Flying in a glider plane has been on Helen Davis’ bucket list for many years.
“I don’t know why,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things. Just to see the world.”
On Thursday morning, a little over a week after turning 99 years old, the longtime artist and teacher took her first glider flight at Mile High Gliding in east Boulder. The flight lasted an hour and brought her up to an elevation of 3,000 feet.
Some of her oldest friends — many from a group of artists called the Piecemakers that has met regularly for decades — gathered to witness the flight and celebrate Davis’ role in their lives.
Friends from the Piecemakers group spoke of Davis’ gift for mentoring and inspiring others in the artistic community, saying she had a talent for encouraging people of all ages to embrace their artistic sides and “just do it.”
Although the Piecemakers had originally organized around a shared love of quilting, artists in the group have experimented with a wide range of media over the years. The artists first started meeting over 30 years ago, and eight of the original 12 members still remain. Davis has been one of the group’s ring leaders, often hosting the meetings at her own house over the years.
Asked if she was excited to take her first glider flight, Davis replied, “How could I be anything but, especially when all my friends are around?”
Many who were present marveled at Davis’ choice to fly in a glider, which has no engine and relies on another plane to accelerate and lift it up into the sky.
“She’s feisty — she has to be in order to get up there at age 99,” said Jack Williamson, a friend of Davis’.
Another friend, Patty Hawkins described Davis as a “ball of fire” and a “cracker jack,” saying she had been that way for as long as they’d known each other.
As the friends gathered for a group photo before Davis’ flight took off, her enthusiasm was palpable. Williamson turned towards Davis and asked her, “What’s the word of the day?”
“My overall word is always joy,” Davis said.
Before her retirement, Davis enjoyed a long and influential artistic career. During World War II, she completed her undergraduate degree at Northwest Missouri State University with a minor in industrial arts. After the war, she spent 25 years acting as a consultant at military hospitals, where she worked to establish arts and crafts programs for military personnel and their families.
Davis first moved to Boulder in 1948 after her husband’s work brought them here. She’s lived here ever since, earning her doctoral degree in education in 1961, and she enjoyed a long career as a multimedia artist — particularly in painting, sculpture, ceramics, fiber and photography — as well as an art professor at the University of Denver. In January, the university unveiled its new Davis Gallery, an exhibition space named in Davis’ honor.
Davis now lives at Frasier, a retirement community in Boulder.