Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: Hughie Lee-Smith
#FallenThroughTheCracks – Hughie Lee-Smith was born on September 20, 1915, in Eustis, Florida. He was an artist and teacher whose paintings continually featured outlying subjects and desolate urban settings. His work references surrealism, social realism, and cubism within an indiscernible narrative. Critics have spoken of his work in comparison to artists Giorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper.
He attended East Technical High School where he was president of the art club and ran track with Olympian Jesse Owens. In 1938, Lee-Smith graduated with honors from the Cleveland School of Art and worked for the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He was concerned about the contribution art could make to the struggle for social justice and racial equality.
While in the Navy for a 19-month stint, he was one of three African-American artists commissioned to do “morale-building paintings” of Black shipmen. He also painted a mural entitled History of the Negro in the U.S. Navy and did portraits of the first Black naval officers. Many years after winning a top prize for painting from the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1953, he recalled “I was no longer called a black artist, Negro artist, or colored boy. When I won that prize, all of a sudden, there was no longer a racial designation.” In 1994 he was commissioned to paint the official portrait of #DavidDinkins, former Mayor of New York City, for the New York City Hall. Hughie Lee-Smith died of cancer on February 23, 1999, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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