Wendy’s art is in the right place

Although she trained as a secondary teacher during what she calls the “dark ages” of the 1950s, 79-year-old Wendy Allen’s life has been in art, so much so that she is listed in the  Who’s Who of Australian Women for services to art education.

Even though her portrait of footballer Johnathan Thurston was entered for the 2016 Archibald Prize, her focus has always been more on bringing art to children than on her own palette.

Wendy’s book, Running on Rainbows, was the first to outline a course for students in 1989, and eventually became part of the Queensland curriculum.

She taught at high school for a few years but after the birth of her children she grabbed the opportunity to become a primary school music teacher at a school near her home of the past 44 years.

“I trained for teaching secondary arts and ended up teaching primary music,” she says.

The years went by and finally she got the chance to teach primary art. She was gobsmacked to discover the creativity of young children and, more, that there was so little commitment to it at primary level.

“They are offered art at high school and yet they are more creative at primary level,” she says. “It’s the wrong way around.”

Frustrated that there were no art teachers in primary schools and eager to do something about it, she quit Queensland Education in 1985 and set out on what would become her life’s work.

The result was the publication of Running on Rainbows in 1989, an art curriculum for primary students from Grade 1 upwards, that was sponsored by the Life. Be In It campaign. It became a valuable classroom resource used all over Queensland to Torres Strait and then on to the US, Canada and New Zealand.

“People think art is just making a pretty picture, but it’s not just that, it is developing creative potential,” Wendy says. “The most crucial learning period in the lives of the human species is the first five years.”

In what for many would be retirement, she has now released Ready, Go! which she says is a resource book of creative activities and hints “with a unique approach to babysitting (with or without the baby)” for grandparents, parents and carers.

“It aims to help the grown-ups, particularly our numerous babysitting grandparents, to start up or catch up on developing their own creative potential,” Wendy says.

Her goal now is to keep the dream alive and she is putting a call out to all grandparents and retirees.

“We have the ‘elders’ going spending more time with these important little beings during the most important period of their learning – grandparents babysitting the kids in the home while parents are out working,” she says.

“At the same time, we have the opportunity for the grandparents to catch up or start up and develop their own interests, ones aside during years of working for a living.”

Her dream is to see regular workshops held in local halls run by interested people within the community – and this is where retirees have a real role to play.

“These would not be teaching workshops, but being a facilitator who joins with the participants, trying out and sharing the activities in the book,” she says.

“No creative experience is required, just a happy, sociable attitude. I would be on hand if I’m needed.”

Ultimately, she would like to see an annual exhibition of the artworks arranged in a local hall or library.  

“Now I have to find someone who can take it on, facilitate and do the workshops” she says. It’s time for her to get back to her own art.

“Next year I will be 80, so I am determined to turn into an artist on Boxing Day this year,” she says. “My home studio has been waiting for so long most of my paints have dried out.

“I am hoping desperately that there are people out there who would like to continue with the project.”

  Wendy can be contacted by email runningonrainbows@bigpond.com