing American culture. Helen spoke only Danish until she began school.

Helen was an excellent student who loved learning, excelling in English, art, music and science. While in high school, she and her family took a road trip to visit Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. During that time, the family took a side trip to Alberta for the first time. While there, they visited Nis Schultz, Helen’s maternal uncle, in Dalum, a small farming community near Drumheller. Nis’ stories from his time as a gold miner in Alaska and the Yukon Territory during the Klondike era piqued Helen’s enduring interest in lifelong learning; she absorbed everything she could during her travels.

After high school, Helen’s love of learning helped to steer her into the world of post-secondary education. In 1930 she undertook a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Applied Art at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa. While studying at Iowa State, Helen also channeled her love of learning by educating others. She partially paid for her tuition by teaching high school art at Burlington High School in Iowa. She graduated with a BSc in 1936, but stayed on teaching high school art until 1939.

Brass School Bell

A brass school bell used by Helen while working at Burlington High School to call students in to class, 1936-1939

After a few years, which included a summer spent studying painting at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, Helen returned to school for graduate work. In September 1939 she started a Master of Science (MSc) in Applied Art at Iowa State College, graduating in 1940 with the submission and acceptance of her thesis, Hand Wrought Candlesticks of Original Design.

As of September 1940, Helen became an instructor at the University of Minnesota where she taught decorative needlework, textile design, and advanced crafts. In 1942 she met Fred Bentley; they became engaged in the spring of 1943, and married September 16, 1943, in Fredsville, Iowa, near Dike.

Helen and Fred Bentley

Helen Petersen Bentley and Fred Bentley, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, ca. 1943

Helen and Fred moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where Fred taught Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan, and Helen worked with the District Home Economists in an outreach programme. In 1946, Fred and Helen transferred to Edmonton, Alberta where both worked for the University of Alberta until retirement. Helen continued to teach Clothing and Textiles, Interior Design, and Art in the School (later the Faculty) of Home Economics and, during the summers in the 1950s, at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta. Throughout her life she influenced textile artists through her work with the Edmonton Weaver’s and the Edmonton Needlecraft Guilds, while continuing to design and execute her own creations.

Helen’s desire to absorb and master skills and knowledge, and her accomplishments as a university student and professor, were unusual for a woman in the 1930s and 40s. The breadth and diversity of the Helen S. Petersen Bentley family fonds attests to her lifelong interest in the artistic and craft techniques of many cultures, which influenced her designs and creations.

The Helen S. Petersen Bentley fonds, donated to the Thomas A. Edge Archives by Helen’s daughter, Ann Bentley Manson, contains artifacts, letters, and photographs pertaining to the personal life, work, and interests of Helen S. Petersen Bentley and her family. The materials from Helen’s time as a post-secondary student tell the story of a woman who was excited to learn, and who channeled her energy and artistry into a wide variety of projects.

To see some of Helen’s work from her undergraduate degree, click here.

To see some of Helen’s work from her master’s degree, click here.

Updated August 19 2019 by Student & Academic Services

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