Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another art mystery: Margot Helser Austin's work for Doernbecher Hospital

Sara wrote in 2009 about the mysterious disappearance of Darrel Austin's monumental mural The Evolution of Medical Education, a WPA commission that hung in Mackenzie Hall until a 1952 building renovation. While doing some research on Austin, I found a photocopied newsletter article mentioning that his wife, the illustrator Margot Helser Austin, had also worked on WPA commissions on Marquam Hill - and that a similar fate befell her work.

WPA records indicate that Margot Austin was commissioned to do a series of fairytale illustrations for Doernbecher Hospital. There they stayed until the hospital relocated in the 1950s. And then the trail goes cold. Like her husband, Margot Austin went on to considerable professional success in the 1940s-1950s, and by the time art connoisseurs came looking for her early work, it was too late.

It is, of course, entirely possible that both of the Austins' artwork are side by side in a storage room somewhere on campus, waiting to be rediscovered.


Anonymous said...

We own one of the margot helser Austin early fairy tale original watercolor for the Doernbecher hospital but I dont know how my parents got this(deceased) but I grew up with this painting in my bedroom.It is signed margot Helser and we were curious as to its origin. I can be reached at if anyone has any further info on other early paintings of hers or wants to know more about this one.

Maija said...

How fascinating! Thanks for the information - you can reach us at, too.