One of Hawaii’s first major woman artists, Helen Whitney Kelley was greatly respected for her watercolor interpretations of the islands. She was born in May 1852 to Catherine Olivia March and Henry Martyn Whitney, a postmaster who later founded and published the Honolulu Advertiser. After marrying Oakland-based banker Luke Kelley in 1876, she studied at San Francisco’s Marc Hopkins Institute and began to exhibit watercolors in the Bay Area.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Kelley regularly visited relatives in Hawaii, where she masterfully painted the islands’ landscapes, still lifes, and natives. She moved to Honolulu in 1896, where she taught drawing and painting for many years and was an enthusiastic supporter of and frequent exhibitor with the Kilohana Art League. Highly praised then as now, her sentimental watercolor depictions of Old Hawaii are among the most sought-after island artworks.