Celebrating Intergenerational Talent Through Abstract Art: Exhibition of Paintings by Helen Ciesla Covensky and her granddaughter, Piera Kempner

The Kosciuszko Foundation Washington DC
2025 O St. NW Washington DC 20036

The exhibit is extended and will run till January 31st, 2024 by appointments only. Please email Iza Eisemann at: ieisemann@thekf.org to schedule your visit.

Art gallery is open Mon-Fri, 10am-3pm (by appointments only)

KF Washington D.C. is hosting a special exhibition featuring artwork by Abstract Expressionists Helen Ciesla Covensky (1925–2007) and Piera Kempner, her granddaughter.

The exhibit is extended, and will run through January 31st, 2024 by appointments only. Please email: ieisemann@thekf.org to schedule your visit.

Artworks can be also explored on their websites: Helen Ciesla Covensky and Piera Kempner

Helen Ciesla Covensky (1925–2007) was born Hanka Ciesla in Kielce, Poland to a cultured Jewish family. They moved to Sosnowiec in 1936, shortly before the Second World War changed their lives completely. Being blonde with green eyes, Helen was able to pass as a Polish Catholic, adopting the name Helen after her mother. After being separated from her family, Helen worked at a labor camp near Stuttgart, Germany, and then after liberation, as an interpreter for the American military in Berlin. Helen and her brother, David, who survived Auschwitz, were reunited after the war in 1945. Their parents and sister died in concentration camps.

Helen married military journalist Harold Kempner in February 1946, and gave birth to their daughter Aviva in December. Helen, Harold and Aviva immigrated to Detroit, Michigan in 1950, and in 1951 she gave birth to Jonathan. In 1959, Harold and Helen divorced. She went on to attend Wayne State University, where she studied abstract art. There, she met and married her favorite, brilliant history professor, Dr. Milton Covensky.

Helen found solace in painting. She embraced the Abstract Expressionists’ approach and philosophical attitude toward art as well as the handling of materials. She also accepted their aim of pictorializing tragic and timeless forces. The strength of Covensky’s artistic character finds expression through an emphasis on action and gesture, and her energy has resulted in the prolific creation of paintings. In 1981, she had a one-woman exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Helen’s work has been displayed in American embassies around the world through the Arts in Embassies Program at the US State Department. Her work is also part of The Kreeger Museum Collection in Washington, D.C. and held in the private collections of many dignitaries and notable people, including President Jimmy Carter.

Her artwork conveys tremendous energy that transcends time and circumstance. Signing her name, Helen Ciesla Covensky, she wrote,

“In my lifetime, I have witnessed a world of extreme change which saw great destruction and rebirth … and a never-ending search to portray the reaffirmation of life.”

Piera Kempner received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and business administration from the University of Texas at Austin and earned a master’s degree in social work with magna cum laude honors from New York University. She is now a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) specializing in adolescent trauma-informed care and individual/family therapy in Austin, TX. Piera describes utilizing art and painting as a creative and mindful outlet and the opportunity to connect with her late grandmother’s legacy and fond childhood memories together.

“Art has enabled me to enrich a unique, profound, and continued relationship with and celebration of my grandmother – to honor her passion and resilience even in the most impossible of times. With paint and color, I can live in a boundaryless and ageless world that embraces experimentation, welcomes eccentricity, and encourages imperfection. In this space, I become more hopeful and gracious and less lonely and distrustful. I can create something tangible and lasting that I can be proud of, represents me in some and retains the power to evoke true emotions in others”.

Just as her grandmother did, Piera also describes art as a personal and professional outlet and a therapeutic opportunity to better cope with trauma work and secondary experiences. Themes of contemporary art and artists like Jackson Pollock also inspire her work, techniques, and use of color due to their emphasis on spontaneity, rebelliousness, and upbeat energy.

“I love the idea of rejecting the norm and defying expectations with contemporary art … it’s liberating and self-actualizing to be uniquely-you and have others embrace what comes of it. I often lay the canvas on the floor, just as Pollock did, play my music loud and just see where it goes… I know my grandmother honored others in her work and motions too – painting to give light and love to people who suffered. And in this way, she was also able to help herself and create beauty that we can still enjoy every day.”

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