In Lone Pine, California, in the 1940s, there wasn’t much ready-made entertainment. No electronic games, no Internet, not even TV. The Owens Valley was too remote for the signal from LA’s new black-and-white television station to make it over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So, when Susie Lee and her sister weren’t at school, they invented their own games or went arrowhead hunting in the desert or camping and fishing in the High Sierra with their parents. Theirs was a healthy young life, lived close to nature, with no need for artificial entertainment.
Art came naturally to Susie. With stubs of #2 pencils from school, on spare newsprint from her father’s newspaper office, she constantly drew the family dogs, cats and hamsters, the horses in nearby pastures, and the creatures she saw in the Sierra mountain wilderness. She wrote stories about these animals as she drew.
Susie also loved wood. When she was seven or eight, she built a miniature western town on her bedroom floor out of wood she scavenged around town. Her creations became very elaborate, with a tiny boarding house, jail and a saloon for her bowlegged plastic cowboys from the Lone Pine Five & Dime Store. The saloon counter had very tiny wooden bottles that she carved from pine splinters. The cowboys’ plastic horses were tied to small wooden hitching rails outside the saloon. It was a sprawling miniature masterpiece that her parents let her keep intact on the floor for months.
Sprint forward to adulthood: Susie graduated from UCLA in the mid-sixties with a degree in English, torn between becoming a writer, an artist, a geologist or a forest ranger — or all four. So she became a business owner. Eventually, she and a graphic designer friend opened Strode & Lee Marketing, an advertising firm in Los Angeles, specializing in credit unions. Strode did all the artwork and Lee did all the copywriting, an equitable and profitable arrangement that lasted as a business partnership for 18 years (and continues, in altered form, to this day).
In 1998, Susie retired from the firm and moved to Talent, Oregon. Big city life had chafed on her for 29 years and she yearned for peaceful rural greenery and clean air. Southern Oregon was the perfect solution: a combination of the artistic and theatrical culture of nearby Ashland and the semi-rural community of Talent with its white-fenced horse pastures and early morning sounds of roosters crowing and a far-away cow eager to be milked. Finally, Susie had come full circle, back to the passions of her rural youth: animals and art.
After building a portfolio of new drawings, Susie joined the Art du Jour artists’ cooperative gallery in 2010. Her renderings in charcoal, pen-and-ink, colored pencil and graphite are labors of love, fine detail revealing the infinite patience she invests in each drawing. Her heart has been won time and again by mountain lions and owls, mustangs, kids and cats, bighorn sheep and baby critters. Old barns and deserted shacks are her other favorite subjects.
Susie is also a three-dimensional artist. She constructs freehand scale models from balsa wood and hardwood veneers and her highly detailed projects usually take years to complete. Her grand piano in rosewood has an accurate four-inch keyboard with raised black keys. The lid opens to reveal fine piano wire attached to tiny gold pinheads. This model is now in a private collection in Arizona.
Susie’s artwork is on display at the Art du Jour Gallery at 213 E. Main Street in Medford, Oregon. Cards and giclee prints of her work are also available through her website and at the gallery.