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LIGHTNING STRUCK: Larry Allen’s unique vessels on display at Johnson Center for the Arts

The first moment, Larry Allen saw vessels formed on the potter’s wheel, he was fascinated almost beyond belief.

“Lightning struck,” he said. “I knew I had to do that.”

To this day, Allen said he has not gotten over the fascination.

Forming a vessel on a potter’s wheel is best described as throwing a pot. But that image is far from the reality of the “art.” To throw a pot would seem to be a careless, perhaps, destructive action. But when an artist “throws” a vessel, the result can be almost unbelievable beauty.

On Wednesday, several Friends of the Troy Public Library made their way from Female Factor across the street to the Johnson Center for the Arts to see what was so unique about Larry Allen’s vessels. It didn’t take long for them to “see.”

“The pottery was just amazing,” said Mary Bray. “It’s really unbelievable what he has done with clay. Larry Allen’s work is different from any that I have ever seen – the designs, the colors. I’ve never seen anything like it and I do like it.”

Bray said it was hard to keep from touching Allen’s work.

“I wanted to touch it because some of it looked like leather,” she said. “Other pieces looked like glass and some of it had open spaces. And he had to be a mathematician to figure out all of those geometric designs. I was amazed.”

Paula Wiggins was likewise “amazed.”

“The texture, the rich colors and the shapes, everything was so precise, so artistically precise,” Wiggins said. “Everything was exact. I don’t know how he can be that precise.”

The ladies would be even more amazed if they had known those geometric shapes that are seemingly carbon copies of each other are done freehand.

Allen laughs that others are amazed that his work is done freehand. For him, there’s no other way.

The repetitive “unity” motifs in Allen’s vessels are primarily people and ears of corn. The geometric patterns circle the vessels and are all done freehand.

“At first, I started to measure the patterns but I wasn’t getting anywhere,” Allen said. “I realized I would have to do the designs freehand or do something else.”

Allen’s unity vessels were created in the aftermath of 9/11.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Allen said he was stirred by the country’s collective unification.

“Seeing blue-collar and white-collar men and women, and even members of Congress on the front steps of the Capitol, standing for a common cause, I remember thinking, ‘Now they get it; there is strength in unity.’”

Allen said he decided to capture that spirit in a unity motif of linked hands raised in the air. He has worked that motif into many of his art pieces.

“The people are all connected and, in unity, they frame the boundary of the vessels,” he said. “The corn? Corn goes with America.”

Allen works with black clay and covers it with a blue, white or gray slip.

“The slip is leather hard and never shines so it has a leather look,” he said. “The highlighted areas, the reds or blues, are brushed on and that’s the painful part of the process. To me that is tedious.”

Those who view Allen’s stoneware-clay vessels probably agree with the ladies from the library that his designs appear to have been done by an artistic mathematical genius.

The Leeds, Alabama artist’s work is sought after by collectors across the Southeast and throughout the country. His vessels are inspired largely by Native American and African art.

Throughout his 35-year career, Allen’s work has received many accolades. His work has been given as gifts to Pulitzer Prize winner and author Harper Lee and Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.