Wednesday, March 24, 2021

I'm Featured in a New Article / Honoring Louise Nevelson's Hairdo


Last fall, I was interviewed by Abby Weidmer who writes Alumni features for BYU's Department of Visual Arts website. 

I'll be honest, it was a hard go. Not because Abby wasn't gracious or knowledgeable. She was definitely those things. But good writers are good observers, and that is what got me: she asked me things. LOTS of things. Specifically she asked about the not so tiny swath of 15 years I've spent surviving the aftermath of my husband's stroke in 2006 when he was 33.

Let me be clear:  I still have my husband by my side, so I consider myself lucky. What is strange is being reminded that for most outsiders our situation is NOT normal (and forget about being lucky). Would I prefer to have my husband healthy and free from pain? Yes! But I wouldn't take back the strength, love and insight we've gained in the process of making our own "normal." We've honed in on what matters most to us: family, honesty, faith in our Savior's healing, living within our means, staying engaged with life, never giving up.

Sam is progressing faster than he has been in years. Nerves that were not communicating with parts of his body for 14 years are now coming back. Before now no amount of elbow-digging could force a response from certain muscle groups in his back. But hello, here they are, awake and full of feeling again! The challenge is coping with the pain he CAN now feel.

Abby wasn't satisfied with a short description of how Sam's health influenced my art-making over the past years. She wanted real answers, deeper answers. So here you have it, Abby Weidmer's distilled version of what happened to me and my family these past years:

BYU Alumni Feature: Jen Harmon Allen

Abby's article includes an image of a work-in-progress which I call "Louise" after the great artist Louise Nevelson who frequently and boldly wore a statement handkerchief in her old age (don't you think her dramatic eye makeup begs to inspire a future piece?). Following are images of my sculpture's progress. "Louise" is over-sized at about 20 inches tall.

Louise Nevelson Jewelry Transforms Found Objects into Wearable Sculptures |  Galerie 




"Louise" 20 inches tall, unfired terra cotta with terra sigillata surface


"Louise" 20 inches tall, unfired terra cotta with terra sigillata surface

"Louise" going into the kiln, before the last kiln ring has been added.


"Louise" post firing. Note the appearance of a crack and some flaking of the terra sigillata. This was my first firing of a terra cotta piece this large. I've since figured out how to avoid these problems.

"Louise" post firing. Note the appearance of a crack and some flaking of the terra sigillata. This was my first firing of a terra cotta piece this large. I've since figured out how to avoid these problems.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Work in Progress: Terra Cotta

 September 2020

I'm hand-building with terracotta clay and really enjoying it! I'm doing a lot of glaze tests (and that involves frustration to be honest) and opening myself up to the complications that come with it. I have decided to embrace the chemistry of glaze formulation rather than wish it away, because I'm not comfortable with using commercial glazes alone.And I feel somewhat at ease with the many recipes and guidelines I picked up from a Glaze Calc class I took at BYU years ago. I am having a few successes mixed in with the disappointments.

I'll update soon with the process of glaze development, because it is indeed fascinating! I have a workspace stocked with Boric Acid, Nepheline Syenite, Silica, Ball Clay, Mason Stains, Oxide colorants, Cryolite, Rutile, Magnesium and Lithium Carbonates...and the list goes on! Glaze development is Chemistry y'all mixed in with MAGIC! Check out some of the works in progress:








Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Dresses 2017

I've completed two new dresses in the last couple months, no surprise, but what IS new is this bright amethyst glaze I made for dress number 46! It's pretty stunning and perfect for Spring.

And then here is Dress 47, completed today:

ALSO, I made a couple new metallic dresses the end of 2016. This glaze is pretty awesome and is the result of firing a copper-based formula in a reduction atmosphere in my electric kiln. Pretty groovy. Here is Dress 44:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wingless Victory

One of the first sculptures I made at Wellesley was a figure I titled "Wingless Victory," a dramatic piece only 10 inches in height . The original was modeled directly in wax and cast in bronze in the basement foundry of Pendleton. Lucky for me the pour was successful and I didn't end up with a formless blob for my efforts.

I didn't know how to make rubber molds then, but I do now. Here is my latest bronze cast made from the mold of the original. I learned how to do a silver patina and I love it!

At bottom is the original in a dark brown patina.

And finally here I am working on the patina in my garage studio:

Dress 38 - newly fired with a nice metallic reduction glaze

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spring Green: Healing Trees

I have completed a new piece this spring; a portrait bust of my husband:

Branching In, Mixed Media on Plaster, 2013

This portrait of Sam has been in the works for well over a year now. It is an allegorical representation of Sam's brain. Since Sam's stroke seven years ago we have come to know that some of the branches of his brain have died or become damaged. This sounds horrifying but we've come to live with it, and by "live" I really mean that. No more weeping and wailing, though I won't lie: we have shed many tears over this. We even joke about it sometimes.

While creating this portrait bust I thought a lot about broken things. This isn't new for me as many of the sculptures I've made over the years have been an expression of my own feelings of precious care for imperfect objects. I've never felt that something broken is beyond repair (see my postings under the Legs label).  For Sam's piece I clung to the image of a maple tree and its reputation for irrepressible generation in my homeland of New England.

Edward Simmons (1852-1931)
A July Afternoon, Lyme, 1906
Oil on board

Over 100 years ago along Connecticut's coastline the forests were cleared significantly for farming. You were generally able to look out to sea from small rises in the land not far from the coast. If you look at the paintings of Childe Hassam and his buddies like Edward Simmons of the Lyme Art Colony who painted in Old Lyme, you will see wide vistas of fields often overlooking the sea. This blew me away when I first saw these paintings at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. I grew up in a different place than what Hassam saw.

Back Yard, Hickory Lane, acrylic on paper, 1994
Front Yard, Hickory Lane, acrylic on paper, 1994

My Connecticut was and still is a verdant "jungle" of maples and brambly thickets. You had to work hard to make trees NOT overtake your lawn or squeeze out the sunlight from a painstakingly cleared garden plot. Our lawn mower sheered the prolific spread of maple saplings not just grass. And you could be near the coastline and not know it was there for the thick cover of trees. The current forests of Connecticut are thicker than when European settlers came and all for the determined and unchecked behavior of maples and other species that have reclaimed yesterday's farmland for their own.

I love the story of trees and the symbol they are to me of survival. While this sculpture is about my longing to heal Sam it is more about the brain's miraculous ability to do its own work. Like a tree it tries to repair itself on its own and in its own time frame. Let the forest's quiet branching resume.

This new piece is on view at the Rio Gallery's "Tin" exhibit curated by Jared Clark, opening tomorrow May 17:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Metaphorical Jump

"Lava Jumping" is finished. This installation is in my own home. I started the process of getting it installed months ago. After painting each pair of legs and poking many many holes in the wall I am finally done. The prospect of living with this installation made me extremely picky about the work's placement and colorings.

I didn't want the legs to chance snagging backpacks and hair alike. I also needed to have them high enough that toddler hands could not grab them. I only wish I had a way to protect our Christmas tree in a similar way. This spot at the end of my hallway/stairwell turned out to have the most clearance and visual impact. It can be seen from the front door.

I believe the colors I chose reflect my family and my children. My boys are active, warm, laughing, and passionately interested in many things. Fire for example. And I'm including my big "boy" Sam here. My eight year old inherited this fascination from him to the extent that on his first day of Kindergarten a couple years back he wrote that his "first day jitters" were about the earth crashing into the sun. Cute, huh?

And so I dedicate this installation to my sons who frequently jump lava and other fantastical flames in their daily adventures. (My jumping is limited to clearing backpacks and wheeled objects).