Leo Dee (1931-2004)
by David B. Dearinger
1. All uncited biographical information in this essay was provided by Leo and Elaine Dee to the author in interviews and in writing during the spring, summer, and fall of 2004. The most important published analysis of Dee's life and art remains William H. Gerdts, "The Art of Leo Dee," in The Art of Leo Dee (New York: Coe Kerr Gallery, Inc., 1975), n. p.
2. The artist remembered that his grandmother, Elenita Roloff, was especially proficient at designing jewelry, hooked rugs, quilts, and porcelain ornamentation.
3. Much of the biographical information in this essay is taken from notes made by Elaine Dee of conversations and reminiscences with Leo Dee in October and November 2004. Typescript in possession of the author.
4. Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art 1949-1950 (Newark, New Jersey, 1949), 1.
5. See Gerdts (1975), who notes that at the time Dee was a student there, the Newark School was "at the height of its professional instruction" and that the faculty then consisted of "a group of artists who themselves produced significant bodies of work."
6. A native of Germany, Weingaertner was part of the "New Realism" movement that began in that country in the 1920s and 1930s and that, according to Gerdts (1975), the artist "successfully transported and carried to this country" when he emigrated here.
7. Dee's colleagues on the faculty of the Newark School included Hannes Beckman (who taught design and color), Hillaire Hiler (color), Joseph Konzal (sculpture), Gerson Leiber (print making), and Reuben Nakian (sculpture). Dee also taught as a visiting instructor at the Summit (New Jersey) Art Center and at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.
8. During the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art was one of the most important and influential art schools in the northeast. Besides providing generations of students with some of the finest art training available at the time, the school contributed immensely to the cultural life of Newark and the surrounding area through its exhibitions and other public programs. Even the building itself was an important landmark in the civic environment. (The building is now occupied by Newark's Arts High School.) Sadly, with the onslaught of urban "renewal" and the deterioration of the city of Newark in general, the school began an unstoppable decline in the 1980s. See for example, Charles Q. Finley, "Future is Murky for Century-Old Art School," Newark Sunday Star-Ledger, March 14, 1982, and Eileen Watkins, "Grads Draw on Education," Newark Star-Ledger, July 9, 1995. The history of this very important and now forgotten institution has yet to be written.
9. Bernard Rabin and his partner Nathan Krueger operated the gallery for almost forty years. They represented Stella, Moses and Raphael Soyer, and other artists who would enjoy international fame, and were instrumental in promoting the work of local, New Jersey artists such as Leo Dee. An exhibition about the gallery was held at the Kean College Art Gallery in Union, New Jersey, in 1981. See John Caldwell, "Two Newark Art Dealers Remembered at Kean," New York Times, March 1, 1981, for which the Times selected Leo Dee's Self-Portrait (1958) as the article's sole illustration.
10. Several exhibitions of Stella's work were held in Newark during the 1930s. The first of these was at the Cooperative Gallery in December 1937; a retrospective was mounted at the Newark Museum two years later. Although Dee would have been too young to have fully appreciated these exhibitions, his first encounter with Stella's work almost certainly occurred at Rabin & Kruger, which continued to carry Stella's work. See Joann Moser, Visual Poetry: The Drawings of Joseph Stella (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990).
11. The best recent discussion of silverpoint is in Bruce Weber, The Fine Line: Drawing With Silver in America (West Palm Beach, Florida: Norton Gallery of Art, 1986). This is the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name that featured, among other works, those of Leo Dee. Also see, by the same author, "Silverpoint Drawing," American Artist (March 1986): 36-40.
12. "'New Talents' Exhibit," clipping, unidentified Newark, New Jersey, newspaper, 1957, collection of Elaine Dee. The artist was incorrectly identified as "John Dee" in this brief exhibition review.
13. William H. Gerdts, in The Museum (Newark [New Jersey] Museum) 13 (Winter-Spring 1961): 26. Also see Gerdts (1975), which provides a more detailed and very satisfying analysis of the self-portrait.
14. Michael Lenson, "The Realm of Art," Newark Sunday News, April 28 and May 19, 1963.
15. Donald Malafronte, "Contemporary Art at Newark Museum," Newark Sunday Star-Ledger, January 27, 1963; and "The New Jersey Art Corner: A New Who's Who," Ibid, January 5, 1964, for which the Self-Portrait was reproduced. Referring to the highly realistic rendering of cloth in Reflections in White, Malafronte reported, in the January 27 review that "If you look hard enough, I was told, you can see faces in the wrinkles. I looked and you can." Both of these journalists were great supporters of Dee and rarely failed to mention him in their reviews of shows in which his work appeared.
16. John Canaday, "Good Show in Newark," New York Times, June 2, 1963.
17. Gerdts (1975), n. p. Gerdts pointed out that although Dee's canvas "successfully grapples within representational terms with the same problems that Malevich confronted," it is not nearly as simplified as the work of the Russian artist. He also pointed out that Dee's "concentration on the cool purity of these juxtaposed white surfaces" puts the work in direct opposition to "the art of his [Dee's] teacher of color theory, Ben Cunningham."
18. Grace Glueck, "Art; Drawing Society's Road Show," New York Times, November 26, 1966.
19. Donald Malafronte, "The Jersey Art Corner: Newark Teacher Star of Show featuring Meticulous Realism," Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Newark, December 18, 1966. Undoubtedly, Malafronte noticed the Maryland show not only because of his great interest in Leo Dee, but also because the exhibition was the first organized at the University of Maryland's gallery by curator William H. Gerdts, who had recently left the Newark Museum to become professor and gallery director for the university.
20. Michael Lenson, "Realm of Art: Visual Geometry," Newark Sunday News, October 22, 1967.
21. Michael Lenson, "State Show in Trenton Museum," Newark Sunday News, March 22, 1970.
22. "Precisionist Tradition," Manhattan East, November 4, 1975.
23. New York Times, November 22, 1975. Dee's work was included in other group exhibitions at Coe Kerr Gallery. In 1982, for example, two of his landscapes were included in an exhibition of the work of twentieth-century realist artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Robert Cottingham, Reginald Marsh, and Ben Shahn. See John Daxland, "Wyeths, father and son, in Kerr Gallery Show," New York Daily News, February 2, 1982.
24. Email transmission, Elaine Dee to the author, December 22, 2004.
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