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.