Hela Buchthal, a painter and long-time resident of Chilmark, died Saturday, June 29 in Falmouth, Me., with her daughter Rebecca Hemphill at her side. She was 91 and had battled Alzheimer’s disease for many years.
Hela, nee Dora Helene Eber, was born in Blankenese, Germany on March 11, 1922, the daughter of Moritz Eber and Eleonore Feldberg Eber. The family moved from Hamburg to London in December 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht. While in England, Hela completed her secondary school education, then trained at the Bromley School of Art. She initially worked as a seamstress, and taught art and design.
In 1950 Hela moved to the United States to study music at the New England Conservatory. She married Claus Buchthal in 1954; the young couple lived in New York, then moved to Irvington and Scarsdale, N.Y., where they raised their three children. Hela resumed her art studies at Manhattanville College in 1969, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and pursued a successful painting career.
Hela’s work received awards at numerous juried art shows, and she displayed her work in solo and group shows in the New York area as well as on Martha’s Vineyard. Hela became known for her striking Vineyard landscapes, and for abstract watercolors inspired by ocean scenes and her snorkeling adventures in the Caribbean waters. On the Vineyard her work has been displayed at the Old Sculpin Gallery, the Field Gallery and the Artworkers’ Guild.
In the 1960s Hela and Claus fell in love with the up-Island communities of Martha’s Vineyard. These early summers were spent at the Menemsha Cottages and summer house rentals in Gay Head and Chilmark, eventually leading them to purchase a summer home on Middle Road. The Vineyard became an integral part of their lives. Their children and grandchildren spent many happy summer days in Chilmark, while Hela and Claus built lifelong friendships at Lucy Vincent Beach. In 1991, Hela and Claus began their retirement by moving to a year-round home on Prospect Hill in Chilmark.
Hela was never one to sit quietly on the sidelines, even in retirement. Hela was open, welcoming, highly expressive and actively concerned with the well-being of others. She was curious, quick with a question, and always ready to provide advice, a freely-given opinion, or surprise you with a thoughtful act. She and Claus became well-known in the civic and social life of their adopted Island community. Hela taught adult art classes and worked as a volunteer art teacher in the Vineyard schools. She was an avid supporter of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, as well as many other Island institutions. She cared about the future of the Island community, and could be counted on to voice her opinions in her own inimitable style at Chilmark town hall and at community meetings. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society or Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
Hela was predeceased by her husband, Claus Buchthal, in November, 2010. She is survived by her sisters Antonie Howard of Toronto, Canada, and Sophie Tajfel of Oxford, Great Britain; children Steven Buchthal and wife Vanessa, Peter Buchthal and wife Joanna, and Rebecca Hemphill and husband Caleb; and grandchildren Eric and Sarah Hemphill and Emma and Robin Buchthal. The funeral will be held at the Abel’s Hill Cemetery at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 7, followed by a reception at the home of Peter and Joanna.