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Guide to the (Edwin) Lee Allen Card Paintings Collection

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1988-1997
Creator: Allen, Edwin Lee (1910-2006)
Extent: .25 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0803
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Mr. Allen worked with Grant Wood and muralist Diego Rivera. From 1937 to 1976, Allen was a medical illustrator at the University of Iowa Hospitals. This collection consists of the drawings, mostly on 5 x 7 cards, that accompanied his book  'A Hole in My Vision: An Artist's View of His Own Macular Degeneration'.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Box 1.

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.


Preferred Citation: (Edwin) Lee Allen Card Paintings Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Edwin Lee Allen was born in 1910 in Muscatine, Iowa. After graduating from East High School in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1928, Mr. Allen enrolled at the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines. (Cumming had founded the art departments at Cornell College in 1880 and at the University of Iowa in 1909). In the fall of 1929 Mr. Allen enrolled at the University of Iowa where he studied art.

In 1933, he was invited by renowned artist Grant Wood to work with him on a series of public art projects funded by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). Wood also introduced him to Diego Rivera, with whom he studied in Mexico in 1935. It was there that Mr. Allen learned how to use the fresco medium for murals for public buildings.

Numerous mural projects and exhibitions followed, including the American Show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1936, where his painting Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox received critical praise. In 1937, Mr. Allen accepted the position of medical illustrator at the University of Iowa's College of Medicine, Department of Ophthalmology, where he remained until his retirement in 1976. During this time, he generally confined his artistic pursuits to medical illustration. He did, however, continue to paint creatively during vacations and prepared oil and relief portraits of numerous members of the College of Medicine faculty. He was president of the Association of Medical Illustrators in 1959, and was a founding member and the first president of the Ophthalmic Photographer's Society in 1969 as well as being president of the American Society of Ocularists that year. He was also the author of numerous articles and publications pertaining to ophthalmologic illustration.

Following his retirement, Mr. Allen joined David Bulgarelli in private enterprise making prosthetic eyes from a process Mr. Allen had initiated in 1945 for the Department of Ophthalmology. He also resumed his work in paintings, drawings and sketches. Further information about Edwin Lee Allen is described below under "Related Materials."

The preceding biographical note is based in part on exhibit notes prepared by Pamela Trimpe, University of Iowa Museum of Art Curator of Painting and Sculpture. The notes were prepared in 2000 for exhibits by Mr. Allen at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and at the Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University.

The Lee Allen Collection of Card Paintings consists of one document box containing 54 paintings on individual cards each measuring, on average, five by seven inches. The collection also includes 48 photographic prints of many of the paintings. The paintings chronicle Mr. Allen's personal experience with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), symptoms of which he first noticed at age 78. They were used in part to illustrate his book, 'The Hole in My Vision: An Artist's View of His Own Macular Degeneration' (Iowa City, IA: Penfield Press, 2000).

The collection is arranged in two series: paintings and photographic prints. Each series is arranged first by depiction of left eye ("O.S.") and right eye ("O.D.") activity. Within the O.S. and O.D. groupings the images are arranged chronologically. Notes by the artist are on the back of each image and generally include information about date, time, and references to pre- and post-treatment, such as laser therapy. The notes are transcribed in the box inventory below.
Allen, Lee. The Hole in My Vision: An Artist's View of His Own Macular Degeneration. Iowa City, IA: Penfield Press, 2000. Includes a list of Mr. Allen's publications.

Wong, D. and Fishman, M. "Lee Allen: The Man, The Legend." Journal of Ophthalmic Photography. 12(2):51-67. 1990.

Browse by Series:

  • Series 1: PAINTINGS
  • Box 1:
  • Early Morning, March 16th - 1995
  • January 27th - 1996
  • January 27th - 1996
  • 7:00am, August 10th - 1996
  • O.D.
  • O.D.
  • O.D. - 1988
  • O.D. - 1989
  • O.D. , March 1st - 1996
  • O.D, June 9th - 1996
  • O.D, June 24th - 1996
  • O.D, Pen light illuminated through pupil, June 26th - 1996
  • O.D, 7:00am Upon waking before rising, August 14th - 1996
  • O.D, 7:15am, August 14th - 1996
  • O.D, September 4th - 1996
  • O.D, 7:40am, September 6th - 1996
  • O.D, September 11th - 1996
  • O.D, First noticed 10:30pm slowly disappeared over next 5 minutes, September 11th - 1996
  • O.D, Before second laser treatment, May 4th - 1997
  • O.D, October 4th - 1997
  • O.D, 7:10am, May 7th - 1998
  • O.S - 1988
  • O.S - 1994
  • O.S - 1994
  • O.S, July 8th - 1995
  • O.S, July 27th - 1995
  • O.S, July 27th - 1995
  • O.S, January 27th - 1996
  • O.S, Appears stable, March 1st - 1996
  • O.S, 7:00am, July 3rd - 1996
  • O.S, Pen light illuminated through lid, July 15th - 1996
  • O.S, 5.5 hours post-laser, July 18th - 1996
  • O.S, July 19th - 1996
  • O.S, July 19th - 1996
  • O.S, July 19th - 1996
  • O.S, July 19th - 1996
  • O.S, July 20th - 1996
  • O.S, Pen light illuminated through pupil, July 21st - 1996
  • O.S, 5:00am, August 18th - 1996
  • O.S, 7:00am,August 25th - 1996
  • O.S, 11:30am, September 22nd - 1996
  • O.S, 7:00am, Day after third laser surgery, September 24th - 1996
  • O.S, 7:45am, September 24th - 1996
  • O.S, October 7th - 1996
  • O.S, October 17th - 1996
  • O.S, 10:30pm, October 23rd - 1996
  • O.S, 10:20pm, October 24th - 1996
  • O.S, 10:20pm, October 24th - 1996
  • O.S, Six days before fourth laser surgery, January 19th - 1997
  • O.S, (Lasered later; January 25th, 1997), January 20th - 1997
  • O.S, (Lasered January 25, 1997), April 20th - 1997
  • Box 1:
  • Photographic prints of most of the above-listed card paintings
    48 prints

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

Personal Names:
Allen, Lee, 1910-2006

Corporate Names:
University of Iowa. Department of Ophthalmology

Retinal degeneration

Medical illustrators

Geographic Names:
United States -- Iowa -- Iowa City

Genre/Form of Materials:

Hole in my vision