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(Edwin) Lee Allen Card Paintings Collection

Identifier: MsC0803

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Scope and Contents

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.


  • Creation: 1988-1997
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1995-1997


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biographical / Historical

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 Oxreceived 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.


0.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



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'.

Related Materials

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.

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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)