By NATHAN GREGORY
According to former Mississippi State Student Patricia Allen, someone made an opportunistic grab of an oil painting that had just been on display at the MSU Student Union more than 30 years ago.
The painting — a rendering of a courtyard in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. — was done by her mother, Estelle, in the late 1940s.
Patricia Allen said she’s not concerned about finding out who stole it. She just wants it back — no questions asked.
Of the many works her mother produced until her death in 2006, Patricia Allen said this is her favorite.
“I used to stare at it and pretend I was there,” Patricia Allen said. “It drew me in. It was the one I dreamed over the most out of all her work.”
She said her mother was born in New Orleans but moved with her mother to Indianola as a child and spent a majority of her life there. Once she was a teenager, she said, Estelle Allen would drive to Louisiana to see her father.
Patricia Allen’s brother, Clayton Allen, said the painting is a representation of their mother’s Louisiana roots.
“Mama’s father’s family was from Donaldsville, La. which was right upstream from New Orleans, and the family had gravitated to New Orleans by the late ‘20s,” Clayton Allen said. “Mama spent a good bit of her childhood down there with them, and as such saw a lot of the city and identified with the New Orleans side of her life.”
He said Estelle Allen had an interesting journey early in life before going to the University of Alabama and studying art after World War II.
“She started at (Louisiana State University), dropped out and went to work for Higgins (Industries, a manufacturer of landing crafts and boats). She was not Rosie the Riveter, but she was more like a file clerk. She lived with her family in New Orleans and then after the war she started back to college in Alabama and finished there in ‘46,” he said. “I was always aware of her painting and we always had paintings around the house. My favorite of hers is a clown painting and she did that in 1950. In fact I had it with me as a student down there at Mississippi State, so I’ve had it in my possession for going on 40 years.”
Patricia Allen, who now lives in Dallas, Texas, said her mother married Sledge Allen in the early 1950s. They had both grown up in Indianola. Sledge Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MSU in 1939.
Clayton Allen, Patricia Allen and their sister Katherine Allen also hold degrees from MSU. Katherine Allen was a student coordinator of Student Union events during her campus days in the late 1970s. Patricia Allen said Katherine Allen wanted to have some of their mother’s works on display at the Union, and the French Quarter oil painting was among the ones she wanted included.
“My sister had a lot of paintings and she took them down in a (Ford) Pinto station wagon and leaned some against the car instead of putting them in,” Patricia Allen said. “I had a premonition. My sister was taking all that to the gallery that the painting would not come back. I begged her. I said, ‘It’s not coming back. You can’t take that painting,’ and somebody did. Premonitions don’t do you any good.”
Prior to putting her artistic creation on canvas, Clayton Allen said Estelle Allen drew a preliminary water color sketch. Looking at that sketch, he said, gave him the idea to attempt tracking it down and getting it back.
“It just crossed my mind recently with advances in email, and Patricia Allen … could, scan it and put it on her email. I could send it to various people (and) she could send it to various people. It just seemed like a good time to look a little more thoroughly at it,” Clayton Allen said. “Right now we have settled for the moment in our personal lives where we have time to do this. I’ve been thinking about something like this for years and years. It just suddenly crossed my mind that it’s time to do it now. If the painting is still out there, which it may not be, at least we tried if nothing else.”
Clayton Allen, who now lives in Oxford, said while she was a prolific artist, her output slowed when she started to have children.
“We always knew she liked painting. As we grew older, we always kind of wondered why she didn’t paint more,” Clayton Allen said, “but as we aged and grew and matured a bit, we realized having four children is probably why. She simply didn’t have the time and energy to paint like she would have liked to.”
Patricia Allen said other than when her mother’s work was displayed in the Union, she didn’t show or sell her art.
“She didn’t really show anything except in that gallery because she was entangled with raising us,” Patricia Allen said. “She had some nice things. She never really sold any of it. She should have, but she didn’t.”
Patricia Allen said it would mean a great deal for her if the painting were to return to her possession because it best represents her creative spirit.
“It would right a wrong. I wanted that painting and it didn’t belong to whoever took it,” Patricia Allen said. “I would pass it along to nieces or nephews if we found it.”
Clayton Allen said all he wants is to see the painting turned back over to its original owner.
“The person who has the painting now, if anyone still does, is quite likely not the thief. The painting could have passed through many hands by now,” Clayton Allen said. “We are not interested in recriminations or blame. We would just like the painting back.”