McAllister’s graduate exhibition will open with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 in Gallery II in conjunction with two other exhibits in Northwestern State’s upstairs and downstairs Hanchey Gallery. The show will include landscape and abstract lithography prints as well as collages made from bits of prints she deemed unsuccessful. Some of the prints – black ink on white paper -- will be water-colored in, she explained, some with color, some in shades of gray.
“Everything I do is an experiment,” McAllister said. “I’m taking my mistakes and making collages and I like the collages better than the prints themselves. The prints are a lot of work for something that, in my mind, isn’t good. It’s taking lemons and making lemonade.”
A few prints were inspired by McAllister’s summer session in New Mexico, in which several students and faculty from Northwestern State’s Fine and Graphic Arts Department participated. But many of McAllister’s collage pieces are related to her spirituality.
“Some are inspired by the Genesis story, the creation story,” she said. Having recently read Wassily Kandinski’s “Point and Line to Plane,” McAllister relates the elements of drawing and composition to the Christian version of Creation.
“Working with black and white, I keep in mind that I’ll be working with the blind and the contrast of light and dark is very important to the vision impaired.”
McAllister will begin in January developing an art program for the Louisiana Association for the Blind, a Shreveport-based non-profit that provides vocational training and other services. Researching similar programs, McAllister discovered many innovative ways and reasons to teach art and art history to the blind.
“Most legally blind people have been sighted before, so they are familiar with color,” she said. “It makes you feel good to create art and accomplish something.”
McAllister will work with senior adults, young adults and children on an individualized basis, as well as train volunteers. In addition to exploring textured paintings in which participants can feel variations in color according to texture, she is considering programs for printmaking, painting, photography and sculpture. One technique she hopes to explore allows the artist to draw with a substance like glue that dries to create raised outlines and then paint between the lines.
“They could do drawings, simple prints or sculptures. There can work with textural materials they can hold. I won’t know exactly until I meet my students,” she said.
McAllister is a non-traditional student who grew up in Shreveport and didn’t enroll in college until her 50s. She began her adult life as a mother and homemaker, during which time she learned to weave. After her divorce, she worked in kitchen management in several locations before starting a landscaping business, which she said, led her back to church and changed her life.
Attending church with a friend, she noticed the flowerbeds needed weeding and realized she was the person for the job. Working in the flowerbeds, she got to know church staff and was soon helping prepare meals for the youth and working at a decommissioned church being refurbished as a community center. She redesigned the chapel and designed a new altarpiece based on a painting by Henri Matisse with a frame created by Natchitoches craftsman George Olivier. She also designed pieces to be hung over the windows and had quilters piece them together.
“It’s is a mixed community,” she said. “It needs to be appealing and receptive to all.”
McAllister decided to pursue a degree and in 2005 enrolled in Centenary College with the intension of going to seminary, but graduated in 2009 with a degree in art.
“I realized my gift was in art because I kept working out my theology through art,” she said.
But shortly after she enrolled, McAllister received a diagnosis of macular degeneration, a medical condition that often results in loss of vision.
“I was overwhelmed. If I hadn’t already been in school then, I wouldn’t have gone back at all. It took six months for me to accept.”
After finishing her degree, she began the master’s program at Northwestern State and has been working as a graduate assistant for Professor Clyde Downs. Earlier this year, she was thinking about the future and moving on to a new challenge when the opportunity to work for the Louisiana Association for the Blind arose.
“Art is a good way to train your mind to think and puzzle things out and develop thinking skills. Artists are curious. We ask ‘Why’ or ‘What if?’ That is education and that’s a way into art.”
McAllister’s show will be on exhibit through Dec. 7 in conjunction with a show of New Mexico-inspired student work, as well as a collection of paintings by Professor Clyde Downs in adjacent galleries. Northwestern State’s Hanchey Gallery is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 8 a.m.-noon Fridays.