By Susan Gallacher-Turner
Podcast audio interview available at www.voicesoflivingcreatively.com
“I have done a lot of different things, but I think that’s the way my art developed,” says Margie Lee. “It’s not just a straight path, that’s for sure.”
Margie Lee’s life path has led her across the country and Europe, and across the fields of geology, literature and art. Margie’s interest in art started in second grade when she tagged along to her older brother’s private art lessons, “I was very encouraged by my brother who was a painter. It was a very rich environment, all the teachers were from the college,” Margie explains. Her early schooling in Bellingham, Washington, was at the Campus School, a lab school associated with Western Washington University.
Margie’s interests grew to include math and science in high school and it was there her path took a turn that led her back to art. “I got kicked out of French class, and put in art which was horrible because all the weird kids were in that class,” Margie laughs. “But I started doing my sketching. I liked to draw figures and fashion illustration. The teacher noticed and said I think you should go into this…so I kept that in my mind.”
Fashion illustration was Margie’s first career choice, but with the advice of her mom, and her interest in science, she went to Western Washington University getting a BA in Geology but right after graduation her path took another turn. “I worked for one day, and I got fired,” says Margie. “So that weekend, some friends and I went to Carmel. It was so beautiful, and I wanted to know who lived here, and they said artists.” That’s when Margie realized, “I don’t think Geology is for me. I think I’d better go into art.
So I started that path.”
Seeing her figure drawing and painting as characters, someone suggested she look into working in costume design. Since there were only a few places in San Francisco that hired costume designers, she took another suggestion and headed across the country getting a job working as a wardrobe mistress in New York. It was there, resident playwright Lanford Wilson, asked her to do the graphics for the theater. That’s when Margie started taking classes at The Art Students League.
“I studied printmaking,” says Margie. “Then I met an artist named Ari and he said why don’t you try oil. I was very frightened of oil but I tried it and I just got hooked on oil painting.” Her classes didn’t lead her to graphic design for the theater, but into the fine art world instead. Margie describes her path, “I had a few exhibits in New York, went back to Bellingham and had some more exhibits, then I won a Purchase Prize at the Anacortes Art Festival and I used that to go to Europe.”
Margie went back to New York after Europe and met her husband, a writer. From there, they went to San Diego, where Margie painted and her husband wrote a book. A move to Boston led her back to college, this time to study another love, literature. After getting her masters in English and American Literature from Harvard, Margie started writing. Making art and writing was a balancing act according to Margie, “It’s hard to do both. Because, all this time I’m doing different jobs to make a living, I could not possibly do both. When I say balance, I mean I’ll do writing for 4 years and art for 3 years.”
Margie’s worked at a variety of jobs over the years including UPS loader, telephone survey researcher, fish cleaner, Burger King cashier and bookstore clerk. But it was her last job that finally allowed her to combine her unique skills. Working at the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Margie did graphics and art. “I did a lot of charts and maps,” explains Margie. “I mainly wanted to do illustrations for the features section. My art was being used, not in fashion illustration but in this character study way. I did it all from memory and on photo shop. I get them all out of my head, my imagination. You have to have an imagination for that, that’s why they want an artist because the artist can do something they can’t get from a photograph.”
Describing her painting process Margie says, “I start with a blank piece of paper or canvas. I just start putting paint on it, sometimes I have an idea in my mind and sometimes I’m just putting paint on it. I’ll see what’s on the canvas. If I see something exciting, I’ll just go with it.”
It’s her intuition and imagination that fuels her creative process now more than ever. Whether it’s writing poetry, creative non-fiction, painting or her newest passion, video, Margie is involved in characters, words and stories.
This year in addition to being on the Portland Open Studios Tour, Margie is on the board and produced a video about other Portland Open Studios artists. As she learned about how other artists work, she learned more about her own work as well, “It’s just amazing what these artists have in their backgrounds. You’re going into a studio with someone who’s practically spent their whole life on something and what a wealth of information. I was just amazed at the biographies and process.”
While filming artist Bill Park painting, Margie recalls he said, “And now, it’s getting really ugly and that’s just where I want to be.” Margie agrees, “That’s just the perfect point to be in art, to be creative, when you’ve just lost everything and you have nothing more to lose.”
Margie’s never at a loss for work these days, dividing her time between her solo studio work, Five Windows Studio, her poetry and creative non-fiction groups, video work and Portland Open Studios. Margie’s life and art have taken many turns along the way but there is a common thread to her intuitive path, “There are just so many projects that I want to do. As an artist, my number one thing is experimentation and always something new.”
You can visit Margie’s studio and watch her at work next weekend October 17 and 18th during the Portland Open Studios Tour. Tour Guides are available at Art Media, New Seasons, Powell’s and our webiste.