Thursday, July 24, 2014

African-American Life - 3D Folk Art Story Quilts, Cloth Dolls, Paintings and Collage work by Artist Denise E. Allen

Today I'd like to publish a story largely as it was originally written by its author. It's a great story and I welcome Artist Denise E. Allen to this community!

"My name is Denise E. Allen. The name of my store is Allen's 19th Century General Store and Folk Art Gallery. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. and have six sisters and two brothers. All of my sisters and myself take after our beautiful mother, Bernice Butler, who was a self-taught seamstress, needleworker, doll maker and painter. All of my sisters do some form of needlework art.

Although I do not consider myself a seamstress like my talented sisters, I also make clothing reminiscent of colonial styled dresses women wore back in the early 1900's. My needlework career began as a result of my mother's death more than 32 years ago.

After graduating from Jr. High School I wanted to attend a specialized High School to pursue a career in fashion. Unfortunately when I applied they told me that it was out of my district. It seemed as though my true calling would never come to pass and I felt kind of like a lost soul until the day that I walked into a Woolworth Store in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Fulton Street. I began walking around the store aimlessly until I found myself in the Needlework Department. Suddenly, I found myself looking closely at all of the beautiful needlework yarns, threads, fabrics and paints.

The thing that really got my attention was the embroidery kits. I was enthralled and mesmerized by them. Something in me changed that day just by going in that store finding myself surrounded by beautiful needlework art. I decided to buy a small embroidery kit. Once I threaded that embroidery needle and pulled the thread through the linen fabric I finally realized that I had found my calling and my destiny - it was needlework art.

What's exciting about my creative work is that I get the opportunity to tell stories that I feel are very important about African American life, culture and history. There are so many people who are not interested in our history but are more open to listening, looking and reading about it via the 3D story quilts, dolls and story boards I make. The other interesting part of the creative work I do is that I get the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting people that add positively to my life. The last but not least exciting thing about my creative work is that I have been able to make a pretty good living selling my art to people who love and appreciate the work that I do.

My inspiration came directly from recurring dreams I had when I was just a little girl. I must have been between the age of 7 or 10. It all begin one night when I began having these recurring dreams night after night about hundreds of faceless African American people who were kind, loving, innocent and happy. Even though they were faceless I was able to see through through their beautiful innocent souls. In these recurring dreams these harmless people lived in a close knit old-fashioned community where everybody worked together in unity and joy.

My favorite tool/medium are a few things. The most important tool in my work is actually my hands. All of my creative energy flows from my vivid imagination and mind into and through my hands. Without the use of my agile hands I wouldn't be able to sew, paint and embroider. The next tool that I use that is extremely important is my 100 plus year old non-electric treadle sewing machine my husband bought me over 20 years ago. It works like a charm. Even though I only use it for straight sewing stitches it has served me well in the story quilts, dolls and clothing I've been making these many years. These are the same sewing machines that my Amish neighbors use to make their quilt tops, aprons, dresses and trousers and shirts for their husbands and sons.

I began by buying embroidery and needlepoint kits and teaching myself how to master the various types of embroidery stitches. I also studied and learned about famous needlework artists and designers - my favorite one being Erica Wilson, a well known and well loved embroidery artist. I also joined the Embroider's Guild of America, one of the most important and influential needlework organizations in the world. I decided I wanted to design and stitch my own embroidery kits but I had one big problem - I couldn't draw, so I taught myself.

Eventually, I was becoming more happy with how my drawings and coloring were coming along and kept working hard. Just when I thought it was time to go full speed ahead, I was introduced to a business woman who had heard about my embroidery work and wanted to take a look at it. She told me that I should consider making black cloth dolls instead of my embroidery work. I thought this woman had lost her mind.

After a few years passed I was still doing my embroidery work but not making the progress I had anticipated and hoped for. One day I said a little prayer and asked the good Lord to help me - guess what I heard Him say - you guessed it. Start making dolls. I couldn't believe my ears but I knew in instinctively that I was to listen to that small voice.

Once I began making Early American cloth dolls, I discovered something amazing; not only did the people enjoy buying the dolls but many of the buyers felt that these dolls seemed so real; they seemed to have a real personality. Case in point, one evening I had just completed two black slave dolls, a husband and wife. The next morning I awoke to see my husband sitting in front of the dolls. He felt my presence and turned around with tears in his eyes. I asked him what was the matter. He told me that the dolls seemed so real; he felt their pain and misery; their courage and strength to keep going no matter how great that pain. I began crying too.

One of the things I haven't been able to do very successfully is draw faces to my liking, nevertheless, most people seem to think that the faces have character and fit each individual doll. It could be that it's just meant to be that way, otherwise the dolls would just look like ordinary folk dolls rather than dolls that seem to have a personality of their own.

I am a member of VAGA - A NYC organization called Visual Artists Copyrights Worldwide. I've just completed a story booklet titled "The 911 Folk Art Story Quilt Booklet." It's a story about losing my only child in the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001. All the proceeds from the sale of these Booklets go directly to my son's endowed scholarship in Savannah, GA. You can learn more about the booklet on my website at

Currently, I am in the process of putting together another folk art booklet. This one is going to be a lot of fun. It will have small affordable folk art quilts for sale, limited edition art prints and folk art tiles, paper dolls, vintage antiques and some of my handmade dresses and blouses. I will also include stories about 18th and 19th needlework stories and history and will feature Needlework Artists personal stories about their work."

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