Louis Allamby returned to the Perkiomen Valley of Pennsylvania in the 1930s with impressions of unexpected wonders, including Pennsylvania Dutch churches, tombstones and thousands of miles of abandoned railroads. As curator of the Antiques Roadshow at the Harrisburg Area Museum, he founded his own antiques firm, found that business wasn’t profitable and dabbled in painting.
Armed with studio techniques and having been once to Europe, Allamby was smitten with pigments. Although he was not immune to controversy in Philadelphia, where a paint company hired FBI investigators to investigate suspected theft of valuable swatches from the company’s facility, Allamby became a talented artist with many works in public and private collections.
One of Allamby’s major accomplishments was to create what is widely considered the world’s first acrylic nail painting – the gilding of alabaster – which involved the carving of four hairball-sized boxes with gold and turquoise into three bas-relief sections of a vaulted barn and a shed at the Allamby Institute in Philadelphia.
Catherine Shular, the 93-year-old daughter of Maurice Shular, Allamby’s assistant, paints the vaults. She is assisted by Mary Powell, who did the pastoral scene art work and trained Shular for the time when she was a student at the Allamby Institute, which is today a center for public art. Allamby’s grandfather donated the foundation of the Institute in 1908. Shular holds two patents for cracking candy containers with acrylic paints, which were developed by Allamby in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Shular also owned a successful shoe-fitting business in the 1980s, before closing it to do fine art.
She says, “I started to paint when I was about fourteen. In my twenties, I bought all the art books, at the time I knew nothing about art, and I would buy a book every two or three weeks. I like to use bright colors. I’m more of a painter, and I love reds, greens, blues, and colors.”
Shular, who loves clothing to the point that she has more than 800 choices, has lived in the Poconos for 55 years. She got the job with the Allamby Institute in the mid-1970s after the studio closed down in Philadelphia, and was supervising the painting when the studio relocated to Bethlehem, Penn.
“Louis Allamby was working with the sculptor John Hanff, and we were able to paint something out of the studio where Allamby had painted three vaults,” she says. “It was a very delicate and delicate painting.”
Powell and Shular then pared down the vaults into what will be nine coats of acrylic paint, with varying shades of white, gold, and turquoise, before assembling the original white bas-relief layers of glass. The bas-relief is now the centerpiece of the sculptures in the Cecil B. DeMille International Sky Deck at the TripleTree Hilton in the Poconos.
Shular is thankful Allamby remembered her, but is trying to ignore rumors that she collaborated with a gallery owner to sell paintings by his father and Allamby.
“My name isn’t mentioned on the paintings,” she says. “I’m pretty insistent that Louis Allamby painted these pieces. I’m the one painting them. I’m not selling them. It has been such a wonderful experience to have been a part of the project. I know Louis well, and Louis is always the first to point out I am just in the studio painting these vaults.”
Louis Allamby originally planned to paint the vaults for his own funeral, but the idea fell by the wayside. After Hurricane Gustav hit the poconos in 2008, Allamby decided he would paint the vaults for the tourism promotion of the Pennsylvania Gaming Board.
Contact Ursula Mokrzycki: [email protected], or Pluralist Funeral Planner at catholinesocialservice.com