Secret Archive: Lee Kelly works on paper

For the last few months I have been going through Lee’s drawings and prints from 1956 to present. My goal is to document them, determine their condition, and protect them from future ravages of time (to the extent that such a thing is possible).

I’ve learned a lot about my father’s work during this process. Many times, Lee looks through the stacks of drawings as I unearth them and tells stories about when they were made. Or, conversely, tells me he has no memory of making them, which is no surprise given how much time has passed since he was in art school.

Through these works on paper, I’ve seen Lee evolve from a painter in the 1950’s to a sculptor in the early 1960’s. When Lee was still direct welding with such materials as car bumpers and scrap metal from Liberty ships, drawings of the sculptures were made after the work was finished. By 1968-69, Lee began drafting sculpture designs in advance, describing welded metal forms and how to assemble them.

Maybe it’s just me, but this glimpse into my father’s working life is magical. For the next few weeks, I’m going to post images of this early work here on the blog. To get us started here are two pieces from Lee’s second year in art school, 1956.

1956

In 1956, Lee was a second year student at The Museum Art School (now the Pacific NW College of Art). He lived on North Detroit Street in Portland with his wife, Jeanette. He was 24 years old, working at Charles Grant Company, an architectural mill works, and traveling between home, work, and school on his Vespa.

Works on paper for Lee’s first two years in art school are hard to find. I couldn’t find anything from 1955 and what survives from 1956 are a few prints and the condition isn’t good. Paper does not age well out here in the damp and cold. But I found a couple from 1956 that are in surprisingly good shape, both signed and dated by the very young Lee Kelly.

Untitled (portraits), 1956. Lithograph, 10.05” h x 11” w. $1200.

Untitled (portraits), 1956. Lithograph, 10.05” h x 11” w. $1200.

Untitled (crane), 1956. Wood block print on rice paper, 10” h x 7” w.

Untitled (crane), 1956. Wood block print on rice paper, 10” h x 7” w.

Yes, you see that correctly: Untitled (portraits) is in good enough condition to sell. If you’re interested, I offer a 20% discount if purchased through this site.

Lee is represented by the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. If you are interested in Lee's work please contact the gallery.

All other questions can be directed to Kassandra Kelly (me). Check the store page on this site to view historic drawings and small sculptures offered for sale through Lee's studio. Anything purchased through this site receives a 20% discount.