Mary Elizabeth Helvey Mitchell

Article and photograph by Joan Mitchell Keith, 2004.

Mary Elizabeth Helvey Mitchell

Mary was born September 18, 1908, the daughter of Methodist pastor and wife, Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Helvey, at the home of her maternal Thomas grandparents in Grant, Virginia (Grayson County). The family later settled at Emory, Virginia when Mary was in elementary school. Mary along with her three brothers grew up helping in the family's boarding house operation as well as attending school.

Art was always her burning interest, and she soon was attending art classes at Martha Washington College in Abingdon, Virginia, even though she was still in elementary and high school. She earned an art diploma from “Martha,” and then went on to graduate from Meadowview High School and summa cum laude from Emory and Henry College with a teaching degree.

Mary taught school at Hollybrook School on Kimberling Creek and at Davis School on Little Creek in Bland County, and at Konnarock in Washington County, Virginia. She saved money from these to continue her art education. She vividly remembers the one-room school experiences, especially of teaching basic cleanliness and hygiene to the children and having one grubby little cherub hold out his hands to be washed, saying, “Good ole warm dirt!” And ask her about the fragrance of children sewn into their clothes for the winter (to keep them from swimming in the cold creek).

She had met James Trubie Wain Mitchell from Bland County, Virginia, when he came to Emory for college, though as a newborn baby Trubie had attended Mary's parents' wedding and loudly spoken out for the first girl!! Friendship grew to romance, and Mary and Trubie were married May 2, 1936 by her minister father in the parlor of their Emory home.

They spent their honeymoon camping on the shores of Lake Michigan at Saugatuck, Michigan, where Trubie fished and prepared meals while Mary attended the Art Institute of Chicago summer school. Her instructor Francis Chapin favorably compared her work to that of the admired American artist Mary Cassatt. From then on, while Trubie taught school, Mary kept house and raised three children, all the while continuing with painting and self-study in art. She has presented several one-person shows in Danville, Virginia, as well as showing her work in many shows and competitions in the local region. She has works in oil, watercolor, pencil, lithograph, acrylic, and pastel and did landscapes, still life, and portraits, a number of which were commissioned. Her art works hang in many homes throughout the area, as well as at Emory and Henry College, her alma mater. She was recently interviewed by officials from Emory and Henry regarding the history of the paintings that hang at the college.

Mary and Trubie moved to Bristol from Southside Virginia in 1979 to be near their daughter Joan Keith. They were independent in their own home on Brookwood Drive until 1999, when they chose to move to Outlook Pointe, now Broadmore. Trubie went home to the Lord October 14, 2001, and Mary continues her tradition of being a happy camper wherever she is, which is now at Broadmore.

This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House B&B, Chatham, Virginia.