Early life and education
She was born Tina Powell in Hempstead, New York in 1949. Her father was Gordon “Specs” Powell, a jazz drummer who played in the Ed Sullivan Show band. She began sculpting at the age of 13, when she was assigned to make an ashtray for art class and instead created a bust of Aristotle. As a teen she met the Lithuanian-American sculptor William Zorach, who became a mentor. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of South Alabama in 1978. After college she volunteered for AmeriCorps VISTA and for several years hosted a local television show on the arts in Mobile, Alabama.
Her first major work was a nine-foot bronze statue of A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Commissioned in 1986, the piece is displayed in Boston’s Back Bay commuter train station and is featured on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
Over the next two decades Allen continued creating realistic sculptures of black activists for display in public spaces. Her work is also collected by museums, corporations, and private collectors. Explaining her motivation, she said in an interview, “My work is not about me, it’s about us.”
One of her best known works is a 13-foot bronze likeness of Alex Haley, which was installed in Morningside Park in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1998. Her statue of George Washington Carver stands in the George Washington Carver Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. Her 12-foot bronze monument to Sojourner Truth is displayed in Monument Park, Battle Creek, Michigan. Her bust of Frederick Douglass is on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; it was featured in a scene in the movie Akeelah and the Bee. Other subjects include Ralph Bunche, Sammy Davis Jr., Charles R. Drew, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Betty Shabazz, and Tupac Shakur.
She was married twice and had three children, Koryan, Josephine, and Tara. She died of a heart attack due to complications of pneumonia in Los Angeles on September 9, 2008.
- Rourke, Mary (September 12, 2008). “L.A. sculptor whose subject was African Americans”. Los Angeles Times.
- Hawkins, Shirley (September 10, 2008). “Sculptor Tina Allen passes”. Our Weekly.
- “South End Walk”. Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
- Painter, Nell I. (2006). Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. Oxford University Press. p. 417. ISBN 9780195137552.
- “A Statue in Tennessee Honors Alex Haley”. The New York Times. Associated Press. April 25, 1998.
- “General Display Gardens Tour”. Missouri Botanical Garden.
- “Monument Park”. SojournerTruth.org.
- Gray, Jeremy (September 15, 2008). “Sculptor whose work adorns Civil Rights Institute dies”. Alabama.com.
- Dickerson, Joy E. (2007). Songs of Bronze: Sculptures by Tina Allen. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser. ISBN 9780736718615.