Remembering Richard Lee

His art was original, just as his life was, and came from an imagination that was delightful, perverse, playful, sexy and serene, if something can be all those things at once.

The first time I saw Richard Lee he was wearing a dress. It was Halloween and cross-dressing couples were all the rage back then. Not that Richard would need an excuse. He just didn’t care what anybody thought. He went his own way, a complete original.

There are lots of stories about Richard, about his dessert gallery in West Tisbury back in the 70s, the life masks he made with Willa Shallit, his endless search for antique frames and furniture, about Chicamoo and, of course, the wonderful dinner and cocktail parties at the Gothard’s and at his and Claudia’s own home. He was a spellbinding storyteller, and he was always on. Impeccably, screamingly funny.

His art was original, just as his life was, and came from an imagination that was delightful, perverse, playful, sexy and serene, if something can be all those things at once. When Richard made a painting, it was in exquisite detail, every aspect of the work got his full attention.

Years ago, when I had a few dollars, I bought one of Richard’s paintings, all in blues, of an elephant balancing precariously on a ball. Of course, that doesn’t really describe the work, but how do you talk about the blue asparaguses, the falling cut-out silhouette men, the bare-breasted goddess riding on the elephant’s back – or the sexy leather boots on the elephant?

I hope someone has a retrospective of Richard’s art so that the breadth of his imagination can be fully on display.

The last time I saw Richard Lee was at the opening of the old Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven several months ago. I was standing on the front steps waiting for a couple of friends to arrive when suddenly I became aware of Richard’s presence.

He was with Claudia, his lovely and talented wife, whose jewelry boutiques grace Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, and Bob Gothard, the world-class fashion photographer and one of his closest friends.

I hadn’t seen him, except in passing, since my ex-wife left me a year before, as I’d stepped back socially and hadn’t been around many people. Either Bob or Richard asked after her, and I was only able to say, awkwardly, that we’re not together any more.  A moment later, as we hugged, Richard said, “Well, anyway, it is nice to see you,” putting an emphatic twist on the word, like italics would, to put me gently at ease.  And it did.

Richard Lee was like that, loving, and very, very kind.

So if you have a favorite memory of Richard Lee, please feel free to share it in a comment. We need to remember the very special people in our lives.


One of the very best interview portraits of Richard was done by Heather Curtis in the MV Times back in 2007. Even if you know him well, it’s worth reading http://www.mvtimes.com/2007/08/02/art/richard-lee.php

Service @ 11 am Tuesday June 26 at WT cemetery followed by Pot Luck at Grange Hall. Please bring a dish to share (ONLY FINGER FOODS - room temperature - nothing that requires forks, spoons, knives, dishes, etc.) And CELEBRATE the incredible life and art of Richard Lee.



