Print exhibit, Mary Ryan Gallery, 1984
James E. Allen had a 30+ year career that spanned 4 decades, from 1913 until 1945. It was sadly cut short by Huntington's Chorea, a progressive brain disease that robbed him of the physical control necessary to for the fine art of print making and, eventually, painting. No longer an active participant in the artistic scene, it is perhaps natural that he would fade into relative obscurity. But James Allen was not forgotten; his works could be found in many museum collections. In 1972 the Allen family added 51 of his prints to those already at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, along with a healthy percentage of his papers.
In 1984, a larger public got a chance to appreciate Allen's work when a significant number of his prints was shown at the Mary Ryan Gallery in New York City. Proprietor Mary Ryan worked with Allen's wife Grace Parmalee Allen who provided a wealth of material -- the show consisted of 91 etchings and lithographs, which at the time was thought to be shy less a dozen of his prints. The show sparked a revival of interest in Allen's work, one that has persistent in the community of print collectors. It was fueled no doubt by the sale of many prints that put Allen's work in personal collections and, over time, back into circulation in the auction market.
The printed catalog includes acknowledgements and two essays, transcribed for this exhibit. Apropos Allen's work, Elisa Rothstein opens her essay with this statement:
"Virtually obscured since the late 1940's, the graphic work of James E. Allen represents a body of work unified in strength and artistic purpose to a degree rarely matched in 20th century American printmaking."