(January 8, 2011) Helen Jane Simeonoff, 69, known for her brilliant watercolors, died peacefully Jan. 8, 2011, at her Anchorage home after a long illness. Her daughter, Sharon Tylla, and longtime friend and cousin, Lydia Olsen, were at her side.
A service was held Wednesday at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
She was born Oct. 23, 1941, to William “Bill” Simeonoff Jr. and Alexandra “Alice” Knagin in Kodiak.
A graduate of Kodiak High School, she worked for several Lower 48 law firms and, during the 1980s, the Anchorage Police Department.
In 1993, she left permanent employment to launch a career as a watercolor artist. She studied art at Southwestern College in San Diego and the University of Alaska at Adak, where she was deeply influenced by artist Rush Cole. She traveled to Italy to further develop her style.
At first, her work was based on Tlingit and Haida themes, but her painting took a turn when her Native peers asked why she didn’t focus on her own Alutiiq culture. Soon she began painting Orthodox churches, Kodiak masks and kayak paddles, Alutiiq dress and other subjects.
Simeonoff donated many of the paintings to friends and museums, including the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak. Her paintings were hung in the Springhill Suites in Fairbanks, the Talkeetna and Windsong lodges, the Marriott Hotel, Residence Inn and many other public places. Some of her works sell for $12,000 or more. Her first painting went for $20.
She received special awards and certificates for paintings and photography. She traveled twice to France to study the Pinart collection of Kodiak Island masks and other works of art at the Chateau Museum in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Ms. Simeonoff enjoyed camping, exploring, gardening, glass fusion, stained glass, reading and researching family history.
“She’s as colorful as her art/paintings,” said daughter Sharon Tylla.
“What I liked most about Helen was her childlike spirit,” Lydia Olsen said. “She lived life on her terms and she died on her terms. She was a gal of many talents and gifts. Helen loved her people and her culture.”
“Helen gave us much through her art work, her compassion at heart, but mostly her love for her Native people and through the research and preservations of the Sugpiaq culture of Kodiak Island,” said her friend and cousin, Maggie Napoleon.
Ms. Simeonoff was preceded in death by her parents; sister, Irene Fischer; and brother, Ronnie Simeonoff.
She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Sharon and Rob Tylla; son, Robert “Rob” Luther; grandson, Garrett Lane Schmidt; brother, Edward Spracher and wife Michelle; niece, Alonda Spracher and husband Kris Tibbitts; nephew, Jason Spracher; nieces, Dawn Marie Talcott and Judith Simeonoff; nephew, Vincent Simeonoff; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.