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Allen Stringfellow

Allen Stringfellow was born on July 9, 1923. He was raised by his deeply religious great-grandmother, who would take Allen to open-air baptisms performed by their church in Champaign, Illinois. Although he did not live with his parents, who resided in Chicago, Stringfellow would often visit his mother and father, a jazz musician and nightclub manager.

Allen showed promise in his artistic abilities at a very young age. He enrolled in art classes at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and finished his training at the Art Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating, Stringfellow moved to Chicago where he taught print techniques at the South Side Community Arts Center as part of the National Youth Administration program. Later, as general manager of Armand Lee's well-known framing company, he worked with the most prestigious designers in the country. His influence in the art community steadily increased and, by 1960, Stringfellow owned an original art gallery in Chicago's Old Town community.

As with many artists, Stringfellow examines themes which have been important in shaping his life. His artwork often includes religious and jazz imagery. Many of his most famous pieces are inspired by baptismal scenes from his youth, including "Red Umbrella Down by the Riverside" and "Going to Lay Down My Sword and Shield." Although he has explored many artistic traditions, Stringfellow is currently working with collage and watercolor, examining the depth and movement that can be achieved through these mediums. Inspired by the late William S. Carter, Stringfellow refers to him as his best friend and motivator.

Stringfellow has been the recipient of numerous awards. His signature works include "Ladies Day", "The Gallery" and "All That Jazz". His works have been shown in many galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society and DuSable Museum of African American History.

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Marquette School

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

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God is good.

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United States

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Short Description

Collage artist and watercolor artist Allen Stringfellow (1923 - 2004 ) created artwork that often includes religious and jazz imagery, as well as baptismal scenes from his youth. His signature works include, "Ladies Day", "The Gallery," and, "All That Jazz." His works have been shown in many galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society and DuSable Museum of African American History.

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Allen Stringfellow interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Allen Stringfellow's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Allen Stringfellow remembers his father

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Allen Stringfellow remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Allen Stringfellow shares some anecdotes about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Allen Stringfellow recalls his childhood in Champaign, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his early interest in art

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Allen Stringfellow recalls his childhood religious involvment

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Allen Stringfellow describes his childhood home, Champaign, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Allen Stringfellow discusses skin color in his family

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Allen Stringfellow describes his childhood personality

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Allen Stringfellow remembers his adolescent years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Allen Stringfellow discusses the Works Progress Administration and the National Youth Administration

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Allen Stringfellow describes living in a 'kichenette'

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Allen Stringfellow recalls his first encounter with the South Side Community Art Center, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Allen Stringfellow remembers influential figures at the South Side Community Art Center

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his early watercolor paintings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his parents' social status

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Allen Stringfellow recalls the art fairs of his early career: Part I

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Allen Stringfellow describes creative jobs he held in the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Allen Stringfellow recalls the art fairs of his early career: Part II

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his contemporaries' artistic approaches

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Allen Stringfellow remembers William Carter and other artistic role models

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Allen Stringfellow describes working with Armand Lee and creating the Wells Street Art Fair

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Allen Stringfellow describes his experiences working under Armand Lee's tutelage, part 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his experiences under framer Armand Lee's tutelage, part 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Allen Stringfellow details the evolution of his art

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Allen Stringfellow describes his typical buyers

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Allen Stringfellow explains the influence of music and religion on his works

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Allen Stringfellow describes his encounter with an influential New York art figure

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Allen Stringfellow considers other artists' influence on his work

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Allen Stringfellow details the emergence of black collectors of his works

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his piece 'Red Umbrella Down by the Riverside'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Allen Stringfellow recalls hat-making, the inspiration for his piece 'Ladies Day'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Allen Stringfellow discusses the inspiration for his piece, 'The Gallery'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Allen Stringfellow shares anecdotes on the inspiration for his piece, 'All that Jazz'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Allen Stringfellow discusses the inspiration for his piece 'Gonna Lay Down my Sword and Shield'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Allen Stringfellow examines his mentor-mentee relationship with artist, William Carter

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his signature color, red

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Allen Stringfellow reflects on his career as a collage artsist

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Allen Stringfellow describes emotional resposes to his art

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Allen Stringfellow shares advice to aspiring artists

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Allen Stringfellow expresses the importance of art in black culture and history

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Allen Stringfellow considers his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Allen Stringfellow considers family members' responses to his art

