Born into a wealthy Southern family, painter Helen Maria Turner's life would not take the path it had initially started out on. The American Civil War ruined her family's fortune, and she was soon orphaned and living with a kindly uncle. His death in 1890 forced Turner to examine her options for self-sufficiency and after a few false starts she wound up in New York City, enrolled in the Art Students League under Douglas Volk and Kenyan Cox.
She studied there for four years and then enrolled at Cooper Union, where she refined her technique in portraiture, still under Volk. In order to support her artistic desires, Turner enrolled in the Fine Arts Department at Teachers College and earned a place as an instructor. She would complete her studies at the age of forty-four, but continue with advanced courses and some European studies with William Merritt Chase.
By 1902 she had a teaching position in the Art School of the New York Y.W.C.A. and four years later was introduced to the Cragsmoor Artist Colony in upstate New York. Her affinity for the location would last until her eighty-third year, when she could no longer tackle the annual summer journey from her home in New Orleans to her cottage there. Her works of Cragsmoor are considered some of her finest.
She was most known for her portrait work and her pictures of women in lush summer gardens, as well as her participation in the landmark travelling exhibition "Six American Women". Turner belonged to numerous clubs and associations, and showed in almost every juried museum show in the country for many years. Her works are in many major museums.
Helen Maria Turner died only a few months before her one hundredth birthday.