The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Tom Allen Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen and Karl McCreary.

September 1, 2015


“A Life of Applied Imagination”  September 1, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Allen discusses his family background - including his father's stint as a graduate student in entomology at Oregon Agricultural College - his upbringing in Madison, Wisconsin, and the early experiences that influenced his interests in plants and art. From there he describes his undergraduate years at Wisconsin, his Ph.D. studies at the University of California - Davis, his early work with electron microscopes, and his continuing pursuits as an artist.

Allen next recalls his conscription into military service during the Korean War and outlines war work that he conducted on the implementation of plant viruses as a mechanism of biological warfare. He then details his years in private industry at Stauffer Chemical Company and the circumstances that led to his joining the Botany department at Oregon State University.

In reflecting on his OSU career, Allen speaks of his contacts with several notable colleagues, including Roy Young and Helen Gilkey. He also comments on his initial impressions of the community and the university; his acquisition of an electron microscope and establishment of the Electron Microscope Lab; his specific work on plant viruses, particularly those that affect lilies; his collaborations with the Extension Service, Experiment Stations, OSU Plant Clinic, and colleagues around the world; and his creation and teaching of an honors course titled "Applied Imagination: Creativity in Art and Science."

The interview then turns its attention to Allen's work as an artist and champion of the arts. In this, he touches upon the progression of his own artwork, recounts the creation of the Corvallis Art Center and the Watercolor Society of Oregon, and shares his memories of becoming an artist-in-residence for the College of Agriculture. Allen likewise details the founding and forward evolution of OSU's Art About Agriculture travelling exhibit and competition.

As the session winds up, Allen describes some of his activities in retirement, including his involvement with Rotary and his involvement with the Sister Cities Program. The interview concludes with thoughts on change at OSU.