06 Jul Artist Spotlight: Laurie Lee
Regard a painting by Laurie Lee for even a moment, and a stirring soundtrack from the era of classic Western films might come to mind. Highway to the Sun, destined for this September’s Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale in Cody, Wyoming, could well conjure swelling strings as two cowboys on horseback, accompanied by a cattle dog, drive a herd along a dusty trail toward a glowing gap in the mountains. Celestial horns might herald the soaring thunderhead of Summer Splendor, as a lone rider and his canine companion pause by a watering hole.
Not surprisingly, art, music, and the West have closely intertwined throughout Lee’s life. Growing up in the northern Wyoming town of Powell, where she lives today, she was surrounded by paintings created by her mother, an accomplished amateur artist. Young Laurie took after her, winning a contest — in her 5-year-old age group — for her faithful drawing of a house across the street. She also learned to play the violin, viola, and piano, a musical passion she still pursues, and eventually went on to double-major in art and music at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. That’s where she met her husband Bryan, with whom she has three children; and now, almost five decades later, 11 grandchildren.
Even while raising a family, Lee never stopped painting. At first, she focused on watercolors — “a medium I could step away from with young children” — applied opaquely to achieve a look akin to oils, which she also took up gradually and switched to completely about a dozen years ago.
Around 1980, her work drew the attention of Bob Brown, owner of Big Horn Galleries in Cody, which still represents her; and other top galleries recognized her talent as well. So did big national events, including Western Visions at the Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming; Cheyenne Frontier Days; and Cowgirl Up! at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona. And the Buffalo Bill event named her its honored artist in 2016 and presented her three years later with its Peter Fillerup Award in recognition not only of her talent, but also for giving back to her community.
Despite such formidable accomplishments, Lee continues to diligently pursue her growth as an artist. Lately, for example, she has been studying the cloud formations that play such a key role in many of her landscapes. “They can bring really wonderful drama to a scene,” she says. And she enjoys challenging her skills with nocturnes. “I love to paint night scenes like Long Day in the Saddle,” which depicts a tired cowboy walking his horse along a trail toward the lights of a distant town. “I didn’t draw a working sketch first,” she says. “And it was fun to see where that painting would take me.”
Lee’s work is represented by Big Horn Galleries in Cody, Wyoming, and Tubac, Arizona; West Lives On Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming; and Santa Fe Trails Fine Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is participating in the Frontier Days Art Show at the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming, through August 14; Cowgirl Up! at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona, through September 3; and the Buffalo Bill Art Show at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, September 22 through 23.