ELA Teapot, 4"wide x 3.75" height, (photo by Jeff Campana)
ELMER LUCILLE ALLEN: CERAMICIST & SHIBORI ARTIST
Davis: Describe your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity? What were your influences? And how do you think growing up in Louisville influenced you as an artist?
Allen: I grew up both in the west end and the east end of Louisville. My grandmother lived in the east end and I spent a lot of time with her. She used to make dresses for me from flour sacks. I took my first class in sewing in the 7th grade at Madison Street Junior High School. I made a muslin slip with a scalloped edge by hand stitching. The first artist that I can identify with was Ms. Hattie Figg who taught painting at junior high. Crafts were taught in junior high school – shoe repair, printing, cooking, sewing, carpentry. I went to Plymouth Settlement House (west end) and Presbyterian Community Center (east end) where I was taught various crafts.
Davis: What are some of your memories growing up with engaging art?
Allen: My first memories of art making was as a girl scout brownie. I sold the most girl scout cookies and my painting appeared in the Courier-Journal newspaper.
Davis: What led you to your choice of medium(s)?
Allen: I have been sewing since junior high so fiber was a natural for me. I made all my daughter’s clothes through college. I was re-introduced to surface design when I was working toward my masters degree in ceramics. I made stencil wall hangings for my thesis exhibition.
Davis: And what/who were your influences in those mediums?
Allen: I don’t think that I had a particular artist that influenced my stenciling. It was a technique that I learned in surface design and I took it to the next level and created a body of work. I was introduced to shibori dyeing by Amy Jacobs, a fellow surface design student.
Davis: And how do they relate one to another, if so?
Allen: The designs on my stencil works were made of patterns that repeated themselves. I made my designs. Shibori techniques are unique. I create my designs one stitch at a time after I have drawn the design on paper.
Davis: What other mediums have you attempted?
Allen: I have done woodwork, jewelry making, stained glass, ceramics et al. I have been doing ceramics since 1977. I received a Masters of Art in Creative Arts with a focus in ceramics and fiber in 2002.
Davis: Describe your daily art making practices.
Allen: I make art in some form almost every day. If I am not making art, I am making decisions about art for Wayside Expressions Gallery or for a committee for which I volunteer. I have served on many arts board throughout the city since the 1980s. I also look at art journals, visit art galleries on a routine basis, talk to other artists, go to openings so that I can interact with the artists, browse the Internet for artists that are working in the same manner as myself. I keep a daily journal when I sit down to make art. I sketch my designs on graph paper then translate them to clay or to fabric. Additionally, I subscribe to journals and purchase books that relate to my art.
Davis: Artistically speaking, what challenges do you face and how to you (plan to) overcome them?
Allen: My challenge everyday is to do something that is pleasing to me.
Davis: Do you work in series? Why or why not?
Allen: I always work in series because I want to perfect my ideas as I make the journey. I prefer to work in series because I want to create a cohesive body of work so that I can exhibit when the opportunity occurs. I stitch my shibori designs at home or in the studio. All dyeing is done at Mellwood (at the artist's studio). I do not work on both medias at the same time but I do work on both of them several days a week. I take a ceramics workshop on Mondays and Wednesdays and a fiber workshop of Tuesday. I think that it is important to work in an artistic environment. This is why I have a studio at Mellwood.
Davis: Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.
Allen: My first milestone was in 1997. I was asked when I was ready to retire what did I want. I said that I wanted to have an exhibit of my ceramics. This happened with the help of my immediate supervisor. This exhibit was held at Portland Museum. Virginia Marsh, a mentor and U of L ceramics professor, curated this exhibit. My thesis exhibition in 2002 was the first time that I had exhibited both fiber and ceramics. When I rented my first studio in 2005 at Mellwood, I knew that I was truly an artist. I think that all invitations to exhibit are little milestones along the way. This year, I have been in four exhibits – two juried, one group invitational and one two-person exhibit.
Davis: Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created. What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?
Allen: All artwork that I make is for sale. I do not think of my art as precious because I can always make another. The next work is always better than the previous one. My goal was always to share my art with a wide audience and to educate my community. I think that a one-day or a two-day show is a waste of my time. You may not know it, but I was an arts administrator before I became an artist. I like to sell work but I do not make work to sell. I do not do commissions.
If I were younger, I would have long range goals and a business plan.
I believe that all artists should be required to take a class in the Business of Art that includes taxes, book keeping, etc.
Since I am retired I do not have to sell art to make a living.
Davis: I know that you’ve been curating the gallery associated with Wayside Christian Mission WCM). How did that come about and what have you aimed to accomplish with the gallery?
Allen: Five years ago, I was asked to serve on a committee at WCM to establish a gallery. The person who planted this seed was a person working towards a Masters in Social Work at the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work. She got the first exhibitor who was Gayle Williamson for the April 2005 opening. Then she graduated. I took on the task of finding artists, getting the gallery walls painted, hanging the exhibit, sending out press releases, making yearly calendar, making sure that there was a reception, etc. Then in 2010 when the gallery relocated, I closed the gallery at Shelby and Market Streets at the end of February 2010 and opened the gallery at Hotel Louisville in March of 2010. There was not a gap. I ordered the new hanging system that did not require placing nails in the wall. I have been able to show works by artists who were not recognized in the community. The gallery calendar is full through the end of next year. I am a volunteer who spends hours every month making sure that the gallery is ready for First Friday and the Third Sunday of each month.
Davis: What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011?
Allen: My goal is to continue to create ceramics and shibori works of art. I have been invited to exhibit in late 2011 in a group show at Patio Gallery, Jewish Community Center. I prefer to have solo exhibitions where I exhibit both ceramics and fiber. I am satisfied if I exhibit at least once every other year. It takes me two years or more to create a body of new work for a solo exhibit. You must have an idea of where you are going to exhibit so that the work will fit the space. Most gallery walls are eight feet tall but some are taller and some are shorter; some walls are white and some different shades of color. I make work that is 45 to 60 inches but prefer to make works that are 72 inches or longer.
Works by the artist are currently on exhibit at E & S Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky. Details in the flyer below.
Download 2010 E&S Allen White Exhibit Press Release
Article in today's Courier-Journal describing the first time Allen saw shibori being stitched. The First Time