Hughie Lee-Smith (1915 - 1999 )

Hughie Lee-Smith was born on September 20, 1915 in Eustis, Florida, the son of Luther and Alice Williams. He lived for a time in Hitestown, New Jersey and painted numerous Garden State landscapes over the course of his career. He was lithographer as well as a painter.

Smith attended school in Ohio, where he graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1938; he received a bachelors degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, in 1953. Smith served in the United States Navy during World War II. “It was there that he completed a series of paintings entitled ‘The History of the Negro in the United States Military.’”(1)

Over the course of his career, which spanned more than fifty years, Smith worked at many different jobs. He worked for the Ohio Works Progress Administration and the Ford Factory in River Rouge during the 1930s and 1940s.(2) Later in his career he became a teacher. He was head of the department of painting and drawing at Claflin University and a teacher for Rex Goreleigh’s Studio-on-the-Canal in Princeton, New Jersey.(3)

In 1945 Smith was given his first one-man show. He did not receive a major solo exhibition of his work until 1988, fifty years after he began painting. “His first retrospective exhibition – at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton in 1988 – occurred when he was 73 years old.”(4) Among the awards he received for his work were the Detroit Institute Founders Prize (1953), the National Academy of Design award (four times), and the American Society of African American Culture award (1960). In 1967 Smith was elected a member of the National Academy of Design.(5) Smith eventually moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1999.

(C.J. Rossi, Spring 2007)

On the Rooftop

On the Rooftop, 1954, oil on masonite, 15 1/2 x 36 inches. Art © Estate of Hughie Lee-Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Many people have said that Hughie Lee-Smith was the type of artist who portrayed the urban lifestyle by painting old, run-down buildings in a gritty urban area. “Smith is a realistic yet magical painter who is intimately concerned with the loneliness of decaying urban life; he practiced this style by placing one or two images of people standing alone in an area that is run down.”(6) The artist has also been called “a fine draughtsman and quiet colorist, [who] paints with the precision of the surrealists in a highly poetic, minor key.”(7) Several of those characteristics are evident in the modest painting illustrated above, “On the Rooftop,” painted in 1954.

(C.J. Rossi, Spring 2007)


(1-3, 6-7) (see link below).

(4) (see link below).

(5) (see link below).

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