Tina Allen life and biography

Tina Allen picture, image, poster

Tina Allen biography

Date of birth : 1949-12-09
Date of death : 2008-09-08
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-07-28
Credited as : Artist and sculptor, created monumental bronze statues ,

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Tina Allen,/b>, born December 9, 1949 in New York City, New York, United States - died September 8, 2008 in Los Angeles, California, United States was an African-American artist and sculptor.

Sculptor Tina Allen created monumental bronze statues of distinguished Africans and African Americans. She won commissions to sculpt the likenesses of such figures as Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Sojourner Truth, and her works were placed in settings throughout the United States and abroad. Allen's works celebrate African concepts of the beautiful in both physical appearance and strength of character. "Essentially, I'm a conduit to express the unseen and to bring back and reposition the emphasis on the good and the great," Allen said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) in 1999.

Born in New York City in 1949, Allen was the daughter of Rosecleer and Gordon "Specs" Powell. Her father was a studio percussionist for CBS Records and the first African-American musician to play in the bands that provided live music for the popular Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason television shows. Allen grew up in a household where well-known musicians often visited and where creative expression was greatly encouraged.

Allen's parents divorced when she was a child, and she then moved with her mother to Grenada. She spent the next four years there, and was deeply influenced by the radical peasant society she found on the island. Grenadine native arts--calypso music, the figurative arts, and its indigenous religion--all left a tremendous impression on Allen.

Discovered Talent for Sculpting

Allen enjoyed painting as a child, but her budding artistic talent took a new direction when she met the Lithuanian-born sculptor William Zorach who was visiting Grenada on vacation from his home in New York City. The ten-year-old Allen impressed Zorach, and he had an opportunity to meet her family. A few years later, after Allen and her family returned to New York City, Zorach became her mentor and allowed her to visit his Brooklyn studio. At the time, she was also enrolled in a museum-sponsored art program for artistically gifted youths.

Allen created her first three-dimensional work when she was given an assignment in a high school art class to make an ashtray from clay. She was reading Aristotle for another class and, when she arrived home, decided to make a bust of the Greek philosopher instead. Allen recalled in the interview with CBB that when she presented the bust to her class, the teacher's first reaction was, "Where did you get this?" She soon began winning competitions and awards, and as Allen told CBB, though she had originally intended to paint, "sculpture was more natural for me than painting. I loved to paint, but I had more of a feeling for three dimensions, and I could move very quickly ... even after all these years of study, I'm only about ten or fifteen percent better that the first time I started. Because when I started to sculpt, I could do hands, I could do feet, I could do eyes, I could just do it."

Allen studied art at the University of South Alabama, and lived in Mobile for a time. She was a VISTA volunteer and, for nearly a decade, hosted a local television show on the arts. She eventually moved back to New York City, where she attended the Pratt Institute and the New York School of Visual Arts.

Commemorated African-American Achievements

Allen struggled to win small commissions that would keep her afloat financially and eventually realized that she needed to set her sights higher. In 1986 she entered a competition in Boston for a commission to create a memorial statue of the African-American labor activist A. Philip Randolph, who founded a union for train porters in 1925. To her surprise and delight, Allen won the $85,000 commission, and her career began in earnest.

After completing the statue of Randolph, Allen created works depicting other African-American leaders. In a profile of Allen on the University of Texas at Austin Web site, she described her body of work as "writing our history in bronze." Her work also attracted the attention of the South African leader Nelson Mandela, whom she met when he visited Los Angeles in the summer of 1990. At the meeting Allen presented Mandela with one of her works, Icon I: Tribute to the African-American Man.

Eventually, the South African government selected Allen to erect a statue on the island where Mandela was once imprisoned. The work, which is modeled on the Statue of Liberty, is five stories in height. Allen also created a thirteen-foot statue of the late author Alex Haley for a public square in Knoxville, Tennessee. The statue depicts Haley looking in the direction of his beloved Great Smoky Mountains and holding a copy of his groundbreaking novel, Roots. In addition to her statue of Haley, Allen created likenesses of George Washington Carver, Nat "King" Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Tupac Shakur, and Sojourner Truth.

Allen's art extends beyond standard figurative sculpture. She created a four-story pictorial relief wall for the King/Drew Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles. The pictorial wall features events from the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and blood preservation pioneer Dr. Charles Drew. She also made smaller abstract sculptures and bronzes of Hollywood celebrities. She designed sculptures used for the Essence Awards, the Stellar Awards for gospel music, and for the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award, given by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. For each work, she said, "I'm trying to infuse a soul into these objects."

Used Art to Uplift and Unite

Allen undertook conceptual projects as well. For a children's peace park in South Africa, she "commissioned" small works in bronze from children around the world to be placed at the memorial site. "Even though I'm a sculptor, I also don't always feel that I need to express my personal ego as much as I need to use art as a way to heal and communicate," Allen told CBB. The sculptures from Japanese, Mexican, and American children commemorated the many children who died during South Africa's violent struggle for racial equality.

During her travels throughout various parts of Africa, Allen was moved by the differing standards of physical beauty within African culture. She infused her work, which has often been praised for its emphasis on the more "African" facial features of her subjects, with an added dimension. "For an African," Allen told CBB, "the emotional nature of a person is part of their beauty, not just the bones and the skeleton.... I'm trying to lift up the idea that human strength and courage are beautiful, and we have to redefine what beauty is about."

Allen traveled extensively, both for her work and personal enrichment, and spent her free time reading books on religion and mythology. She drew inspiration from the ideas of the Greek philosophers. "We need to go back to Plato and Socrates ... for their pharmacies, to dig up some medicine to help us in a universe where the center of it is love and service," Allen told CBB. She served on the board of directors of the International Center for African-American-Asian Relations, which aimed to improve cross-cultural ties. Allen viewed her work as part of a global mission to create the kind of harmonious community that she experienced as a child in Grenada. "If a human being is no longer tender and loving, they can't raise their children so that they want to live, the game is over. The minute you no longer are able to raise a generation willing to carry the future on their backs, the game is over," Allen told CBB.

On September 8, 2008, Allen died from complications of a heart attack at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her works, among the largest sculptures of black leaders in the world, are displayed in public spaces throughout the United States, honoring African-American contributions and leadership. Allen had done what she set out to do. As she told Deborah Gregory in Essence: "This is my way of saying thank you to our ancestors, and ensuring that our greats will always be remembered."


Born December 9, 1949, in New York City, NY; died September 8, 2008, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Gordon "Specs" (a percussionist) and Rosecleer Powell; married Roger Allen (divorced); children: Koryan, Josephine, Tara. Education: University of South Alabama, BFA, 1978; also studied at the New York School of Visual Arts, the Pratt Institute, and the University of Venice. Memberships: Art 200; International Center for African-American-Asian Relations, board member; Los Angeles Support Committee for the African National Congress, board member.

Fannie Lou Hamer Award; Urban League Award, 1988.

Sculptor. Taught art in Alabama, early 1980s; hosted a local television show in Mobile.

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