“You’re going to be working all of your life, so just do what makes you happy! And, if you are able to make others happy while doing what makes you happy, what more could you ask?”
– Annie Lee
We were recently given the incredible opportunity to add a line of Annie Lee dolls to our products here at Africa Imports. The original retail price on these dolls was $84, but we are now able to offer them at a surprisingly low price of $3.95 each. We hope that you and your customers can enjoy these dolls and help pay homage to the creator of these timeless figurines. To see the wonderful collection we have available in limited quantities, simply click here.
The Legacy of Annie Lee Dolls
Annie Lee, the creator of these dolls, is renowned as one of the front-runners in African American artwork. She was known for her exuberant, lively style and the way her faceless dolls would portray emotion and glamour in a way that was not only fun but humorous. Her dolls had no faces, nor did the subjects of much of her artwork, but their posture reveals an emotion and liveliness that is hard to find elsewhere. “I try to paint things that people can identify with,” Lee told Contemporary Black Biography. And she succeeded. At her first gallery show in 1985, her paintings sold out within four hours of the show.
Lee’s work seems to lure the viewer into the lifestyle and atmosphere it shows; you can hear the saxophone player in her paintings and you can sense the swagger in a faceless doll wearing a fancy blue dress and dangling gold-colored earrings. Everything about Annie Lee’s artwork and her dolls speaks of the lush, everday life in African American culture as Annie Lee knew it.
Annie Lee’s Origins
Annie Lee was born in Gadsden, Alabama in 1935 and raised in Chicago by her devoted single mother. Growing up, she was expected to learn survival skills like cooking, washing, cleaning, and sewing. She enjoyed listening to radio shows like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow while knitting, crocheting, or drawing. At an early age she found fulfillment through painting, and won her first art competition at the age of ten. She loved art throughout her childhood, and grew more and more skilled as a painter and creator throughout high school. After high school, Lee was offered a four-year scholarship to attend Northwestern University after high school, but chose to marry and raise a family instead.
Unfortunately, life wasn’t easy after that. She wasn’t able to resume painting until she was 40-years-old, and before that she had gone through the sadness of losing two husbands to cancer and raised a son and daughter largely on her own. By day she worked as a chief clerk at Northwestern Railroad, and by night she studied art. After eight years of night classes, she earned her masters degree in interdisciplinary arts education from Loyola University. “Getting my masters degree was the best thing I ever did for myself. It reopened my mind,” Lee is quoted as saying.
Physical Hardships and Personal Tragedy
Annie Lee’s life still wasn’t easy after she got her masters degree. She developed tendonitis and spinal problems from painting so much, and the fumes from her acrylic paints made her sick. Even so, she refused to give up and had her first gallery show in 1985. The demand for her work was incredible, and she was inspired to keep working nights to bring in a supplementary income for her two children.
Sadly, tragedy struck in 1986 when Lee’s son died in an automobile accident. She left work to grieve her loss, and decided she would give up the financial security of her day job to pursue her art full-time. “I prayed I could make my living by painting. I felt I was supposed to paint. Now that my son was gone, I didn’t need such financial resources,” Lee remembered to CBB.“God did this through me,” she continued.“I never thought I would leave the railroad, but it was the best thing I ever did. It was hard to leave the security, but you have to take a leap of faith.”
A Successful Art Career
Annie Lee’s daring risk was a good one. In 1990, she opened her own shop, Annie Lee and Friends Gallery. She had a strong business sense and her gallery was a success! Some of her paintings even appeared in popular TV shows like Bill Cosby’s A Different World.
Lee was determined to capture Black American life and to convey emotion through body language and style as opposed to facial expressions. “You don’t need to see a face to understand emotion,” Lee explained to CBB.“I try to make the movement of the body express the emotion. And people can use their imaginations.”
Sadly, Annie Lee passed away on November 24th, 2014, in Henderson, Nevada. She was 79-years-old, and she will be truly missed. We hope that many more artists will follow in her footsteps and learn from her determination and unique perspective.
To see the Annie Lee doll collection available now, click here.