Letters to Allen • Exhibition 2012

The Dearest Allen Series

Exhibition at Gallery 25, Fresno California

September 6 – 30, 2012

The Dearest Allen Series, Letters to Allen, Who Was Betty Potter?

Statement

This exhibition consisted of three different series that were inspired by a collection of love letters written by 39 women to the same man, Allen H. Watkins, during the years of 1928-32. The letters were put away in a trunk and forgotten for seventy years. After the death of Watkins in 2003, the trunk and its contents, sight unseen, were sold to an antiques dealer, Lee Dowdy. Thankfully for me, they surfaced on eBay and I was the high bidder. When I first read the letters, I was awestruck; the personalities of the women came through loud and clear. The letters are full of their passion and humor as well as their exquisite penmanship and unique stationary. These letters are gems; they clearly reflect the flavor of the time in which they were written as well as the hopes, desires and frustrations of the women who wrote them.

The Dearest Allen Series incorporates casts of dresses with sections of the letters. Letters to Allen presents the letters of four of the women on panels with encaustic. Who Was Betty Potter? is an installation that uses sound and artifacts to gently pull the viewer back in time into Betty Potter’s personal abyss of unrequited love.

The Dearest Allen Series The Prowler from The Dearest Allen Series, 2012 Mixed media with encaustic 56 x 39 x 6 inches Detail: The Prowler from The Dearest Allen Series, 2012 Mixed media with encaustic 56 x 39 x 6 inches
Betty Potter, from The Dearest Allen Series, 2007 Mixed media relief 41 x 34 x 4 inches Ellen’s Regret, from The Dearest Allen Series, 2007 Mixed media relief with encaustic 59 x 52 x 4 inches Helen's Request, from The Dearest Allen Series, 2008 Mixed media relief 55 x 40 x 4 inches
 
           
Who Was Betty Potter Installation

Who Was Betty Potter? 2012

Installation with artifacts and sound recording (7 minutes, 41 seconds) in which the artist reads from excerpts of letters written by Betty Potter to Allen Watkins in 1931. The installation was in a separate room in the back of the gallery and the recording was looped so it was continuous; there were chairs for viewers to sit, listen and view the items that could have belonged to Betty.

Note: In the 1920s, Skeezix (cowboy slang for an orphaned calf), was the name of a character in Gasoline Alley, a popular newspaper comic strip. Introduced in an attempt to encourage more female readers, Skeezix was an abandoned baby, left on the doorstep of “Uncle Walt” and subsequently raised by him. Unlike many comic strip characters that never age, this baby grew up as time went on. “Toddler” Skeezix dolls as well as books were created from this popular comic strip.

           

Letters to Allen, 2008-2012

Letters to Allen, 2008-2012

These are the letters of four of the 39 women who wrote to Allen H. Watkins.

Vintage letters: photocopied, on panel with encaustic.

Various sizes

           
Detail: Letters to Allen Detail: Letters to Allen Detail: Letters to Allen
Map and Legend: showing the locations of the 39 women who wrote letters to Allen Watkins. Detail: Map Detail: Legend
Detail: Letters to Allen Detail: Betty Potter, Crafton, PA (Pittsburgh) Betty wrote nine letters, postmarked from March 19, 1931 to Sept 6, 1931 Detail: The envelope for Betty Potter’s letter, postmarked Sept 6 1931
Announcement card mailed to Allen Watkins from Betty Potter Announcement card mailed to Allen Watkins from Betty Potter Detail: Special delivery envelope sent by Nell Payne, Danville, VA Nell wrote eight letters, postmarked from Oct 5 1931 to Feb 9, 1932
 
           
Watkins Photographs

Watkins Photographs

These digital images were created from negatives that I purchased from the same antique dealer, Lee Dowdy, who sold the letters to me on eBay. These images, from the estate of Allen H. Watkins, were shot at the resort of Virginia Beach, VA, c. 1930-32, where I believe he met most of the women. Some appear to have been shot by Watkins, others by unknown photographers. Lee Dowdy had met Allen Watkins and knew him by sight (Allen lived to be 97) and that is how I have identified Allen Watkins in these images.

I wish to acknowledge and thank Julia Woli Scott for her help and expertise in refining these images.

Allen H. Watkins Virginia Beach, c. 1930, Photographer unknown Digital photograph on panel with encaustic
8 x 10 inches Allen H. Watkins & Unidentified Woman, Virginia Beach, VA, c. 1930, Photographer unknown Digital photograph on panel with encaustic 8 x 10 inches Unidentified Woman #1 Virginia Beach, VA, c. 1930, Photograph by Allen H. Watkins, Digital photograph on panel with encaustic 8 x 10 inches
Unidentified Woman #2 Virginia Beach, VA, c. 1930, Photograph by Allen H. Watkins Digital photograph on panel with encaustic 8 x 10 inches Beach Group (Allen H. Watkins, lower right others unidentified) Virginia Beach, VA, c. 1930, Photographer unknown Digital photograph on panel with encaustic 8 x 10 inches