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Hughie Lee-Smith (1911-1999)

Hughie Lee-Smith was born in 1911 in Eustis, Florida. He moved with his mother to Cleveland, Ohio when he was ten years old. His work of the 1930s was characterized by a gently expressionistic social realism reminiscent of Ben Shahn. In 1937 he won a scholarship to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.

In 1947 after studying at the Cleveland Institute of the Arts, working under the Works Progress Administration, teaching college art courses and serving as an artist for the United States Navy, he found himself working in a Ford foundry.

It was not long before he began to paint in a more energetically primitivist style. By 1950 this approach had evolved into a sophisticated kind of magic realism bordering on the surreal. He was an elder statesman of the American imagination, and his very fine technical accomplishments are gratifyingly matched by his obvious and abundant love for the human quandary.

In 1958 he moved to New York City and taught at the Art Students League for fifteen years. He became an associate member of the National Academy in 1963 and a full member in 1967. He was the second black member to be named, 


after Henry Tanner. In 1994 he was commissioned to paint the official City Hall portrait of then mayor David Dinkins. Lee-Smith died on February 23, 1999 at the age of eighty-three.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.


Sources include: -
Gerrit Henry in Art in America, February, 1990
ARTnews, October 1994
Obituary in Art in America, April 1999