By Christine Hamelin
with photography by Bernard Clark
Helene Train, a sensitive, unassuming artist, is the author of her own happiness. Her passions — painting, children and empowering people through teaching — have shaped her life.
The third of four sisters, she grew up in Camp Bay, an affluent Cape Town suburb. “It was beautiful, and we were very privileged to be there,” says Helene. Her father, Francois du Plessis, was of French Huguenot descent; after studying law, he married Ethel Denholm, the secretary at the firm where he worked, and later became an insurance assessor.
Under apartheid, Blacks and coloured people weren’t allowed to live in suburbs like Camp Bay. “Everything was segregated, and we didn’t know people from those groups. We were brought up to not see this; it was just normal,” Helene reflects.She and her sisters took classical piano lessons from age three onwards. Helene had a talent for drawing, and at her private school, she would often do funny caricatures of people, including her teachers. “They used to pass them around the school; I never got in trouble.” As a teenager, she took sculpting classes and decided she wanted to study fine arts at university. Her father, believing she’d be a starving artist living in a garret, told her she was going to dress design school instead. . . .