For more than 40 years, artist Emily O. “Lee” Garrison (1928 – 2014) spent her summers in Vermont, relaxing with friends, communing with fellow artists, painting and sketching. Subsequently, it was her final wish to give back in some way to the region for which she felt such an affinity. Prior to her death last year, Lee made arrangements to leave her life’s work to the Burlington City Arts Foundation in order to support the arts and regional artists through the sale of her work. BCA is grateful for this generous gift, which will help to benefit, among others, its exhibition and education programming.
Though she loved her home and studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lee was truly a resident of the world. She lived variously in New York, Salzburg, Rome, and Naples, and traveled much of the rest of the world throughout the course of her long and active life. Never without the tools of her trade, Lee sketched and painted in places as far-flung as the gardens of Positano and the mountains of Chiusaforte in Italy to archeological excavations at Sardis in Turkey and the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Lee studied fine art at Connecticut College in the 1940s and later went on to attend the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford University, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Students’ League in New York throughout the 1960s. Her work is included in many private collections, several public collections including the Sardis collection at Harvard Art Museums, and she exhibited in solo and group shows throughout Vermont, the Northeast, and in numerous European venues.
A prolific artist, Lee revisited certain subjects—flowers, grasses, water, her friends’ gardens, familiar landscapes—and painted them time and again, each canvas capturing a new emotion, a change in season, or the play of light at a particular time of day. Lee’s sense of color—whether she was working monochromatically or with a rainbow of variety—was exquisite. She kept detailed records of the paints that she used in the margins of virtually every canvas she painted, noting also when a particular piece was executed, the date and time of day and, in many cases, the various years over which a painting was worked and reworked. Chinese art, in particular its water-filled landscapes, flower paintings, and portraits, was inspirational to Lee’s evolving artistic practice. Her paintings often exhibit the same spirit and method of long contemplation followed by rapid execution that she divined there, resulting in beautifully gestural and expressive canvases.