Hughie Lee-Smith
Hughie Lee-Smith was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 artist and teacher whose signature works were slightly surreal in mood, often featuring distant figures seen under vast skies in desolate urban settings.


Lee-Smith was born in Eustis, Florida
Eustis, Florida
Eustis is a city in Lake County, Florida, United States. The population was 15,106 at the 2000 census. The Census Bureau estimated the population in 2008 to be 19,129. It is part of the Orlando–Kissimmee Metropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:...

 to parents Luther and Alice Williams Smith; in art school he altered his last name to sound more distinguished. As a child Lee-Smith moved to Atlanta to live with his grandmother, where the carnivals he attended would later provide imagery for his art. At age 10 he moved to Cleveland, and attended classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art is an art museum situated in the Wade Park District, in the University Circle neighborhood on Cleveland's east side. Internationally renowned for its substantial holdings of Asian and Egyptian art, the museum houses a diverse permanent collection of more than 43,000...

, and later the Cleveland Institute of Art
Cleveland Institute of Art
The Cleveland Institute of Art is a private college of art and design located in University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women. From 1891 until 1948 it was named Cleveland School of Art. During the Great Depression the school...

 and the John Huntington Polytechnic Institute, the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts
College for Creative Studies
College for Creative Studies is an art education institution in the United States and was cited by BusinessWeek as one of the 60 best design schools in the world. It is a private, fully accredited, four-year college located in Detroit, Michigan...

 (Center For Creative Studies, College of Art & Design), and received a Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 from Wayne State University
Wayne State University
Wayne State University is a public research university located in Detroit, Michigan, United States, in the city's Midtown Cultural Center Historic District. Founded in 1868, WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering more than 400 major subject areas to over 32,000 graduate and...

 in Detroit. He began to teach art, and performed with an interracial dance company. His early work reflected social concerns inspired by the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 of the 1930s and the work of Works Progress Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

 artists of the period. Lee-Smith was employed by the WPA in Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, and while in the Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 painted a mural
A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A particularly distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.-History:Murals of...

 entitled History of the Negro in the U.S. Navy.

Many years after winning a top prize for painting from the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1953, he recalled

I was no longer called black artist, Negro artist, colored boy. When I won that prize, all of a sudden, there was no longer a racial designation.

In 1958 Lee-Smith moved to New York City, and taught at the Art Students League for 15 years. Later he moved to Cranbury, New Jersey.

His paintings evidenced the influence of Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

, Social realism
Social realism
Social Realism, also known as Socio-Realism, is an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts social and racial injustice, economic hardship, through unvarnished pictures of life's struggles; often depicting working class activities as heroic...

, and Surrealism
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members....

 at the service of a personal expression that was poignant and enigmatic. Of his characteristic work, Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...


Mr. Lee-Smith's paintings usually have spare settings suggestive of theater stages or bleak urban or seaside landscapes. Walls stretch out under gray skies. Men and women, as lithe as dancers, seem frozen in place. Most are dressed in street clothes; some wear exotic masks. Children frequently appear, as do props reminiscent of circuses. The work has an air of mystery associated with the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper.

In 1963 Lee-Smith became an associate member of the National Academy of Design
National Academy of Design
The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, founded in New York City as the National Academy of Design – known simply as the "National Academy" – is an honorary association of American artists founded in 1825 by Samuel F. B. Morse, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole, Martin E...

, then the second African-American to be elected to the Academy, after Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner was an African American artist best known for his style of painting. He was the first African American painter to gain international acclaim.-Education:...

, and was made a full member four years later. In 1994 he was commissioned to paint the official portrait of David Dinkins
David Dinkins
David Norman Dinkins is a former politician from New York City. He was the Mayor of New York City from 1990 through 1993; he was the first and is, to date, the only African American to hold that office.-Early life:...

, former Mayor of New York City
Mayor of New York City
The Mayor of the City of New York is head of the executive branch of New York City's government. The mayor's office administers all city services, public property, police and fire protection, most public agencies, and enforces all city and state laws within New York City.The budget overseen by the...

, for the New York City Hall
New York City Hall
New York City Hall is located at the center of City Hall Park in the Civic Center area of Lower Manhattan, New York City, USA, between Broadway, Park Row, and Chambers Street. The building is the oldest City Hall in the United States that still houses its original governmental functions, such as...

. Retrospectives of Lee-Smith's work were mounted by the New Jersey State Museum
New Jersey State Museum
The New Jersey State Museum is located at 205 West State Street in Trenton, New Jersey, United States, overlooking the Delaware River. The Museum is operated as part of the New Jersey Department of State. General admission is free....

 and the Studio Museum in Harlem
Studio Museum in Harlem
The Studio Museum in Harlem is an American contemporary art museum in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, New York. It was founded in 1968 as the first such museum in the U.S. devoted to the art of African-Americans, specializing in 19th and 20th century work as well work of artists of...

 in 1988, and Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
The Ogunquit Museum of American Art is a small art museum open only in the summer months. It sits on three acres on the coast of Ogunquit, Maine, at 543 Shore Road, and houses over 1,600 pieces in its permanent collection. It is the only museum in Maine devoted solely to American art.-History:The...

 in 1997. Lee-Smith's works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

, the National Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, Howard University
Howard University
Howard University is a federally chartered, non-profit, private, coeducational, nonsectarian, historically black university located in Washington, D.C., United States...

, and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan.

Lee-Smith died of cancer in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state of New Mexico, United States. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County and is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 545,852 as of the 2010 Census and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. As...


External links

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