Mary, 1913-16

Direct carving

Betty Smith, an assistant to Fred Allen, wrote that the carvings were the pieces closest to Allen’s heart. “The youthful Mary, done in golden oak is a beautiful thing, both in mood and design.” She lists it as an early work done about the time of the white marble torso. There were two similarly themed oak ecclesiastical carvings. The Madonna and Child is a smaller female figure holding a baby and this larger figure is of a young girl holding a book. Both figures are charming and delicately crafted, the lithe bodies graceful and slim beneath the garments, similar in draping style and arrangement. The facial expressions and body positions tell different stories and indicate the differences in the personalities.

Mary stands here in contraposto with the weight on the right leg and the left bent and forward slightly, the hips angled downward toward the left. The garment drapes in angled folds across her waist and on her narrow hips from high on the upper right to low on the left thigh. The center fold of the skirt rests askew on the floor below the left knee and an end of the draped fabric falls in angled waves from the right hip. The young girl is barefoot. Both arms are bent and she holds a small book in her right hand. The left hand is raised low with the palm outward, the traditional gesture for a blessing.

The right shoulder and neck are exposed. The scarf that covers her left shoulder seems to be a continuation of the one that covers her head, like a shawl, leaving the high forehead, face and right side of the neck exposed. She is demure and sweet, looking slightly downward and toward her left with the hint of a smile on her lips; a beautiful, pure and sensitive face.

The wood on this Mary or Nun is natural and unfinished. It has darkened with time and checked vertically in two places, one almost the entire length of the body, a danger in using a large whole piece of wood. It’s interesting, however, to note how Allen used the wood grain as part of the composition, following it in the flow and direction of the fabric and using it to show changes from skin to fabric. The forehead of the girl is positioned to take advantage of the rings of wood that surround a lighter circle in the center, like a star or the mystical third eye.

Title: Mary
Alternate Title: Nun
Medium or Technique: Direct Carving in golden oak
Dimensions: Probably 4′ high
Location: Private collection after being in the hands of Allen’s assistant, Betty Smith, until her death

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