Blast from the Past: A chat with a Helms House resident

At Red Fan, we proudly reside in a certified Austin historical landmark, dubbed the “Helms House”, naturally, because of its location on the corner of Helms street and 32nd street. Before the Helms House became Red Fan’s office, it served as an eclectic home to many Austin residents, including the editor of the first newspaper in Austin! Other Helms House residents included the highly regarded Lucky Attal and his wife, founders of the General Store Gallery, a 1980s co-op and a fire station that utilized the cupola as a lookout tower.

We had a chance to sit down with Tom Bauman, a local artist and former Helms House resident, to discuss his beautifully commissioned painting of our renovated “home” (a birthday gift for our president and founder, Kathleen Lucente). Tom also gave us insight into what it was like living in the house as well as his other contributions to the Austin area.

What brought you to live at the Helms House?

I knew most of the people when the house was first rented. I had been traveling, and then was asked if I needed a place to stay. I ended up redoing the small storage closet space on the third floor to make room for a bedroom. I even used original oak flooring from Little Campus. It was definitely serendipitous.

How has the Helms House changed over time?

There used to be a bathroom in what is now an office upstairs! Also, the 32nd street entrance used to be our main entrance. When we moved in and changed the front entrance to the Helms Street side, we changed the mailing address too. My roommate’s father was the mail courier for our house. He was not happy with the change. In recent years, the mailing address and entrance have swapped places again.

Tell us about the painting you created of the Helms House.

It was a really fun thing to do. When I used to live there, I would draw some of Austin's old houses, but I never drew Helms! It was really exciting for me to paint this house. I had to ponder whether or not I wanted to paint it from old pictures, or whether I wanted a new one. I like what's been done with it now that it's been restored, so I went with painting from a modern photo.

Did your painting of the Helms House inspire any memories

I started painting shortly after some of the past Helms House residents had been interviewed. I had just spent some time with a lot of those people, reminiscing on the house and our time spent there. That was definitely a trip down memory lane.

In what ways has your artwork been influenced by Austin, or even by your time at the Helms House?

When I lived in the house, I used to shadow a class with some of my roommates called Texas Architectural History. The professor’s name was Wayne Bell, and he always thought I was a student of his. I had a strong interest in historical, Victorian era Austin. I drew a lot of old buildings in the area, and Helms was an opportunity to actually live in one.

What is your favorite thing to paint?

Now I'm doing some nudes in pencil, I like to think that it’s less dangerous than painting! I can take my art with me now, too.

What is your favorite memory in your painting career?

If you’ve ever walked down the drag, you’ve seen the mural at the Renaissance market. I helped paint that with some friends. We originally painted it in 1974 and have since repainted it three times. Painting is generally very solitary; to get out, paint in public and turn a mural into performance art is very interesting and fun. A lot of people see it and feel compelled to stop and talk to you about it. That mural has been there for 40 years; during that time, we've had thousands of people come by and tell us what that mural has meant to them.

What would be the ultimate reunion party at the Helms House, and who would be there?

There have been a lot of residents over the years at Helms, but I have to say, everybody would agree that it would not be a party without Don Rhodes. We would definitely miss him the most if we had a reunion; everybody would be sharing stories about Don.

Interested in learning more about our humble abode? Dive into the Helms House’s past and present here, or stop by for a visit and tour!

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