Biography and History

Helenē Vakalo was born in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1921. She studied archaeology at the University of Athens, and after her graduation went to Paris, where she studied art history at the Sorbonne under Professor Sourriault. In 1944 she married the painter and stage designer Giōrgos Vakalo. Two years later she gave birth to Emmanuel George Vakalo. In 1945 Vakalo's first book of poetry was published under the title Theme and Variations [Thema kai Paralages]. It was, however, her fourth book of poems, The Forest [To Dasos], published in 1954, which brought her to the attention of the Greek literary circles. Until that time Vakalo was mostly known for her work in the field of art criticism. Since 1949 Vakalo worked as an art critic for the prominent newspaper Ta Nea. Her articles dealt with specific art exhibitions and contemporary artists, as well as with more general issues concerning the field of fine arts. These articles were highly esteemed and it was through them that the Greek public first learned to acknowledge the value of several artists who later became world-renowned. During her years at Ta Nea, 1952-1974, Vakalo was also regularly contributing essays and articles to numerous art and literary magazines.

In 1958, in collaboration with her husband and a group of other painters and art editors, Vakalo founded the Vakalo School of Decorative Arts, where she taught until 1990. Amidst her teaching, poetry writing, and work as an art critic, Vakalo was always eager to devote time to her studying. For this reason she made several trips abroad, the most important of which was her trip to the United States in 1967, where she participated in the Harvard International Seminar. Between 1945 and 1991, Vakalo wrote and published more than ten poetry collections as well as numerous books on art and art criticism. In 1991, her artistic contribution was officially recognized when she received the prestigious Greek State Poetry Award. It was also the year, however, of her husband's death. Giōrgos Vakalo had been seriously ill for a very long period during which Vakalo had stayed beside him, refusing several invitations to participate in events and poetry festivals in Greece and Europe.

During the following years, Vakalo's poetry became known to a wider public and her works were included in Greek and international literary anthologies. At the same time, her work began to be more systematically studied, and there were a number of doctoral dissertations that focused on her poetry. In 1997 Vakalo's final poetry collection, Epilegomena, was published; that same year, she won the Athens Academy Award. In 1998 the University of Thessalonike awarded Vakalo with an honorary doctorate degree for her contributions to the field of art criticism. Two years later, Vakalo was awarded a second honorary doctorate degree by the University of Derby in England in recognition of her contributions as a poet, art critic, and art historian. Also that same year her son Emmanuel George died of cancer at the age of fifty-four. Since 1971, Emmanuel had been a professor of architecture at the University of Michigan, and, after his death, the university established a fellowship fund in his name to support future doctoral students.

Vakalo died in Athens in 2001. Her poetry now constitutes part of the canon taught in Greek literature classes. She is remembered not only for her works, but also for her influence in the field of fine arts and her support for young artists and poets whom she inspired and encouraged throughout her long career.

Source: From the finding aid for C0835

  • Helenē Vakalo Papers. 1933-2000 (inclusive), 1954-1990 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0835

    The Helenē Vakalo Papers consists of papers by and relating to the Greek art critic and poet Helenē Vakalo (1921-2001). Included are autograph and typed manuscripts of Vakalo's poetry, lectures, articles, and essays, as well as her correspondence, notebooks, loose notes, and memorabilia. There are also official documents, photos, awards, printed material, and several works by prominent Greek writers and artists. Of particular importance are the unpublished works and early manuscripts, as well as Vakalo's correspondence with her husband, painter Giōrgos Vakalo, and with numerous distinguished artists and literary figures.