“What I remember most about my art experience at Randolph was the freedom to explore a variety of methods and styles,” says Courtney Penney Allen ’97, one of the four artists featured in the 2017 Alumni Arts show that is on display in the Thurber Arts Center until November 2017.
“I absolutely loved Polytime Costes – she was by far the most influential teacher I have ever had. She was always supportive of the projects that popped in my head," says Courtney.
“’Can I paint jeans for my classmates with Disney characters?’ – ‘Yes!’
“’Can I create huge shadow boxes equipped with black lights to make the pastel butterflies I drew change forms?’ – ‘Yes!’
“’Can I create a wood night stand with a melting pearlescent plaster hand holding a telephone in wild colors?’ – ‘Yes!’
“Mrs. Costes never wanted to stifle the artistic process – the only thing she would say no to is making chicken soup with your paint water, (and she would demonstrate the proper way to wash your paint brush as the 50+ gold bangles on her wrist jangled).
“What I also really enjoyed about Randolph was that it offered AP Art – it is a completely different experience when you have to hone in your focus and come up with a portfolio of work with a distinct point of view. What did my art have to say? How would I present my message through a collection of different pieces and mediums?
“The project I can trace back directly to my love of making mosaics was when I created a ‘memory jug’ – a jug covered with clay and hundreds of small found objects and favorite collectibles.
“I am mainly working with mosaics right now – mixing Orsoni Smalti tesserae (hand-cut artisanal mosaic tile produced in Venice), architectural pieces, antiques, seashells, gemstones, mirrors, textiles, picture frame pieces, jewelry, found objects, etc. with images that are either painted in acrylic or encaustic (hot wax painting) or printed on tile or wood. I have always loved mixing media/materials and especially three-dimensional art. It is a perfect way to combine all of the things you have loved throughout your life (photography, painting, picking up seashells, collecting antiques) with the rich history of mosaic. When traveling, it has always been the mosaics that have captivated me – especially Byzantine art with religious themes and lots of gold.”
Courtney majored in business management at Tulane University. She only took a few art classes. “Mainly sculpture and metal working. Looking back, I wish I had taken more. New Orleans opened an entirely new world of art styles and approaches. With all of the galleries to explore, the street artists in the Quarter and the New Orleans Museum of Art to visit, art was very accessible. It was very inspirational to be surrounded by the creativity, funkiness, and freedom of New Orleans. I also had wonderful summer art experiences during college – sculpture classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, oil painting and computer graphics classes at Harvard, and working as an apprentice for Nall Hollis at the N.A.L.L. Art Association in Vence, France. Nall’s body of work and approach to so many different types of media has had the greatest influence upon my style. Having an opportunity to work with an internationally recognized artist while being immersed in a different culture with other artists from around the world – changed my life and my appreciation of what it means to be an artist.”
After graduating from Tulane, Courtney worked for a hospitality management company in New Orleans, before attending Cumberland School of Law, where she was member of the American Journal of Trial Advocacy and where she met her husband, John Allen.
After law school, the couple moved to Nashville where Courtney worked as a closing attorney for a title company and then as an associate for a development company before making the decision to move back to Huntsville. Courtney began working for her family’s business – Bill Penney Toyota – as a project manager and compliance director.
“Our daughter, Harper, just started Kindergarten at Randolph and we couldn’t be more excited!” she said. Another recent development is that after 10 years back in Huntsville, Courtney has finally found the perfect studio, downtown in the Mercury Building.
For the past several months, Courtney has been setting up her studio and website and looks forward to being able to create new pieces and start showing her work professionally. In 2012, she designed the artwork for the WhistleStop Bar-B-Que Weekend poster and T-shirts. This past year, she was selected as one of the three Painted Violin artists for the Crescen-Dough Auction, for which she created a mosaic- and seashell-encrusted violin. She is currently involved with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra as a Trustee, a member of the Symphony Orchestra Guild, a HudsonAlpha Ambassador, and a member of the Huntsville Museum of Art Guild.
Asked what advice she has for current students, Courtney says, “Experience life as much as you can – through education, travel, hobbies, friendships, taking classes, joining clubs, exploring the outdoors, trying something new. Figure out what motivates you. Learn when to follow directions and when to ignore them and, most importantly, discover what makes you happy. Make creativity a daily aspect of your life. I can’t imagine a time I wasn’t doing a project at home—we always had an official ‘art’ room. I was very blessed to have very supportive parents who trusted me as I set out on all my crazy adventures. Don’t feel like you have to be tied down to one ‘thing’ – you can be an illustrator, painter, sculptor, photographer, collector, woodworker, and make it all work together. That is what I enjoy about being a multi-media artist – it’s all of my favorite things coming together to create something that makes me (and hopefully others) happy.”
Photos: Courtney with Polytime Costes and the "memory jug", Courtney's nightstand, a recent mosaic work, Courtney with her Painted Violin for Crescen-Dough.