Those visiting the first-floor president’s office at Malcolm X College might be distracted by the lively images blanketing the walls.
MXC, 1900 W. Van Buren, is currently showcasing the artwork of Annie Lee, whose collection adorns the walls in the foyer just outside the president’s office in Room 1100.
The artworks highlight Lee’s illustrious career. They’ve been on public display since Jan. 28, and will remain at the college until March 31. Preparation for the display began when the collection’s curator, Eugene Foney, spoke with former MXC President Zerrie Campbell about the school hosting the exhibit.
Foney, a resident of Houston (where Lee herself currently resides), was in Chicago in July, visiting his mother on the South Side.
“Zerrie and I spoke at the summer jazz series last year. We discussed bringing an art exhibit to the campus,” he recalled. “Both she and I felt it would serve a great purpose.”
Foney originally wanted to display pieces from across the globe by several different black artists. The budget for the project, however, prevented that from happening.
“I realized it would just be too costly to do that, and so I suggested focusing the exhibit on Lee, who is an African-American female artist that is known nationally,” Foney said. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”
He was able to obtain many of the pieces through Chicago-based Woodshop Art Gallery. The artwork is valued in the hundreds of thousands.
Lee’s work, which includes paintings and figurines, has much in common with impressionist artists of the late 19th century.
They represent objects and movements rather than precise realistic portrayals. Her human depictions, for instance, have no faces, which is one of Lee’s signatures.
Jessica Holloway, MXC special events and project coordinator, said Lee’s artwork has a universal appeal. “I particularly enjoyed the painting of the choir,” Holloway said. “Lee does a phenomenal job of painting a scene that viewers can all relate to.”
The exhibit is also the focus of the school’s Women’s History Month reception on Wednesday, March 12, from 5-7 p.m. taking place in the president’s foyer.
It was the focus of a similar reception spotlighting Black History Month on Feb. 13.
Annie Frances Lee was born in 1935 in Gadsden, Ala., but raised in Chicago. She showed a talent for painting at age 10, taking home prizes in several art contests. She was able to attend free semesters for lessons at the Art Institute of Chicago. Lee attended Mundelein College, American Academy of Art, and Loyola University.
Later focusing on motherhood, she put her artistic career on hold until age 40. By this time, Lee had lost two husbands to cancer and raised a son and a daughter. It seemed as though the natural next step in her life was to pursue a lifelong interest in creating and selling art. Lee began to carve a niche for herself as an independent artist. She created and sold works of art in various mediums — acrylic figurines, jewelry boxes and paintings. Each piece exemplified her gift for creating work that was on the surface understated, but had the power to create a mood that drew from her own experiences growing up in a close-knit, church-going family.
“Whether it shows characters going to the movies or doing laundry,” said Holloway, “[Her work] has the power to draw the observer in and relate it to his own past experience.”