By Wil Peterson
Call Kassity Allison just about anything creative — from acclaimed figurative sculptor to award-winning doll designer — and she’ll humbly agree. Just don’t say she’s actually mastered the art of sculpting. That honor, she believes, is reserved exclusively for such renowned sculptors as Michelangelo and Rodin.
“I don’t consider myself a master because I feel I am learning something new each and every time I pick up my clay,” said Allison, owner of Over the Ocean studio. “From prehistory through classical antiquity, the Gothic era, the Renaissance to the 21st century, the history of sculpture is filled with extraordinary artists — most sadly anonymous — whose visual expressiveness remains with us in the form of wonderful marble statues, stone reliefs, and immortal bronzes.
“I spent many hours looking at these extraordinary works of art hoping to get a glimpse of the muses of these master sculptors. I like to think that the old masters have taught me something and that their skill falls into my work from time to time as they pass their mastery on to others through what they left behind.”
Modesty aside, Allison has achieved an impressive level of professional success since creating her first figurative sculpture in 2007. The self-taught artist, who lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband, has accepted numerous commissions for one-of-a-kind (OOAK) figures while tirelessly producing inspired creations that are meticulously translated from her mind’s eye into vibrantly imaginative characters. Fantasy elements are represented in the resulting creative output, which include myriad faeries, dragons, and other otherworldly creatures.
“Heroic, hopeful, epic scale is what it’s all about. I think about many of these things while I create my characters,” said Allison, who also makes most of the accessories and outfits for her creations. “I have been told I immersed my mind in the dream world. I’ve always had an overactive imagination. Creating fantasy characters lets me embrace that.”
Allison’s artistry has yielded a devoted collector following and peer recognition. She received an Industry’s Choice Award in the 2019 Dolls Awards of Excellence competition for her steampunk OOAK polymer-clay doll Captain Duke Woodes Rogers. Based on a sketch Allison drew in 2015, the 28-inch peg-legged character has an elaborate backstory — he’s a flamboyant, 1700s-era, wealth-obsessed pirate — as well as an inner-posable skeleton and 10 points of articulation. “There are so many talented artists in this field of art,” she said. “I was greatly honored to receive the award.”
A lifelong creative force, the Canadian-born Allison initially focused on painting. “Between the 1970s and 1990s, I sold my work all over the world and showed in many galleries in Canada and the USA,” she said. “My experience as a doll artist came fast and furious when I first started. I tend to work that way. My first figurative sculpture was Wisakecah, The Mud Fairy, who — to my surprise — won a 2008 Doll of The Year Industry’s Choice Award, which was a huge honor! I created many pieces after Wisakecah and fell in love with the process and the end result.”
In addition to facing inevitable creative challenges, Allison has overcome personal obstacles that once threatened to derail her artistic career. She suffered an injury in 2011 that left her blind in one eye and unable to sculpt. Multiple operations followed, but each was unsuccessful.
“I went into a deep depression while my recovery was happening,” she said. “After three years, I decided to pull myself out of the depression I was in and thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ So I pulled out my clay and started sculpting. It was harder than I thought. I had no depth perception and was unable to see the forms clearly. I felt defeated and heartbroken.”
But Allison’s inner strength kicked in and provided much-needed tenacity. “I kept at it day after day after day. Weeks passed, then months, until I finally felt I was improving,” she said. “I was not really creating faces; I was creating proportional forms to help with the depth-perception issue. As time went by, after months and months — which became almost a year and half — I was able to sculpt again. It takes me longer to finish a sculpture because I am much slower than I once was and don’t feel I am as good as I once was. But I am so grateful to be back creating again.”
Allison plans to keep striving for excellence, both with her inspired doll sculptures and those commissioned by clients. “As creative professionals, we must remain open-minded and forever teachable,” she said. “For us artists, one-way streets are typically dead ends. Therefore, any philosophy I have must strike a balance between creative passion and responsibility. My passion is my art, and my professional responsibility is to my collectors. My reward is when someone looks at my creations and smiles. All is well in the world.”