Home > Artist Database > Bio-bibliographic Database > HELMCKEN, Edith Louisa

Artist Database

HELMCKEN, Edith Louisa

Victoria, British Columbia, 1862
Victoria, British Columbia, 1939
Biography synopsis
Grandchild of Sir James Douglas, the one-time governor of the colony of Vancouver Island, Edith Louisa Helmcken, or “Dolly,” as she was known, exhibited a talent for arts and crafts from a young age. While a student at St. Ann’s Convent in Victoria, she excelled at needlework and ceramic painting, and also wrote and illustrated a children’s book with her cousin, Martha Douglas Harris. After attending finishing school in Toronto, she went to London, England to continue her studies in art (1882-83), and traveled extensively through Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy in the company of an aunt. She returned to Victoria, and married Williams Ralph Higgins, a music student and reporter for the Daily Colonist newspaper, in 1889. The couple traveled in Europe for three years before settling down in Victoria. Dolly was extremely active in several charitable endeavours. A member of the Island Arts and Crafts Society, she exhibited three watercolours in their annual exhibition in 1924. Tragically, her husband died in 1896 at the age of thirty, and Dolly moved back home to Helmcken House, where she lived with her father, John Sebastian. After his death, the artist refused to change anything in her father’s rooms and ordered the house and all his writings to be destroyed. However, she later changed her mind and sold the house to the provincial government to be turned into a museum, which today houses some of her work.
Media used
China painting
St. Ann's Convent, Victoria, 1872 - 1879
File & Archive locations
British Columbia Archives
Canadian Women Artists History Initiative Documentation Centre, QC

Writings about
Adams, John. Old Square Toes and His Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas. Victoria: Horsdal and Schubart, 2001
Currie, Christine D. "When the Flowers Talked." BC Historical News: Journal of the BC Historical Federation 35.4 (Fall 2002): 7-8
Finlay, K.A. and Shea, T.. "A Woman's Place" Art and the Role of Women in the Cultural Formation of Victoria B.C. 1850s-1920s Victoria, B.C.: Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, University of Victoria, 2004
Iredale, Jennifer. "Helmcken House Website." http://bcheritage.ca/helmcken/people/dolly.html Digital Collections Team, Industry Canada, 1997
Lepine, Ayla. "The St. Ann's Academy Art Studio." BC Historical News: Journal of the BC Historical Federation 35.4 (Fall 2002): 15-17
Stevenson, Marla. "Edith Helmcken's Hand-Painted Ceramics." BC Historical News: Journal of the BC Historical Federation 35.4 (Fall 2002): 9-11

Writings by
Helmcken, Edith Louisa (Dolly) and Martha Douglas Harris. An Early Spring Morning Chat: When the Flowers Talked. Victoria: Helmcken, Edith Louisa, 1919

Search by: