Overlooked No More: Lee Godie, Eccentric Chicago Street Artist


This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about notable people who have died unreported in The Times, which began in 1851.

Those who passed through downtown Chicago in the 1970s or 1980s encountered a weathered blonde woman wearing a rabbit fur coat and a male orthopedic slip-on while performing art on Michigan Avenue. There is a possibility. If you look like a future buyer, she slowly and seductively unfolds her latest canvas as you approach.

From time to time she sang old songs with her nimble voice. “Oh! Her favorite was” French, “which was a huge hit in World War I. If you are very lucky, she will welcome you to hors d’oeuvres. Oreo cookies with cream stuffing replaced by cheese. Instant ice tea made from water from a citizen’s fountain. As she is often called, the eccentric “bag lady” was Rigody, one of the city’s most iconic artists.

For almost 25 years, Gody lived mostly outdoors, sleeping on park benches even at sub-zero temperatures. She hid her belongings in a rented locker all over the city. Her studio was on alleys, bridges and deli counters wherever she happened to be.

She was prolific and produced paintings, drawings and watercolors on materials such as canvas, abandoned blinds, cardboard, pillowcases and paper. In the 1970s, she took hundreds of self-portraits at the Greyhound bus terminal and train station photo booths. She portrayed many aspects of herself in these black-and-white snapshots, often decorated with paint and ballpoint pens. Katharine Hepburn looks exactly like you. A rich woman flashes a wad of cash. And above all, an uncompromising artist whose work can be found in American museums today.

Jamot Emily Godee was born on September 1, 1908 in Chicago and is one of 11 children raised in the Christian Scientist family in the northwest. Goddy’s house was small and the sisters slept in the attic.

Goddy was so private and a fablist about his life that it can be difficult to decipher the truth from his self-invention. Her true ambition was to become a nightclub singer, but she claimed to have once worked as a telephone operator. In 1933, she married George Hathaway, a steam fitter who had three children. His son died of pneumonia at the age of 18 months, and his daughter died of diphtheria at the age of seven.

Goddy remarried in 1948 and moved to Tacoma, Washington, with the impression that her new husband, Austin Benson, defended her singing career. Instead, she found herself upset at his poultry farm and pregnant again. She quickly ran away and abandoned her family forever.

For some time after that, Gody disappeared. In an interview, Kafra Fleming, who released the documentary film Lee Godie: Chicago’s French Impressionism last year, said she couldn’t find an artist’s record between 1952 and 1968. After that, 60-year-old Gody suddenly appeared. At the stairs of the magnificent Chicago Institute of Arts, he declared the French Impressionists “much better than Cezanne.”

In her 1982 Chicago Reader profile, early collector Alex Wald remembered when writer Michael Bonesteel first saw Gody: The actual eyebrows are all from the same paint box she was taking pictures of. “

It’s unclear when Gody started painting and what made her art publicly available. She liked to claim that the red bird told her to pick up the brush. Her customer was initially a student at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago, where she bought her work at a bargain price of $ 5 to $ 20 per piece. (Gody reverses the “real” value of his art (usually over $ 2,500).) She occasionally included cheap brooches and live carnations as bonuses to sweeten the sale. She also sewed a photo booth portrait onto the canvas as part of her advertising.

“She lived in a fantasy world,” Marianne Bart, one of the student’s customers, said on the phone. “In her mind, she was a world-famous artist, and everything was about France.”

Gody pronounced her name with a French accent, like go-DAY. In Chicago’s Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art’s 2008 exhibition catalog, where Godi’s art is on display, curator Jessica Moss conveys Godi’s delight at a French Impressionist show at the Art Institute. rice field. “To prevent fainting in such a respected facility, she devoured a small piece of cheese stored under her armpit in an emergency,” Moss wrote.

