Robert Henry Helmer (1922-1990) was a native of Michigan, studied at Western Michigan University, and continued his studies at Escuela La Bellas Artes in San Miguel, Mexico. He moved to New Orleans in 1949 and studied at Tulane University and the John McCrady School of Art, where he met his future wife, artist Shearly Grode (Helmer).
From 1952 until his retirement in 1987, he taught architectural design and drawing at the Tulane University School of Architecture. He was a leader of the contemporary art movement in New Orleans in the 1950s and 60s and was one of the founders of the Orleans Gallery, co-founder of the Circle Dunbar gallery, and owner of the Oak Street gallery, all in New Orleans. His first solo show was in 1950. Artist friends of his were George Dunbar, Ricky Alvarez, Lynn Emery, Jean Seidenberg, and the photographer, Jack Robinson.