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Mathea Morais (Editor) June 24, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Thank you Michael, for writing this blog. I did not know Richard personally, but I was a great admirer of his work. I'm sure if I had known him, I would have been a great admirer of his life as well.
Jen Zern June 24, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I didn't know him, but this eulogy makes me wish I did. :)
Annika Schahn June 24, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Richard was a very special man. He was very close with my mother, Micki Hurwitt, and spent many evenings in the early 70's hanging out with her at our house in Chilmark. His dessert Gallery was happening the year we moved here - 1970 or so - a great way to discover that the Vineyard was not just farmers markets and beautiful beaches but very interesting, outrageous people! He and Claudia were the people my mother called on to help her with her dying process in the 1990's when her kids weren't here, and they were always there for her. Richard was a kind, very wise, extremely honest, disarming, boy-man. He helped me at times to understand life. I'll always have a place in my heart for Richard Lee.
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 06:26 PM
He was a riot, yes, you'd have loved him!
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Thank you JenZ. You still blogging? Love your energy...
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Annika, your mother's name is familiar, not sure why. Yeah, that's the thing about Richard. He's a great reminder that the Vineyard isn't always landscapes or farmer's markets or pricey dinners out. It's really the wide range and variety of interesting and talented people who choose to live here that make it such a special place for me. And Richard was defnitely one.
Rick Hamilton June 24, 2012 at 08:18 PM
My thoughts and condolences are with Claudia and Hudson.
Emily Vickers June 24, 2012 at 08:35 PM
This is sad news. I started working for Claudia in the late '70's, when I was a teenager. I worked at Claudia's-either summers or year-round- until 1993,when I moved to Boston.One day, Claudia came over to tell me she was in love with Richard Lee. If I wanted to meet him, he was at the store. I went right over and there he was-at the top of a precarious ladder, painting. That pretty much captures his essence. He loved Claudia and Hudson in his own unique way. I was lucky enough to spend many Christmases with them-something I have missed very much. He was an enthusiastic collector of playing card anything. One of the best finds I ever made was a small vase with four suits on it. I couldn't wait until Christmas to give it to him. His reaction was loud and memorable and completely satisfying. I'll miss him and continue to think of him and his family often. My love to Claudia and Hudson and all the many friends who cared for Richard.
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 08:38 PM
We wish them well and offer our condolences, too.
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Thank you, Emily, for adding this wonderful reminiscence, truly an intimate glimpse.
Holly Nadler June 24, 2012 at 10:02 PM
I used to tell Richard he was an American Peter O'Toole; fully as charismatic and engaging. I remember when he walked you out to your car after dinner at his house, he'd get thoroughly engrossed in the night sky. And his paintings! On first glance, they looked angelic until you saw that all the cherubs were up to kinky stuff! He once said he was very flattered when he learned a painting of his that hung in the bathroom at the Oyster Bar & Grill had been stolen! His son Husdon's buddies used to love to chill w/ Richard late into the night playing cards. "You've got to keep the snacks coming," he once told me as his secret to hanging with the young'uns.
Michael West June 24, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Lovely rembrances, Holly. Believe he was keeping the snacks coming with Hudson and the gang when he played his last hand.
William Waterway June 25, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Richard was part of our afternoon gathering in Aquinnah this afternoon. We held and admired one of his masks. We danced in fond memory of Richard dancing. We reminisced about his reverse on glass painting techniques - then we danced some more - evoking Richard's name - feeling his spirit dance.
Michael West June 25, 2012 at 09:48 AM
And the spirits danced for Richard Lee And the spirits danced On the sacred sands By the painted cliffs Their dancing turned The sands to glass Their dancing stirred up Fierce winds whirling Reds yellows greens blues Flew into the fierce winds And the spirits danced On the sacred sands By the painted cliffs As the spirits danced The colors also danced As the spirits rested The colors also rested In memory of a noble one The colors joined the glass As the spirits danced On the sacred sands By the painted cliffs
Mo Man June 25, 2012 at 02:03 PM
thank you for this, Michael.. a fitting tribute to a unique and talented man.
Michael West June 25, 2012 at 02:50 PM
You're welcome, Paul. He's left quite a legacy of love and memory.
Friederike K Biggs June 25, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I unconditionally loved Richard Lee and will continue to love his wife Claudia and their son Hudson- they are in my thoughts and in my heart. I met Richard in 1997 when we bought our house on Lambert's Cove Road - I spotted a "sale" sign at the entrance to Chicamoo Gallery and as we were to be neighbors I simply had to check it out! It didn't take a second to figure out how very talented this sweet man was. I felt honored when he entered his "blue" period and told me that he was inspired by my blue cocktail napkins! Since I am somewhat of a blue freak too we saw things eye to eye. My husband Jeremy and I never regretted a moment we spent with Richard - we are so sad that we won't have those moments to look forward to again. Friederike Biggs
Michael West June 25, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Friederike, your remembering Richard's blue period was precious and a perfect example of how he was able to create intimacy with so many wonderful people in his life. We will all treasure that.
Beverly Kaye June 25, 2012 at 11:35 PM
One summer I visited Richard in his then smaller gallery space behind Claudia's in Vineyard Haven. He wasn't a fan of manning the store, nor did he love sitting in Chicamoo waiting for clients. But luckily for the passers by or the purposeful visitors like myself who didn't consider they had arrived on Island without seeing his face, he was there. We would sit and gossip and speak of the seasons past and mutually admire his new work. One time he reached over and gifted me with a bracelet made from shells he had collected while visiting Hudson in Hawaii. My family learned to be tolerant of me getting in line hours early at Chicken Alley's annual sale when there were rumors of a Richard Lee painting hiding among the finds. Richard was delighted when he heard I had finally scored one of his pieces made especially for the sale. Years ago, when he learned of my interest in American Indian artifacts, he took me to the back of his property to show me the moss garden he had cultivated around ancient trees which were old Indian meeting grounds. He was generous, kind, outrageous, funny and loving. I can't imagine an August without him. Your touching poem was a gift to all of us who loved him. Thank you Michael.
Michael West June 26, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Beverly, your description of Richard and those stories truly brought him back to life for a moment. So many cherished memories! I am happy you like the poem I wrote. It was first thing this morning after reading Williams's comment and I wanted to find a Wampanoag funeral chant and googled to no avail, so I began to write the poem, wanting something mythic and Richard at the same time. I guess because Richard was mythic it just worked out. Maybe he was working with me.
Mathea Morais (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Just heard from Lynne Whiting that when bringing a dish to share tomorrow, they are requesting ONLY FINGER FOODS - room temperature - nothing that requires forks, spoons, knives, dishes, etc. Keeping it simple, as also seems fitting. I am going to update the blog to reflect these wishes as well.
Michael West June 26, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Thanks, Mathea, for the update. Finger foods...No weapons, no armor. Keep it simple.


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