Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie

September 12, 2008 – January 3, 2009

Co-curated by Jessica Moss and David Syrek

LEFT: Jewelry was in this...(holding case) n.d., Photograph. Collection of Lorin Adolph. RIGHT: Sweet Sixteen, 1973-74. Paint on canvas, Collection of Lolli Thurn.

This first major retrospective since Godie’s death in 1994, will include more than 100 of her works of art. Godie’s work consists mainly of paintings and drawings, but included a number of photo-booth photos with Godie posed as other personae. On many photographs, she added color, embellished eyes, hair and lips. Born Jamot Emily Godie in Chicago on September 1, 1908, she shortened her middle name Emily to Lee. It was not until 1968 that she was noticed selling her paintings on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, flashing open her ragged coat stuffed with rolled-up paintings and announcing in a toothless but engaging way, ‘Would you like to buy some canvases? I’m much better than Cezanne.’

For the next 24 years, Godie could be found selling her art from along north Michigan Avenue and Water Tower Park. You couldn’t miss her. “Big orange circles were painted on each cheek, eye shadow over her eyes and thick, black eyebrows above her natural ones—all applied from the same paint-box she used to make her pictures. Her preferred clothing consisted of bolt-ends of material which she wrapped around in a sort of makeshift Indian sari fastened with safety pins. She never wore pants because she considered them unladylike, yet she was perhaps the first woman to make a fashion statement by wearing a brassiere outside her normal clothing. In the winter, she wore men’s heavy orthopedic shoes and more than one rabbit-skin coat pieced together from other coats. She often wore a felt hat with a brim over dirty, snarled, grey hair that hung to her shoulders.” 1

Intuit’s chair of exhibitions, Jan Petry reminisced, “It seems like only yesterday that some of us were having sun tea with her in Water Tower Park or bartering and bantering on the Michigan Avenue bridge. Many Chicagoans would look for her on their lunch hours or on the way home from the office. Sometimes we had to make a mad dash to the cash machine to get back to her before Lee sold that special piece to someone else.” Intuit invites all of Chicago to celebrate and remember Lee this special centenary year by assembling her colorful drawings and self-portrait photography. The exhibition runs through January 3, 2009.

Click here to view this exhibition on Flickr

Click here to learn about Lee Godie on Chicago Public Radio’s Three to See: Art on the Edge

1 “Lee Godie: Michael Bonesteel Reflects on the Life and Work of the Queen Mother of Chicago Outsider Artists, Raw Vision [27], 1999.