Vicky and Bill Allen have one of the finest small art museums in town. Their Melrose home is filled with art works, including painted china plates and plaques, oil paintings, and stained glass items, all of professional quality. What makes it so special is that the Allens created these works themselves. Bill even made the spectacular pair of stained glass windows that grace their front door. Vicky is an expert china painter, who has been at her craft for some 20 years. Bill has also created lamps and more window panels. Born in Spring Hill, Vicky Hommerding was raised in Melrose, where her family lived in the current St. Mary’s rectory. Bill, a Michigan native, worked for Ford Motors as an area representative for heavy truck sales. Vicky was a stay-at-home mom and hobby painter. They moved here in 1984 from Dearborn Heights, Mich., where they could buy a home large enough to fill with their art, plus their collection of bells, which now numbers close to 100. The creamer and sugar sets which line the tops of the kitchen cupboards came after they moved to Melrose. When she lived in Michigan, Vicky, who had been working in oils, discovered china painting. “I did oil painting for a long time, but it was more messy,” she says with a laugh. “Now I just have a little tray I can open.” She joined a group of like-minded artists. “If you don’t belong to a group, you don’t really have the enthusiasm,” says Vicky, who still paints in oils, making her own creations or improving on the work of others. When she wanted to hang a flowery landscape print in her kitchen but the pink flowers in the foreground clashed with the color scheme, she repainted them in yellow. “She re-oiled it,” Bill says. She improved on the sky a bit, too. To create a ceramic piece, Vicky starts with a blank piece of glazed porcelain. She mixes dry china paint, imported from Germany, with linseed oil to create a palette in a sectioned tray, then begins painting anything from flowers to Victorian ladies to wildlife scenes. Occasionally she uses a pattern, but most of the designs are her own. “I think everybody does a little copying!” she confides. In addition to plates, she makes large jardinieres, jugs, trays, and even a little marble table top. Her small kiln is tucked in a storage closet, ready for the first firing. The colors will fade in the kiln, so the piece has to be repainted and re-fired, three or sometimes four times. Bill started working in stained glass in the 1950s, “just for my own amusement or whatever you want to call it.” His lampshades and lamp bases glow in muted colors all over the house. The wind broke his stained glass birdfeeder, but he’s philosophical about it: “The birds just come for the food. They couldn’t care less.” His stained glass morning glories climb up a china cabinet door. “It’s not that complicated,” he says modestly. His most spectacular pieces flank the front door, where two ships in full sail are surrounded by intricate frames. He made the ships in Michigan, found the perfect place to install them in his Melrose home, then designed and added the frames. Some day, the Allens say, their son and daughter will inherit their art works, but they cheerfully admit that most of it will wind up in a garage sale. If it does, it promises to be a sensational one. Bill has never considered making his glass art on commission. “It takes too much time and it’s too costly. If you’re going to go commercial, you have to spend a lot of time and the effort.” And that’s something the Allens don’t want to deal with as they enjoy their well-earned and artistic retirement in Melrose.
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