Two Figures and Landscape, a 1954 painting from renowned artist Hughie Lee-Smith (19151999), recently joined six other works by Lee-Smith in the Detroit Institute of Arts
(DIA) New Art for a New Self-Awareness gallery in its suite of African American art galleries. The painting, which shows a couple on a rocky shore with a calm sea beyond them, is on loan from Warrens Fitzgerald Public Schools, and its route to the DIA is an unusual one.
The painting was purchased by the 1954 graduating class at Fitzgerald High School in Warren and, as was customary, given to the school district as a gift from the class. It had been hanging in a break room at the school for decades, unrecognized as a work by a famous artist. When a former student came across an article about Lee-Smith, it jogged his memory of the painting. He contacted Fitzgerald Public Schools Superintendent Barbara van Sweden to let her know the high school had a treasure in its midst.
We were very excited to learn that our district held a painting by a well-known artist, said Van Sweden. It made sense to loan our Hughie Lee-Smith painting to the DIA so it could enhance the collection by this notable artist and be appreciated by visitors to the gallery. Since our discovery, we have learned that Fitzgerald High School graduating classes from 1953 through the mid-1980s donated works of art by Michigan artists to the district. We will be on the lookout for other art work by well-known artists.
Two Figures and Landscape is from the early years of Lee-Smiths career. This painting differs from the images for which Hughie Lee-Smith is best known, said Valerie Mercer, DIA head of the General Motors Center for African American Art. Much of his work includes a lone figure in an urban environment, such as The Piper and Boy with Tire, which are both on view in the same gallery. Were so happy that Fitzgerald Public Schools offered to lend us this work, because it gives DIA visitors a chance to see another side of this talented artist.
Three schools from the Fitzgerald Public Schools have field trips planned to the DIA and will see the painting during their visits. Chatterton Middle School will visit on Thursday, March 22, and two groups from Fitzgerald High School will be at the DIA on Friday, March 30. All are scheduled from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Their field trips are made possible by a grant from Target.
Lee-Smith was born in Florida, and as a child, moved to Atlanta and Cleveland. He studied art at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts, which is now College for Creative Studies, and earned a bachelor of arts at Wayne State University. In addition to the DIA, Lee-Smith's works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, Howard University and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.