Helen A. Harrison, the highly respected and well-known Director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, has published her newest book, An Accidental Corpse, which explores the 1956 car crash that claimed the lives of world-renowned artist Jackson Pollock, and one of his passengers, Edith Metzger.
Harrison, a Sag Harbor resident, is an art historian and author of several books exploring the history of art, and in particular artists of the Hamptons. She is also a self-professed lover of mysteries, and her newest book, at more than 300 pages, is a work of historical fiction written in the mystery genre.
Drawing on her own personal familiarity with the lives and works of Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, as well as other artists of their historic “scene,” such as Alfonso Ossorio and Willem de Kooning, Harrison has also acknowledged the assistance she received from both the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum and the East Hampton Library, among others, while conducting her detailed research.
Hamptons.com caught up with Harrison for a few questions:
Why this topic now?
HH: It’s a follow-up to an earlier mystery of mine, An Exquisite Corpse, that Dunemere Books will be publishing as a prequel. That book is set in the 1940’s, and I wanted to continue the story of two of my invented characters, Nita and Fitz, a married couple who are New York City police officers. I thought it would be fun to bring them, and their son, to the Hamptons on vacation and see what kind of trouble I could get them into.
How difficult was it to obtain detailed and accurate information referenced in the book?
HH: The story of Pollock’s death in an automobile accident has been well covered by his biographers. My museum, the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, has the oral history collection of one of them, Jeffrey Potter, who interviewed over a hundred of Pollock’s contemporaries, so there’s plenty of first-person testimony.
The memoir of Ruth Kligman, Pollock’s lover, who survived the car crash, was also a vital source, as were the digital copies of the East Hampton Star, available online. The East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection was invaluable for things like period maps, railroad timetables, even the funeral home records that detail the disposition of the bodies.
What do you hope readers learn that they may not have already known about Pollock’s death?
HH: People have long debated whether his death was an accident or suicide, and my book comes down heavily on the accident scenario, but that’s because it fits the plot, not because it exposes new information or settles the argument.
Given all you knew before penning this book, any shocking discoveries?
HH: I really enjoyed delving into East Hampton’s history, and I hope I was able to set the scene in a convincing way. Perhaps the most shocking thing I found out is that East Hampton had only one policeman when the force was established. One cop to keep the whole town in line! Amazing.
Where can readers purchase the book?
HH: The book will be available at Authors Night on Saturday, August 11 – by a weird coincidence, the date on which it’s set! The event is the East Hampton Library’s annual benefit. You can get the details at www.authorsnight.org.
An Accidental Corps is published by Dunemere Books and is available at Amazon.com at $15.99 paperback and $9.99 Kindle.
Up next for this intriguing author, a murder at the Art Students League in 1960’s New York.
If you’d like to catch Harrison discussing her book in person, she will be speaking at Canio’s Book (Sag Harbor) on August 18, and at the Southampton Arts Center on August 23.