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September 29: Designer Helen Summers

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Helen Summers was an artist and designer who wanted to do it all. On this date in 1956 the Bismarck Tribune announced the opening of her new business, Helen Summer Originals, Inc. The business allowed Helen to dabble in anything and everything artistic. She did interior decorating, drew floorplans, designed clothes, did commercial art, painted wall murals, and decorated for parties.

The endlessly creative Helen was born in Texas in 1923 and studied design at the University of Oklahoma, where she was elected head cheerleader. She graduated in 1945, and in December she married petroleum geologist George Summers. Upon receiving a scholarship to Parson’s School of Design, the family moved to New York City. The scholarship was only given to three students across the entire United States each year. Unfortunately, a car accident interrupted her studies there.

Helen, George, and their four daughters spent time in Wyoming and Montana before arriving in Bismarck, where she got to work designing party décor and painting portraits. In 1952 she met fellow artist Telle Rudser. Telle, a native of Grand Forks and graduate of UND, was a nationally renowned woodcarver. Telle had her own craft shop in McKenzie.

Helen and Telle decided to combine their talents of fashion, painting, and wood work, creating fashionable men’s ties. Helen picked out the fabric and hand painted the ties. Telle then carved a small bass, pheasant, or duck that was attached to the tie in lieu of a tie clip. Telle also carved wooden cuff links. The ties were sold at Telle’s hobby shop or by special order. The dynamic duo were so talented that they were both listed in the first edition of Who’s Who in North Dakota.

A year after opening Helen Summers Originals, Inc., Helen moved to Fort Worth, Texas. While her time in North Dakota was less than 10 years, she had shown brightly. In Texas she continued her art career doing commercial art for various companies such as Ethan Allen Furniture and Sears & Roebuck. She also published poetry and cookbooks and continued to paint portraits. She died at age 79 in 2003.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa

Sources:

  • Author Unknown, “Helen E. Blackert to Wed Summers in Oklahoma City,” The Oklahoma Daily, December 12, 1945, pg. 5.
  • Author Unknown, “Helen Layton Obituary”, Star-Telegram, https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/dfw/name/helen-layton-obituary?id=11780652
  • Author Unknown, “Telle Rudser, Woodcarver,” The Bismarck Tribune¸ July 20, 1981, pg. 24.
  • Low, Mary Jane, “Team Makes Ties Guys Idolize,” The Bismarck Tribune, September 25, 1954, pg. 5.
  • Low, Mary Jane, “Try ‘Originals’ Mrs. Fixit – Artist Summers,” The Bismarck Tribune, September 29, 1956, pg. 5.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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