The oldest of three siblings, Louisville native Elmer Lucille Allen was the only one in her family to complete high school, graduating from Central in 1949. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in general education with a degree in chemistry and mathematics from Nazareth College (now Spalding University). In 1966 she joined Brown-Forman as their first African American chemist. After more than 30 years as a senior analytical chemist, she retired in 1997.
Not one to just sit around, she went back to school earning a Master of Arts in creative arts with a focus in ceramics and fiber from the University of Louisville in 2002. During her studies, she was introduced to the ancient Japanese art of Shibori. This unique fabric art requires patience and planning to create, both qualities she has in abundance.
Her work has been displayed in art galleries throughout Louisville and around the country. In 2004 she became the first recipient of the Kentucky Arts Council Governor’s Awards in the Arts, Community Arts and in 2015 received the KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts) Art and Advocacy Award.
Because of her commitment to advocacy and the arts, in 2018 Mayor Greg Fischer appointed her to the Metro Louisville Commission on Public Art (COPA) where she reviews art projects and grants, and advocates for visual art in public spaces. This proud, lifelong West Louisville resident feels her volunteer role is vital in making sure all artistic voices are seen and heard in our community.
Why is your role in COPA so important to the community?
We are opening art up to the whole community. The murals you see on buildings throughout the city provide opportunities for area artists to have their work seen, and expose the neighborhoods to these beautiful works of art. I bring my opinion as a senior citizen, an African American, and a working artist to the group.
What has volunteering done for you?
It helps me interact with people in government and community leaders — people I would never have met if I had stayed in my own community. I have learned to be more compassionate. I feel safer as a result of meeting new people and getting out into our community.
What advice would you give others interested in volunteering?
Volunteering helps you learn about the community outside of where you reside. It helps you to develop relationships with others that you would not have met otherwise. Learning from others helps you to grow. Learning never stops. If you’re going to volunteer, you have to be active and present. You have to make your voice heard.
By Kym Voorhees Raque | Photos by Patti Hartog