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow in his dashiki period on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1950s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow in his signature red clothing on the North Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow attempts papier mache figures in Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow with an Italian friend in Florida, ca. late 1980s, early 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow at an outdoor cafe, Paris France, ca. 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow with co-workers, including Armand Lee, Chicago, Illinois, ca. early 1980s

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow presents his painting of a Sugar Hill, Brooklyn, New York, mansion

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow presents his painting 'Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield,' 1996

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow presents his painting of a Chicago, Illinois church

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow presents his collage, 'Ladies Day,' 1999

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Allen Stringfellow presents a painting of a dance troupe

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Allen Stringfellow discusses his representative, Nicole

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Allen Stringfellow shares his thoughts on spirituality and art







Allen Stringfellow remembers William Carter and other artistic role models
Allen Stringfellow discusses his piece 'Red Umbrella Down by the Riverside'
Who were your inspirations. Was William Carter still in the picture?$$William Carter and [Romare] Bearden and he just died. Jacob Lawrence because I liked what they did and they were able to get good connection. Somebody truly interested in them way back then. The way I say way back, I guess it wasn't way back. And they were progressing better. William Carter was just a good artist. All of them were good artists.$$Now William Carter, you talked about how he encouraged you. Was that encouragement going on at this point in time?$$Yes.$$And what are some lessons you learned from him, you know, as an artist?$$To keep doing my art because I was more, not more interested, but I was interested in doing things for the money to come in too so that sort of puts a damper on your art. You know like they say a poor struggling artist. I didn't want to be a poor struggling artist. I wanted to do my art but I did other things. Like I told you I made ladies hats and then the printing and then I went from there into a picture frame business with one of the top picture framers back then in Chicago and I went into that to, what was it Armand Lee. Now at that time Armand Lee was a type of an artist, I guess you call it passing or whatever, and that's what made his business flourish because it was years and years before people recognized Armand, Mr. Lee as being a black person.$$So Armand Lee, so that was his name Armand Lee?$$Armand Lee.$$And he was a framer, okay, okay.$$With all the top white decorators and everything that's how he got famous.$$Let me go back to William Carter a little bit. What else do you remember him in terms of his art or what type of person and all. Any other anecdotes or stories you could tell us about him?$$Well, we was--the best way I can describe William Carter, he should have been born aristocrat. He like the opera. He liked the top music and he loved his art and he loved beautiful things. The painting at the Art Institute and opera and things like that. He always like that in his work.$$Anything else?$$He always would say when I would start letting the art go, especially when I was in the picture frame or something like tha,t because I was doing things--I was making a name in that for making money but he would always say, have you painted anything today? I can always remember Carter always saying did you paint anything today?$$Did you ever meet [Romare] Bearden?$$Bearden, oh yeah. A few years before he died I was, in fact that's how my New York connection came because I started--I met Essie Green and she was a Bearden promoter. She had been one to start from Bearden from the beginning. Because Bearden started in the WPA too but in New York. But he was much more adventurous than me in leaving the country. You had to leave the country and do things. I just wasn't adventurous but I loved Bearden's work. He was so encouraging. He taught me a lot of things that I use now about the right materials to use for a collage that last through the years.$It says here that your signature piece is the 'Red Umbrella Down by Riverside,' would you agree with that?$$Yes.$$And why would you?$$Because ever since I've done 'Red Umbrella Down By The River[side]', I guess that's the biggest piece of art that I've done. Not big in size as far as selling and going into collectors. Anyone that generally has collected my work, they want--and every show everybody wants that piece. In fact I could give a show on 'Red Umbrella Down By The Riverside' but none of them are alike.$$So what made you incorporate the red umbrella, was it just--?$$Well that's a childhood memory even from Champaign [Illinois]. That was a big affair in Champaign. Go to Crystal Lake for a big baptism and I was even a child when I was into that because after the baptism they had the big picnic. All churches went together, the union picnic they called it. So if you wanted to get baptized to go to the picnic you would get baptized (laughs). And I don't know, for some reason it was always a red umbrella that they held over the preacher--well, it didn't have to be--not for the rain they did it for the sun and I remember that very well. I ran into that same thing again in New Orleans [Louisiana], they did that same thing and I always like the flow of that painting and it was always--it's still a painting, any show that I have it's always a version of that painting.$$Do you remember what--you know, when you first did that piece and what sort of motivated you or what, you know, to do it? Was it just sort of an inspiration?$$An inspiration because I always--that's when I thought--most of the paintings I got my subject matter from was from things that were vivid, very meaningful to me and my growing up all the time and that was church--church and that was all connected with church.