At first glance, Godi’s work looks like a child, and her appearance is depicted in a grotesque-like cartoon style. She was primarily a portrait painter, but evokes a sense of alertness and anxiety, as evidenced by her clenching teeth in works such as “Tidle — French Impressionist gay artist Lee Godie.” More than anything else, I wasn’t interested in capturing portraits of the subject.Her image has a deliberately exaggerated expressiveness, like “Sweet Sixteen”. ((((1973-74) or “Smiling Girl” without a date. Both her men and women sport flashy red lips, wide eyes that cling to lusciousness, and hair that can be unnaturally blonde or orange.

“The mysterious nature of her people, arrested, sometimes anxious, and even alarming, is as real as the artist himself,” Bonestir wrote in the 1993 exhibition catalog. “She mentally imprints her emotional state in the process of making her work.”

Inspired by Charles Dana Gibson’s illustration of the turning point of the ideal female beauty century, the so-called Gibson Girl, a repetitive figure, including a woman with a top knot and a left profile with bare teeth. There was. Prince Charming, or Prince of the City, is a nobleman with bow ties and separated hair, often depicted in front of the John Hancock Center in Chicago. And it’s based on a waiter, a sideburned mustache man, a real waiter that Gody thought was handsome.

Some of her female figures resembled actress Joan Crawford. Other common motifs were birds, leaves, insects, bunches of grapes, and hands playing the piano. Gody sometimes writes “Staying Alive” and “Chicago — we own it!” On her canvas. It is displayed with the frequency of your personal motto.

Gody hosted a theme party to showcase his new work. For example, the “Red Party” was held at Grant Park around dawn and featured red appetizers and red palette art. In the 1980s, she streamlined the company by tracking the songs she created and selling copies, essentially mass-producing her biggest hits. She reportedly earned as much as $ 1,000 a day and dressed in hidden pockets in shoes, underwear and a coat. On a terribly cold night, she jumped into a $ 10 room in a cheap hotel.

As Gody’s words spread, so did her reports of combat behavior. She is notorious for refusing to sell to buyers who are offended or otherwise offended by her. Women who wore trousers instead of dresses were blacklisted.

Frank Jiruberu, a bicycle messenger at the time, remembered Goddy throwing a pizza at a police officer. Marga Schwart, who fostered a friendship with her, once saw Goddy smashing a stranger’s camera in front of a Bonwit Teller department store. “It was a windy day,” Schwart said on the phone, “and Lee said,’There are no pictures on a windy day.'”

However, Gody had a soft side. According to Bonestir, she was known for providing quirky advice, such as telling people to eat crispy peanut butter to “always breathe in the refreshing scent of peanuts.”

In the mid-1980s, Gody became friends with Chicago gallerist Carl Hammer, who had her first solo exhibition in 1991. (New exhibition “Sincerely … Lee Godie” It will be on display at his Chicago Gallery until February 26th. )

“I fell in love with her job,” Hammer said in an interview. “She was one of the most special people in my life. She was a microcosm of what I was doing in the gallery.”

A retrospective exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center continued in 1993.

Gody was also the subject of people’s articles Magazines and The Wall Street Journal. The work of the journal caught the eye of Bonnie Blank, a daughter who was estranged by Goddy by her first husband. She was unaware of her mother’s career on the streets of Chicago. Blank lives in nearby Plano, Illinois and reunites with his mother. The mother had previously shown signs of dementia. Blank was recognized as a legal guardian in 1991 (she says she is currently writing a book about her mother).

Shortly thereafter, Gody was moved to a nursing home and died on March 2, 1994. She was 85 years old.

Her work is now in permanent collections such as the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Smithsonian, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Gody was a contradiction entanglement. A flannel dressed in patchwork and a safety pin that regards you as a fashion plate. A short-tempered bohemian who insisted on etiquette. A shy woman with a camera that mercilessly adapted her internal condition. He was an artist who enjoyed beauty even in a harsh concrete environment.

“I always try to draw beauty,” she wrote in the journal. “But some people say that my paintings aren’t beautiful. Well, I have beauty in mind, but it’s not always easy to make a painting beautiful.”


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