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Teacher, Sculptor, Sketcher, Builder

Bruce Allen is NWLA arts’ man for all seasons

Teacher, Sculptor, Sketcher, Builder

Photo by Julanne Kowalski

Bruce Allen, Diamonds for Jim, 2021. Aluminum and LED panels.

Bruce Allen is more common man than English statesman, but like Sir Thomas More he is a man ready to cope with any contingency and create art appropriate for every occasion. Allen has set the top of the Kallenberg Artist Tower ablaze with twenty-foot-high artistic blue flames, brought vision into full focus in a four-hundred-pound eyeball named Iris, combined more than 730 recycled glass disks and aluminum pieces together to sculpt Port Project (for Dot) at the Port of Shreveport–Bossier, and brought the fires of hell a little too close with his version of Dante’s “Inferno” for Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s Christmas in the Sky. It’s Allen’s latest project for Shreveport Common’s Caddo Common Park, however, that might be the jewel in his artistic crown. Entitled Diamonds for Jim in memory of his art partner Jim Hayes, Allen’s newest public art project stands big and tall as the focal point for Shreveport’s only urban park—three electric blue aluminum ArtisTrees (two twenty feet tall, and one twenty-five feet tall), each topped with yellow and amber LED-lit panel “leaves” spanning twenty feet wide and weighing one thousand pounds.

This latest work of Allen’s in the nine-block revitalization area known as Shreveport Common was a year-long project that involved collaboration, as has much of his art. Allen has served the civic, commercial, and academic community as a panelist, board member, juror, and consultant for public and private art organizations for more than thirty-five years. Allen likes to say that he was at Centenary College in Shreveport for almost fifty years, first as a student earning a BA in art and a BS in mathematics in 1975 and then returning as an art teacher in 1983. In between, Allen attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, Germany; earned an MFA in sculpture and printmaking from the University of Wyoming; and was curator of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. He retired from Centenary as chair of the Department of Art and Visual Culture in 2018.

When asked how he would describe himself as an artist, Allen responded: “As Popeye would say, ‘I am what I am.’ I live a creative life, and make ideas manifest through painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, and sculpture using all different media—wood, bronze, aluminum, steel, and paint.  I’m a person who likes to make stuff.”

Dr. Jeff Hendricks, Allen’s long-time friend, fellow 1971 Centenary College freshman, fraternity brother, travel companion, chair of the Centenary College English Department, and George A. Wilson Eminent Scholars Endowed Chair of American Literature, had a little more to say on the subject of Bruce Allen as an artist and a man.

“Bruce is the guy you want to be stranded on a desert island with, because Bruce would find a way to get you off that deserted island and back home to civilization. Bruce is a problem-solver, a doer. Bruce ‘gets to work’ and makes things, whether beautiful or practical or both. If that island had a stand of bamboo, Bruce would somehow create a bamboo Swiss Army Knife, and with that knife, slice and shape and strip and strap together enough bamboo to make a raft. It would be an aesthetically pleasing raft, too, long, sleek, agile, and supremely functional—more sculptural than architectural.”

The practical and the beautiful are apparent in all of Bruce Allen’s works of art because it’s the way he creates. “Art should convey something anyone can appreciate,” said Allen. “It does not have to be fancy or elite. Art should not be hard to reach, but should make a space interesting.”

Allen uses his math background to help with the scaling of his often-large creations. “With the ArtisTrees, I started with a small, six-to-eight-inch model, built a second model approximately one-third scale, or seven feet, and finally built the twenty-to-twenty-five-foot trees that I installed in the park. I wanted the bases to have the feel of cypress, but with multiple trunks. The electric blue has a shiny, almost reflective quality that was created by… repeated grinding of the metal. I worked with Shreveport’s Martin Specialty Coatings for the ‘candy-coated’ finish on the trees.”

Allen invites you to visit Caddo Common Park and walk in and around his Diamonds for Jim ArtisTrees at 869 Texas Avenue in downtown Shreveport. The park is at the epicenter of the nationally awarded, creative-placemaking revitalization of the surrounding nine-block area, and installation of the trees launched the Phase II completion of the new community greenspace located at the center of Shreveport Common. You might even catch a glimpse through the shimmering leaves of another of Allen’s nearby creations—the blue flames above the Kallenberg Artist Tower.