On any given day, we are likely to be asked about our shop’s name, if there is a Helen Winnemore in real life or sometimes “are you Helen?” For the last 20 plus years, Sarah Kellenberger Harpham has owned the business bearing Helen’s name, but before her there was indeed a true original Helen Winnemore who founded the business in 1938.
Helen Louise Winnemore was born on March 23, 1901 to Quaker parents Grace and Christian Winnemore . What we know of Helen’s early childhood we glean from her photographs…she smiled often, went horseback riding and dressed in the most fabulous fashion. Her personal correspondence suggests that she was close with her family, most particularly her older sister Charlotte. After graduating with High Honors from Penn College in Iowa in 1928, Helen and her mother would join Charlotte in Columbus, Ohio, where Charlotte was a physician.
I suppose most people think you start a business because you want to be in business. But not me. I was more interested in crafts. I've hunted for beautiful, exquisite, elegant things all over this country.
The Afternoon Shop: 1938-1951
Helen claimed that her life as a business woman was an accident, and that she wouldn’t have been able to do it if she knew what was happening from the start. While teaching Sunday school, she observed how uncomfortable her students were swinging their legs in adult sized chairs. So, she went looking for child sized options at Berea College in Kentucky. This unique institution requires their students to work at a College run job to offset their tuition, which often involves creating and selling handcrafted goods. After completing her mission and finding suitable chairs, Helen happened to hear that Berea College was in search of someone to showcase and perhaps sell more of their student’s work for the Christmas season. Helen offered the vacant room in her Grandview home for their Christmas shop, unaware of where this gracious offer would lead.
Helen placed the artist’s goods in everyday dressers, inviting guests to look through the drawers at their leisure as her mother offered guests cookies and tea. Word spread about Helen’s Christmas shop, and artist friends began to ask if she would be willing to show their work, too. The act that began as a response to Berea College’s need grew into a weekly practice of welcoming people into her home to look at beautiful handmade goods. It soon became clear that this was much more than a seasonal endeavor. At this realization, Helen gave it a new name: The Afternoon Shop.
My purpose in the shop is to bring the work of American artists to people who appreciate and love the handicraft
Helen Winnemore, July 12 1950
Helen Winnemore’s Contemporary Crafts: 1951-1966
On the corner of Broad Street and Parsons Avenue
As Helen’s business evolved, word traveled through communities of artists. Eventually, the number of beautiful things she had collected simply no longer fit in her home, so a shop was set up on the corner of Broad Street and Parsons Avenue. When asked about the move to a storefront later, Helen confessed that she never intended to start a business, but after representing artist’s work in her home for so long, she “never knew how to stop it.”
During this time, Helen began actively seeking new goods to carry and traveling to art shows in this quest, frequenting places like the American Craft Council Show in Bennington, Vermont, Rhinebeck New York Crafts Festival, and The Baltimore Winter Market. The move to a proper retail location led to still more growth of the business, while she maintained the graciousness and hospitality that she extended in her home. Helen and the wares she offered continued to enchant customers. Helen represented many emerging artists who would become esteemed names in the fine craft world including Woodturner Bob Stocksdale, Ceramicists Otto and Gertrude Natzler, Jeweler Ed Levin and Ceramicist Rose Cabat.
Helen Winnemore’s in German Village
The 1960’s were a time of great change in Helen’s life. In 1965, her beloved sister Charlotte died, leaving Helen living alone. In 1966, Helen purchased a charming green house in German Village, which at the time was known as a rough, run-down area. Showing her usual perspicacity, Helen transformed this boarded-up building on the corner of Kossuth and Mohawk into a welcoming space for the work and her guests.
In this new space, longtime customers declared that they missed the feeling of going through the drawers as they had in her previous locations. Therefore, Helen’s manager Jack, with the help of his father built a wooden case of 40 drawers in which to display jewelry. That case remains in use today, having become a ritual to longtime customers and a novel delight to tourists.
1966 brought other changes for Helen, too. One winter evening while covering a shift for an employee, she would meet Stefan Horvath who would soon become her husband.
After her marriage and the move to her German Village shop, information about Helen’s personal life starts to become scarce. With many of her personal milestones and rites of passage behind her, Helen settled into the routine that would carry her through her golden years: searching for the best quality hand crafted goods she could find, building long lasting relationships with artists, and sponsoring the arts in her community. Rather than stories of her personal life, these years leave us with a broad trail of artists whose work she discovered, encouraged and displayed.
Towards the end of her life, we see letters from friends of Helen that refer to her as the Mother of the Craft Movement. According to Niche Magazine (Winter 2000), in the time that she began her shop “much of the American public viewed crafts as rurally produced, utilitarian objects.” In their timeline of 100 years of American Crafts from 1900-2000, the founding of Helen’s shop was featured as a prominent event, perhaps because it helped to transform this view of crafts: she required the works in her shop to be functional AND beautiful.
For her 90th birthday, her dear friends and coworkers created the Helen Winnemore Scholarship in her honor at Columbus College of Art and Design to help continue to foster the arts in her home city, which is still awarded to this day.
In spite of her claims that she never meant to start a business, Helen Winnemore created a courteous and inspiring world that brought together the craftspeople and lovers of the arts that continues today. Her mantra lives on in the oasis of beauty and hospitality that she built here in German Village:
No shop is worth anything unless it is a gracious place.