Bouldering artist and teacher celebrate their 99th birthday with a glider flight

Flying in a glider has been on Helen Davis’ to-do 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, just over a week after turning 99, the longtime artist and teacher took her first glider flight at Mile High Gliding in east Boulder. The flight lasted an hour and took her to an altitude of 3,000 feet.

Some of his older friends – many of whom were part of a group of performers called the Piecemakers that met regularly for decades – gathered to witness the flight and celebrate Davis’ role in their lives.

Friends of Piecemakers have spoken of Davis’ gift for mentoring and inspiring others in the arts community, saying she has a knack for encouraging people of all ages to embrace their artistic side and “just do it.” .

Although the Piecemakers were initially organized around a common love for quilting, the artists in the group have experimented with a wide range of media over the years. The artists began meeting over 30 years ago, and eight of the original 12 members are still around. Davis has been one of the leaders of the group, often hosting the meetings at her home over the years.

When 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 in attendance marveled at Davis’ choice to fly in a glider, which has no engine and relies on another aircraft to accelerate and lift it into the sky.

Helen Davis, left, and pilot Dan Swenson prepare to take off for a glider flight at Mile High Gliding at Boulder Municipal Airport on Thursday. Davis said gliding has been on her to-do list for some time. (Matthew Jonas/staff photographer)

“She’s fiery – she has to be to get up there at 99,” said Jack Williamson, a friend of Davis.

Another friend, Patty Hawkins, described Davis as a “fireball” and a “cracker jack”, saying she had been that way since they had known each other.

As the friends gathered for a group photo before Davis took off, his excitement was palpable. Williamson turned to Davis and asked, “What’s the word of the day?”

“My general watchword is always joy,” Davis said.

Prior to his retirement, Davis enjoyed a long and influential artistic career. During World War II, she earned her undergraduate degree at Northwest Missouri State University with a minor in Industrial Arts. After the war, she spent 25 years as a consultant to military hospitals, where she worked to establish arts and crafts programs for service members and their families.

Davis first moved to Boulder in 1948 after her husband’s job brought them here. She has lived here ever since, earning her doctorate in education in 1961, and has enjoyed a long career as a multimedia artist – particularly in painting, sculpture, ceramics, fiber and photography – as well as as a as an art professor at the University of Denver. In January, the university unveiled its new Davis Gallery, an exhibition space named in honor of Davis.

Davis now lives in Fraser, a retirement community in Boulder.

A glider with pilot Dan Swenson...
A glider with pilot Dan Swenson and his passenger Helen Davis, 99, of Boulder, is towed airborne from Mile High Gliding at Boulder Municipal Airport Thursday, June 9, 2022. Friends of Davis were on hand to watch his flight. (Matthew Jonas/staff photographer)

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