June 21, 1927 ~ October 1, 2020

Born in: Pittsfield, MA
Resided in: Branford, CT

Helen Chillman, 93, of Branford, passed away at her residence on October 1, 2020. Born in Pittsfield, MA on June 21, 1927 to the late James and Dorothy Dawes Chillman. Helen identified with New England for her entire life. As a child, she would travel to Cummington, MA to visit family, and her association with that community continued throughout her life. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mount Holyoke College in 1949. She came to work at Yale University shortly thereafter, rising to the position of Slide Librarian. Generations of Yale’s outstanding faculty in the History of Art, notably Vincent Scully, Jr., and George Kubler, depended on her resourcefulness and acumen in building the collections that gave their lectures such power on the screen. Helen retired in 2010. A longtime resident of Hamden, Helen moved to Cedar Woods in Branford in 2015.
BEECHER & BENNETT, 2300 Whitney Ave., Hamden in care of private arrangements. Donations in Helen’s memory may be sent to the Robert B. Hass Family Arts Library (checks made out to: Yale University Arts Library), 180 York St., New Haven, CT 06511.

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  1. I first knew Helen in the late 1960s and worked for her in the photograph library in Street Hall in 1970-71 before enrolling at Columbia’s SLS, largely at her inspiration. She was always a delightful mix of New England starch and Texas charm (she grew up in Houston, where her father was an early director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; the drawl was always there, along with a twinkle). We were privileged to spend time with her in Cummington, Massachusetts at her family house there over the years; what a bucolic delight, clearing brush in the garden, going to Packard’s Store for cheese, driving the sun-struck high roads of the Berkshires at Columbus Day. Returning at night to a warm fire and simple food is an enduring memory. (Helen was not a cook; long before the InstaPot she specialized in the old-fashioned pressure-cooker for most meals; nearly everything was more than done).
    She lived for more than 50 years at 407 Whitney Avenue in New Haven (not Hamden), a rambling 1920s apartment last updated in the 1920s and stocked and stacked with nearly as many books as A&A.
    Riding with Helen at the wheel of a car was an experience. She tended to keep her cars for 20 years or more. Would it start? What gear am I in? She favored VW bugs and small Hondas, regularly making the trip to Massachusetts almost every weekend save during deepest winter, when she shut the house up for the season.
    Helen’s rapport with the Yale art history faculty was extraordinary. She did know what they needed before they did, and where just the image needed could be found. The slide room was simply the social heart of the department.
    Always open to art of all kinds, Helen traveled by train with me from New Haven to Baltimore in 1973 to see the Gerôme exhibition, stopping just out of the station for a tableful of soft-shell crabs on the way to the museum. Riding back that evening, it was hard to decide which was better—the just-fashionable academic art or the fresh seafood.
    After I left New Haven we met at ARLIS conferences, on return visits to the Elm City, and on many occasions in New York, where we had mutual friends and exhibitions to see. We spoke by phone from time to time, each conversation beginning as though the previous one was jus the day before. I saw her last in Branford a couple of years ago, frail but undiminished in mind and wit, still taking the TLS to task, amused by some gaffe or other.
    A beautiful human being.

    • Jack,
      I loved reading this! My name is Samantha. I was Helens full time live in caregiver for 6 months! Although only being with her a short time, it was very adventurous with all our chats! It was a pleasure being with her everyday and hearing all her stories. She will be Greatly missed.

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