How artist is leaving impressions on and off campus
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Bruce Allen will need a while to pack up his office — a corner room in the Turner Art Center at Centenary College. He’s collected many memories and memorabilia since the 1980s, and the space has become a personal museum reflecting his extensive career and decorated life in the arts.
“It’s stuff I’ve saved over the years from all sorts of different things,” Allen said. “I’ve been here for so long I kind of dread having to clean everything out of here.”...
Many of the pieces in his office were acquired from student, local and international artists and from his travels from sabbaticals in Paris, China and southeast Asia.
As far as Allen has traveled and as much as he’s accomplished, it all circles back to Centenary College.
Allen attended Centenary as a student from 1971 to 1975. He earned bachelor’s degrees in art and math but realized early on that science wasn’t his career route.
“I took chemistry the first semester and I did okay, but I didn’t do as well as I was supposed to. Art was a thing I really enjoyed so I just kept doing it,” Allen said.
He found fulfillment in the art classes where he learned art history and skills in mediums such as painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture.
In 1976, a year after graduating, he returned to campus to work as an intern at the Meadows Museum of Art in its first year.
Two years later, he set off for graduate studies at the University of Wyoming. Then, after a year off to travel to Germany on a Rotary fellowship, he completed the program and earned a master of fine arts degree in printmaking and sculpture in 1981.
He stayed to work at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. That led to more than three decades of summer contractual work.
Then, in the summer of 1983, he returned to his roots at Centenary College — as an art instructor.
“I always thought when I was here as a student, ‘Man, this is the job I’d like to have,’” Allen said. “I thought this was the perfect place, and I loved the way the faculty and students could (work) together and the ability to make your own place here.”
He started by teaching a ceramics class. He worked under respected artist and art professor Willard Cooper, at the school for more than 30 years before his death.
Allen advanced under Cooper’s guidance to teach sculpture and pottery classes and team-teach courses in painting, printmaking and other mediums. Later, Allen became the first curator at the Meadows Museum, as well as director of the Magale Library Gallery in 1983 and coordinator of the Turner Art Gallery in 1987.
Allen’s career has flourished on and off-campus in private works and public art commissions.
He assisted with the interior design of the 25,000-square-foot Sweet! candy shop in Hollywood, in the mall next to the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards ceremony is staged.
In Louisiana, he created an original sculpture for the Bienville Parish courthouse in Arcadia. The large wall piece is made of alloy pipes and aluminum. The design was inspired by indigenous trees and leaves.
In Shreveport, he created the larger-than-life sculptures of storybooks and characters, as well as the artistic tree and decor, in the Norton Square event space at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery.
Allen’s credited for many public art displays — often with partner Jim Hayes — on projects including “The Flame” on the Kallenberg Artist Tower and other pieces in and around Central Artstation. The pair also designed the interior at the Shreveport Aquarium, including the front lobby, Shipwreck Room, Submarine Room, Fishing Village and the bar and signage in the dining room.
Allen designed the bar, bike rack and menu board at Red River Brewing Company and assisted in various features at the Robinson Film Center, such as the bar stools in Abby Singer’s Bistro.
A cartoon-style cutout of John Lennon’s head sits on a display case in his office — a piece Allen created during his many years as a designer for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s Christmas in the Sky gala. He’s a 30-year member of SRAC’s board and a board member for the Robinson Film Center.
“The reason I wanted to come back to Shreveport is because I felt like it was the size of a city where you could actually make a difference,” Allen said.
This semester, Allen taught his last formal class at Centenary.
In the materials and techniques of painting course, Allen guided students in the antiquated methods of egg tempera and encaustic painting, for which students create their paint. The techniques are rarely taught in the classroom anymore, he said, but are useful for giving art students a strong foundation.
“They have to make their own stuff so that process gives them an appreciation for the whole process of painting — because really, being an artist is dealing with process all the time,” he said.
Egg tempera painting uses dry color pigments with egg yolk as a binder. It became popular in portraits in the Middle Ages but was overshadowed by the rise of oil painting during the Renaissance before a slight resurgence in the 20th century. Andrew Wyeth, known as a 20th-century watercolorist, is noted for his work in egg tempera.
Encaustic painting uses hot liquid wax as a binder. It’s an ancient Greek technique often used in Egyptian portraits from the 1st and 3rd centuries A.D. Its rebirth spiked with 20th-century artists, including Jasper Johns.
The complex techniques deter many art educators from teaching them. Knowing its historical background and learning to apply them instills a respect in the student for the process, Allen said.
“It’s a really great idea to give students the real background in lots of different things, so they can have that experience and know whether or not they want to do it,” he said. “You wouldn’t know if you wanted to do it unless you do it.”
A successor hasn’t been named as of yet, Allen said. He will step back to allow the incoming professor to make his or her own path at the school, as he has since the 1970s.
“My predecessor, Willard Cooper, when he left he specifically wanted not to come back and deal with stuff because he wanted to leave it to us who were here,” Allen said. “I feel like the same way. I want to leave it to the people who are here and let them take it and go with it.”
But he won’t be too far gone.
He will present an art show at Meadows Museum in the spring, opening April 1 through May. It will be a retrospective with works of all types, drawings, wall pieces, sculptures and installations, he said. And he will recreate his office in a portion of the gallery to give guests an inside view of his personal collection and life.
And he will continue working on private and public commissions inside his art studio a couple of miles from the campus.
“I don’t want to hang on and wish I was still here. I’d rather things change — and they are,” Allen said. “The person who comes in will do a bit of a different job than I did and that’s great. I feel like they can continue on in their own way.”
Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com