Even her earliest works were inspired by a magical combination of family and place. Way Way Allen first knew she wanted to be an artist when she was growing up in Columbia, sketching alongside her father, an architect. Now, she works from her Charleston studio, which she shares with two friends and fellow creatives, designing abstract works that reflect the beach, the water, the colors of the Lowcountry — and family.
“My children’s uninhibited artwork is a great source of inspiration. There is something so raw and real about what they create,” Way Way says. These days, Way Way lives in Mt. Pleasant with husband, Robertson Allen, and their two young sons, Robertson and Gibbes.
The artist is also on a bit of a roll. In the past 12 months, she’s launched a website and opened a studio on upper Meeting Street in Charleston. She’s seen her work used on fabrics by clothing designer Lauren Lail for her vintage-inspired line, Library by Lauren Lail. And, Way Way’s home was featured in the Christmas 2013 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s easy to conclude that this beautiful young woman leads a picture-perfect life. She’s the first to own that she’s a fortunate person.
“I could not feel any luckier,” Way Way says, of her ability to live on the coast, watch her career flourish, all while staying in close proximity to siblings and parents.
Her luck, though, has come with proverbial hard work — combined with a passion for art that started young.
She credits her first teacher and father Robert Kennedy, for helping her hone her talent for art and design. “I was in complete awe of anything he did. He is the most kind-natured, patient, encouraging, and not to mention, crazy-talented architect and artist. Growing up, I wanted to be just like him. I can remember asking him to draw with me almost every day,” Way Way says.
Way Way is a nickname inspired by a family name. The Columbia native is the fourth generation Mary Waities, and she inherited that nickname from her grandmother, too. Way Way left Columbia to study at the University of the South in Sewanee, where she discovered an affinity for working with oils to create large scale abstract paintings. After college, she traveled abroad and continued painting, worked for an interior design firm in Charlotte and lived out west before making her home in Charleston.
There, when her first son was an infant, she found herself frustrated that she couldn’t find any art she loved to put in his nursery. “I realized I could paint my own. I started painting to fill his walls, but then friends started asking me to paint some things for their nurseries.” From those requests, her first business — Blue Chickadee — was born.
“I continued this business for about six years, where I painted not only canvas works but also hand-painted children’s apparel,” Way Way says. With one, then two young children, she worked from home around her sons’ schedules while she watched the business grow.
“The juggling act of being a mom and a working artist has been such a challenge,” Way Way says, adding that she’s been fortunate to always have her husband as her number one supporter. “I have by no means found the perfect balance, but I’ve learned you just do the best you can to make it all work. My most important role is being a good momma to my boys.”
With her children in school, Way Way decided it was time to close Blue Chickadee and find studio space outside her home. “It was something that started as a pop-up shop five years ago in collaboration with Lauren Lail and Jane Pope Cooper, of Jane Pope Jewelry. We decided three years ago to make it a permanent work space/studio,” Way Way says. She likes the creative energy at her new Meeting Street location, called Novel. which she now shares with close friends Lauren Lail of Library and Liza Cleveland of Bon Vivant.
Fittingly, Way Way marked the opening of Novel. and the launch of her new website in November of this past year by staging a show in collaboration with her dad. On her website, she blogged about the show: “It’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes.”
Novel. has done more than give Way Way a chance to see her work side-by-side again with her original teacher’s. She says the other artists and the downtown Charleston energy inspire her — being in the space has led to new opportunities, such as seeing her paintings translated into textiles.
It also suits her work style. “On occasion I will paint at home on my back porch, but only while the kids are away at school. I get in a zone when I’m painting. The days I paint, I dedicate myself to that chunk of time and find time later in the day for social media, emails and phone calls.”
While Way Way’s art continues to attract a wider audience, she says the greatest pleasure is not seeing her pieces in high-profile venues but to see them hanging in friends’ homes. “It means so much to me to have that love and support from those you are close to. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be thrilling to open ELLE DECOR magazine one day and find my work in a celebrity’s house, though.”
At least one of Way Way’s family members is ready for that and all the other successes that are bound to come. “It’s a pretty great feeling when you hear your kindergartner tell his friends that his momma is a ‘famous painter.’ It makes me smile, not only because it couldn’t be farther from the truth, but because he is proud of me and what I do.”