Hughie Lee-Smith: A Detroit Story

This lecture, "Hughie Lee-Smith: A Detroit Story” by art historian Alona Cooper Wilson, Ph.D., will examine a select group of paintings completed in Detroit during the 1950s, the era of the Cold War, to discuss the artist’s life, his art, and the evolution of his artistic style. 

Born in Eustis, Florida, Hughie Lee-Smith had been reared in Atlanta and Cleveland. His first formal art lessons occurred in the children’s programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Later he earned his art degree from the Cleveland Art Institute in 1938. In Detroit, he attended the Detroit Society of the Arts and Crafts (now College for Creative Studies) and worked in the automobile industry, including Ford Motor Company. In 1953, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University.

In post-WWII Detroit, Hughie Lee-Smith furthered his art career and built a family. By the 1950s, he began to integrate distinct motifs or symbols into his paintings, which drew critical attention to his art from local and national art circles. The motifs infused his paintings with meaning and later defined his artistic style for the remainder of his career and life. The Detroit Institute of Arts acquired its Hughie Lee-Smith painting in 1952, Boy with Tire.


Black History Month at the DIA is generously supported by Arn & Nancy Tellem and additional support is provided by TD Bank.

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This program is sponsored by the DIA’s Center for African American Art.

image: "Boy wth Tire," 1952, Hughie Lee-Smith, American; oil on pressed wood panel. Detroit Institute of Arts.