Artist, retired teacher, and California State University, Dominguez Hills alumna Jeanne Anderson Allen (Class of ’82, M.A., humanities) has always found a way to keep following her passions.
One of those ways, which led her to CSU Dominguez Hills, was putting a slew of extra units to use — in the form of a master’s degree.
“As a teacher, you’re always going to class to get something that’s required here or there. So, I added up all these units I had and I thought I should utilize this and make it into something that’s worthwhile for me,” recalled Allen. “I thought the humanities program at Dominguez would be ideal because I like literature, art, music, religion and history. The humanities major covered a lot of territory.”
A special education teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District middle school at the time, Allen had to interrupt one master’s pursuit that followed her interests for one that was needed for her profession. But after completing her master’s at California Lutheran University — one in special education, to qualify for a credential needed to continue teaching in that field — she resumed her studies at CSU Dominguez Hills.
“CSU Dominguez Hills was the right place at the right time with a program that fit into my schedule. If you’re a teacher, you can’t really quit or go somewhere else every day. That’s why I picked that program,” said Allen of the university’s distant learning program. “Each one of the instructors wrote a syllabus for their class and they would send it to me. Then I could confer with them or meet with them individually. It really worked out, but it was hard work. If you don’t go to regular classes weekly, you work harder and learn more on your own.”
She has never tired of learning more; Allen ultimately went on to earn six teaching credentials in addition to the two master’s degrees and her bachelor’s degree. Sharing what she’s learned, Allen taught a range of subjects during her career, from art to English to special education, as well as a range of pupils from kindergarteners to adults.
Threaded throughout has been her love of the arts, which began as a fifth-grade violin player falling in love with nature drawing and painting and has never waned. Often her many artistic interests have led Allen to travel in pursuit of inspiration.
One of her earliest travels was in the summer of 1955, when she attended Universidad de las Américas, Cuidad de México to study watercolor, silkscreen, ceramics, and collage techniques.
“The program included culture, music, watercolor, silkscreen, painting and archeology. Field trips included viewing the murals of Diego Rivera and climbing the Teotihuacan pyramids. We danced the mambo and the cha-cha-cha!,” Allen said, as her body language opened up.
While earning her first California teaching credential at Santa Monica College, she took an audio/visual class during which the instructor one day played “La Mer” by Debussy to a slideshow of waterscape pictures. Allen—also an accomplished photographer—said the images resonated with her because much of her photography and artwork had been inspired by nature.
So Allen traveled to the California Sierra Nevada Mountains to see the “water wheels” that her instructor introduced to her. Inspired by what she saw in the backcountry, she returned several times with her husband and their two young sons, capturing waterscapes in her abstract paintings. Even as a diagnosis of breast cancer and a radical mastectomy ravaged her body in her early 40s, making backpacking more difficult, she refused to let the discomfort stop her and she continued to make multi-day treks into the Sierras with her family over the years, including summiting the 14,395 ft. peak of Mt. Whitney.
“At the top, I remembered quotes from philosopher Abraham Maslow—a humanities expert—about peak experiences. No pun intended,” she said.
She put aside her painting in 2002 in order to care for her husband, who had macular degeneration and kidney failure. When he passed away a few years later, Allen reconsidered.
“…I thought, I’m wasting so much time; I’m going to do something better. And that’s when I thought, I’m going to start to paint again,” she said.
She painted more than 50 paintings in a five-month period.
“But this time I thought, I’m going to try abstract on canvas with acrylic. I really didn’t do acrylic before. I did oil and watercolor. So, I’m just experimenting with all this. I probably won’t be famous or anything,” she said, with a chuckle. “I like color and I like to paint big.”
Her latest work was recently featured in a one-person showing at the Los Angeles Public Library Gallery in Pacific Palisades. Throughout the years her paintings and photographs have been featured in shows—including solo-artist shows—at several associations where she has been a member, such as the Pacific Palisades Art Association, Malibu Art Association, Ebell Club, Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore, as well as the Rustic Canyon Art Gallery.
Earlier, her painting styles included portraits and plein air impressionistic landscapes to abstracts using Fauvist colors. She said, “I learned to paint real people and then abstract, not the other way around.” Her latest work focuses on color and form rather than subjects. She considers herself to paint in the style of Color Field—an art movement named apropos and with roots in the east coast during the 1950s.
While teaching art at the Thomas Gilcrease Museum and Celia Clinton School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and serving as the city’s Philbrook Art Center curator early in her career, she “absorbed” everything from the Italian Renaissance to modern art; however Allen said, “Recently, Richard Diebenkorn’s and Helen Frankenthaler’s Color Field abstracts are influencing my style.”
About her renewed passion for painting, the award-winning artist said, “I’m glad I started doing it again. There was a story in the [Los Angeles] Times, about a week ago, about this woman who is 80 and she’s painting, and I’m 82!”
Allen resides in Pacific Palisades where she has since 1963.