Mr. Peter Helck is recognized across the world as one of the finest automotive artists of our time. Mr. Peter Helck’s journey began when he was born on June 17, 1893 in New York City, NY. He first started drawing at the young age of five years old. At thirteen years old, he witnessed the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island, NY which not only generated a memorable experience but also inspired his career path.
Mr. Helck’s cousin introduced a journal containing beautiful photographs of the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup Race held in Germany. It was from that time that he took his passion of automobiles into his artwork. He studied art at the Art Students League in Manhatten, NY and later studied in England among the talented and world leading muralist, Mr. Frank Brangwyn. In 1913, Mr. Helck’s winning poster contest entry provided him a career with America's publicity firm, Korbel & Colwell, located in New York City, NY. From the 1920's through the 1940's, Mr. Helck was a very successful magazine illustrator and advertising artist. He lived and worked from his studio in Boston Corners, NY where he had produced a number of artwork that he referred to as his “fine art”. These pieces were often cityscape’s or landscapes that many fans thoroughly enjoyed.
In 1944, Esquire Magazine commissioned Mr. Helck to create eight wonderful paintings of early day racing which was later titled, "Great moments in American Sport". The paintings were released as a set of prints as the originals that toured the country promoted by the magazine. Mr. Helck was also a successful gallery artist that received many awards for his artwork. Throughout his career, he travailed and painted the countryside in between his illustration assignments in Europe and America.
In the 1940's Mr. Helck was commissioned by the Sinclair Oil Company to produce a large road map. This map, which is highly collectible nowadays, built up Sinclair's reputation and promoted good driving for pleasure. Another one of his accomplishments was his creations of advertising for Ford Trucks as well as the Autocar Magazine. He was also responsible for the great Chevrolet truck advertising of the early 1950's -1960's. In 1961, he illustrated the book “The Checkered Flag" and received the Salamagundi Gold Medal Award. Mr. Helck story and advertisements appeared in multiple media outlets including Fortune, Cosmopolitan Redbook, Esquire, Colliers, Woman's Home Companion, Scribner's and the Saturday Evening Post.
In 1947, Mr. Helck was elected to the National Academy of Design in recognition of his consistent and vigorous contributions to American art. Another hobby of Mr. Helck’s was collecting vintage race cars, which at one point in time, he had acquired the famous Locomobile Old 16 racecar that won the 1908 Vanderbuilt Cup race. This vehicle was the first American made car to win a race against international competition.
In conclusion, Mr. Peter Helck will always be remembered as an illustrator of industrial scenes, foundries and dramatic moments in history, and great portraits of automobile races. His works of artworks were extraordinary and will always be remembered as one of the greatest 20th Century artist of all times. Each year, the Automotive Fine Arts Society awards their prestigious peer voted award for excellence. This award is named the "Peter Helck Trophy". In 2006, a painting by Mr. Helck became the most expensive piece of automotive fine art ever sold at auction selling for over $100,000 at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance automotive event. Unfortunately, in 1988, Mr. Helck passed away, but his great works of art will always be admired for generations to come.
A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the Robert Tate’s Personal Collection.
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