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Painter, poet finds artistic outlet at Brooksby

Helen DesChene prepares for ninth artisan fair

Created date

September 12th, 2014
Helen DesChene paints in the living room of her Brooksby apartment home.
Helen DesChene paints in the living room of her Br

Before she moved to Brooksby, Helen DesChene gave her pastel and oil paints to her grandchildren, assuming she no longer had the need. But as it turned out, her painting days were far from over.

Shortly after moving to the Peabody, Mass., Erickson Living community, Helen met a small group of dedicated painters who get together twice a week to paint in their respective styles. Upon the group’s urging, Helen purchased her own paints—this time, watercolors. 

“I’ve been doing watercolors ever since,” she says. Eight years since her move to Brooksby, Helen continues to paint on Monday and Saturday afternoons with the group in Brooksby’s craft room. In between, she paints in her apartment home. Inspiration comes at all times of day. “Sometimes I paint at 11 o’clock at night,” she says.

“I’m still painting like crazy,” she adds. “It’s fun; it’s the satisfaction.”

Well-known artist

Within the Brooksby community, Helen is well known for her artistic endeavors. Since her first year there, Helen has held a prominent table at the community’s annual artisan fair, where she sells packages of notecards featuring her paintings and books of her poetry. Last year, she sold out of her painted notecards, selling more than 160 packages of six.

Nature and faith inspire Helen’s paintings and poetry. In words and watercolors, she creates picturesque and tranquil depictions of flowers, animals, and holiday scenes. 

At Brooksby, Helen is a member of one of the community’s writing groups and a regular contributor to the Brooksby Villager, a print publication by those living in the community. She has self-published her memoir and a handful of books of poetry, two of which are available in Brooksby’s library. 

Helen makes occasional appearances on Brooksby’s in-house-produced television programs reading her poetry. “It amazes me that people know my name,” she says. “It’s a wonderful place here. I love them all.” 

Friends and neighbors often call requesting her to write a poem for a special occasion. She obliges. She keeps a pad of paper beside her bed for unexpected moments of inspiration. 

“It just tumbles out—sometimes I’ll just do it in the dark from the edges of the bed at night,” she says.

Place in the world

Though she has no formal training in writing and none in painting since her high school days, Helen has a long history of artistic work.

She writes in her memoir that she had “found her place in the world” when she began working for an interior design shop, a position that ultimately led to her own full-time business, Window Treatments by Helen. 

Calling upon a love of sewing that began at age four, Helen created often-elaborate window dressings for people she met through the interior design shop. Among her many memorable projects was the challenge of making the three 17-foot panels that drape the front of the Topsfield Congregational Church.  

Wonderful transition

Helen greatly anticipated her move to Brooksby from her house of nearly 50 years in Topsfield. For seven years at home, she had cared for her husband. After he died, she visited Brooksby.

“I loved my house, but without my husband, what good was it?” Helen says. “I could go someplace where I would be comfortable and wouldn’t have to worry about the water heater, etc.” Many of Helen’s friends from Topsfield were already living at Brooksby, and it didn’t take her long to decide to move. 

During her visit to Brooksby, Helen chose and reserved a large, one-bedroom Ellicott apartment home. She moved two weeks later, after selling her eight-room house on the second day it was listed and cleaning it from top to bottom herself. 

She adjusted quickly to life at Brooksby. “It’s wonderful to go out to dinner every night. It’s nice to be waited on,” she says, referencing the one meal a day at any one of Brooksby’s five restaurants, which is included in the monthly service package. She adds of the wait staff, “The kids are so nice.”  

Downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment was easy for Helen. “I love my apartment. It’s large enough to keep crafts and my computer.” 

As she prepares for her ninth crafts fair this November, Helen has plenty to fulfill her creative talents. She says of Brooksby: “I am so happy; I’ve got so many friends. It’s just a wonderful place to be.”