On a cold winter morning in Illinois in the 1970s, Annie Frances Lee did not want to go to work. But as Chief Clerk in the Engineering Department of Northwestern Railroad, she had little choice, so her feelings manifested in the popular painting, Blue Monday, portraying a weary woman struggling to pull herself out of bed.
Born in 1935 in Gadsden, Alabama, Lee was raised by a single parent and grew up in Chicago. Although she began painting at an early age and won an art competition at age 10, after high school, Lee turned down a full scholarship from Northwestern University to get married and raise a family.
Fast forward two decades as the 40 year-old decided to return to school and pursue a career as an artist. Still working her railroad job, Lee completed eight years of night classes to earn a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts education from Loyola University. Two years later, the 50 year-old artist had her first gallery show before going on to produce high fashion dolls, decorative housewares, figurines, and what would become her trademark paintings of faces with no features.
As her work increased in popularity, the artist now known as “Annie Lee” opened Annie Lee and Friends Gallery where she showed her own works and works by others. In the 1980s and 90s, a number of her paintings began appearing on such popular television shows such as The Cosby Show, A Different World, and ER, and in the Eddie Murphy films, Coming to America and Boomerang. Lee’s popularity soared as she made public appearances, visited galleries, and toured schools.
The legendary artist once offered the following: “God did this through me. You have to have faith. I never thought I would leave the railroad, but it was the best thing I ever did. It was hard to leave the security, but you have to take a leap of faith.”
Annie Lee departed this world on November 14, 2014 at the age of 79.
BAIA BITS are produced in part by the generous support of our Patreon members with a special shout out to Zadig & Voltaire.