Retired teacher now paints murals

Says her special needs children taught her to see beauty in all

If art is in the eye of the beholder then Kerry Allen sees only beauty.

Allen certainly saw it when she worked with children with physical and learning disabilities as a teacher in the St. Charles Parish School system.

“I had the luxury of working with small groups of kids, maybe around nine, and … you get to know them better,” she said. “They all think they are artists and I think that’s wonderful.”

Having worked in art most of her life, Allen wanted to share her journal in art with her students.

“I think it did help,” she said. “I would really encourage them and tell them about my journal. I would tell them they didn’t have to please anybody but themselves, which helped me build a relationship with my kids. Yes, I do think it helped them feel a little more confident.”

Being taught to express themselves artistically satisfies the soul, Allen said.

“There’s no harm in creating any art you want to do,” she added. “It’s possible.”

The Bayou Gauche resident’s own artistic journey took a new direction when she retired after 25 years as an educator. In her tenure, she worked at Albert Cammon Middle, R J. Vial Elementary, J.B. Martin Middle,  Hahnville High and Lakewood Elementary schools.

Although she mixed in a few art classes with her education studies, Allen is mostly a self-taught artist. Somewhere in this time, she fell in love with oil painting.

“I did it as hobby for years, and when I got a little older in my early 30s I started taking it more seriously,” she said.

And then came the opportunity to do something that would follow her art career to this day – murals.

A librarian at Mimosa Elementary School suggested painting a mural in the library, mostly around the top about 4 feet tall. Mostly on weekends, she’d go there and paint fairy tale scenes.

“It just kind of ballooned from there,” she said.

Over the past 15 years, she had done about 20 murals in the St. Charles Parish School system. Her current mural project is the biggest she’s worked on yet, involving a 1,400 square-foot wall space at her church, Vineyard Church New Orleans in Kenner. It has seven sections of wall and each section is a different continent with animals and a scene from it.

While the murals are fun, Allen said her passion is oil on canvas.

“Every project I take I learn something from it,” she said. “Everything is a learning experience. If you don’t’ learn from your art, your work gets stagnant.”

When she later took courses at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art for about three years, Allen learned the classical, traditional approach that redirected her more toward portraits.

“Every face to me now is a potential portrait, and it’s fascinating to look at them and observe,” Allen said. “Everyone’s face is another work of art waiting.

Her work is realistic, not abstract.

“Artists see things a little different than other people,” she said. “We tend to see things in terms of values and texture and form, and I’m more aware of that now. I’ve got more time to devote to my art.”

Allen credits God for her abilities. The clouds to her are a constantly changing work of art in the sky.

“It’s life,” she said. “Even in the mundane, you can find a spark of inspiration.”


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