Profile: Annie Frances Lee (1935-2014)

Annie Frances Lee was an American artist. She is known for her depiction of African-American everyday life. Her work is characterized by images without facial features. She used body language to show emotion and expression in her work. Her most popular paintings are Blue Monday and My Cup Runneth Over.

Biography

Lee was born in Gadsden, Alabama but grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She began painting as a child and won her first competition at the age of 10 but did not start painting professionally until she was 40. Lee attended Wendell Phillips High School on Chicago’s South Side. Her artistic accomplishments led her to receive a scholarship to attend Northwestern University but she declined the scholarship to marry and raise a family. By the age of 40, when she began her career as an artist, Lee had lost two husbands to cancer, raised a daughter from her first marriage and a son from her second, and lost a son in an accident in 1986. She enrolled in Loop Junior College and completed her undergraduate to work at Mundelein College and the American Academy of Art. While working as the chief clerk at Northwestern Railroad, Annie studied art at night for eight years, eventually earning a Master of Education degree from Loyola University. Lee’s railroad job inspired one of her most popular paintings, Blue Monday, which depicts a woman struggling to pull herself out of bed on a Monday morning. Her trademarks are the animated emotion of the personalities in the artwork and the faces which are painted without features. At age fifty, Lee had her first gallery show and she allowed prints to be made of four of her original paintings. Using her designs, Lee also developed figurines, high fashion dolls, decorative housewares, and kitchen tiles.

Lee’s work reflected her own experiences as well as her observations of those in communities around her. After showing her work in other galleries for a number of years, Lee opened Annie Lee and Friends Gallery in Glenwood, Illinois where she displayed her works as well as the works of other artists. When several of her paintings appeared on the sets of popular television shows such as The Cosby Show and A Different World, the exposure helped popularize her work. Although she regularly received requests for public appearances, Lee preferred to appear at gallery shows; she also enjoyed visiting schools to encourage and inspire students. After many years, Lee left Chicago for Las Vegas. The play Six No Uptown written by L.A. Walker, Terry Horton, and Cassandra Sanders was inspired by Lee’s painting of the same name. The play opened in Las Vegas in 2014 and centers around a Bid Whist card game, Lee’s game of choice.

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