Since the high level of views on my last post about the very talented Al G Merkling I thought it only right to shine the spotlight on another great art talent from WW II, the legend that is Don Allen.
Don Allen of Chargrin Falls, Ohio, was a commercial artist before being drafted as a ground crew chief mechanic for the 4th Fighter Group’s 334th Squadron. He had the opportunity to increase the aesthetics of the various aircraft types they flew during the 3 years they were deployed to the UK with the 8th airforce with his art work through out WW II at the request of their pilots. Many of these planes being flown by some of the wars most famous aces.
Allen majored in illustration at the Cleveland School of Art and graduated in 1941 and started work in drafting until 1942 when he was drafted to join the USAAR and began training as an engine and air frame mechanic. Initially being trained on B-17’s, on his arrival at Debden, Essex he was assigned to the 4th Groups Spitfires. By march 1943 Sgt Allen had become crew chief for Lts Pisanos and Stanhope and the Group had replaced their Spitfires with P47 Thunderbolts.
Allen’s first documented nose art portrayed a black panther and fleur-de-lis to honour Lt Audrey Stanhopes French mother. Allens next pilot , Vic France had chosen “Miss Dallas” as his aircraft name, the final design for this nose art became on of the artists own favourites.
Allen competed some 39 designs on aircraft including several P-47’s which were later repeated on P-51 Mustangs. At least 16 other planes were decorated with only wording. Allen was responsable for such beauties as ‘Salem Representative’, ‘Boise Bee’, Blondie’, ‘My Achin’ Back’ and ‘Sweet Arlene’. His work often included fanciful representations of the pilots girlfriends and wives and had a beautifully whimsical feel to them.
Aircraft embellishments in this era often included nudes which many pilots requested, however Allen, a true gentleman, insisted on a little more decorum, sensitive to how such art may be perceived. This is not to say that Allen did not design sexy and attractive pin-ups, they were just never blatant or crude. He ensured they were always covered, albeit sparingly. As Allen once quipped “I grew up an Eagle scout and I guess something in that indoctrinated me to have a little decorum”.
Allen took much inspiration from artists such as the famous Peruvian pin-up artist Alberto Vargas (1896-1982), American pin-up artist George Brown Petty (1894-1975) and American glamour and pin-up artist Gil Elvgren (1914-1980). However much his admiration for these artists may have influenced his work his prolific imagination ensured he always composed original images and never copies from magazines or calendars as some did. His pin-ups were highly yet somewhat demurely sexual and his cartoons were bold, colourful and very apt.
Allen once described his ‘extra curricular’ nose art activities as a creative break from the humdrum of his usual routine of readying fighters for combat and the realities of war.
Allen returned to the world of advertising and commercial art after the war, working as an illustrator for the Ad Art Studio in Cleveland, eventually rising to become corporate President before retiring in 1995. In his later years he chose to return to his love of nose art and re painted many of his war-time works, following as closely to his original designs as possible. Of course the better quality of paint and working conditions produced crisper images and smoother finishes. Theses exceptional reproductions have been donated to the AMC Museum in Dover, Delaware and as such will be viewed by many generations to come.
Allen has been honoured by the 4th Fighter Wing, having a street named after him at the Seymore Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. During the dedication ceremony Allen and his war effort was recalled and praised…“Amidst the war, sacrifice and death, Don’s work lifted the morale and inspired pride and inspiration throughout three squadrons”. He was also featured in the documentary ‘Nose art and pin ups’ by British film maker Gail Downey who recalled “Don was extremely talented, but so modest. His main concern was that, as crew chief, he had a very important job to do in keeping the aircraft in top condition, making them as safe as possible for the pilot….What a lovely, lovely man…He will be much missed.”
In his personal life Allen was a Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America and his fellow scoutmaster George Qua remembers him well “He was an all-around, absolutely wonderful guy…He was a great soldier, a great veteran and one heck of a scoutmaster. I’ll miss him.”
The very talented Mr Don Allen was responsable for some of the most loved and admired examples of nose art from WW II and deserves the right to be called a true artist.
We Salute you!