Artist’s work displayed at Parnell

Published 3:49 pm Monday, January 19, 2009

There is currently a wonderful showing of John P. Lee’s paintings at Montevallo’s Parnell Memorial Library Art Gallery. On Sunday, Jan. 25 at 3:30 p.m. there will be a gallery talk and reception sponsored by the Library Foundation Board. Lee’s widow, Judy, and Dr. Robert McChesney will be the featured speakers.

Lee’s watercolors of wildlife, mostly birds and plants, are extremely realistic and unbelievably detailed. He is remembered commenting, “People say I don’t own a brush larger than a triple ought. I build my paintings feather by feather, leaf by leaf.”

A collection of his tiny brushes is on display in the gallery.

Many remember Lee as the very popular police chief at the University of Montevallo. Some did not know that he was also an acclaimed artist.

“John’s life was very compartmentalized,” said Judy Lee. “In conversation he talked about either police work or art, not mixing the two; and he was very detailed in his work at either. He painted in the same manner as the old Renaissance Masters, achieving a dimension and luminescence not commonly found today.”

Growing up on a farm in Chambers County gave Lee the opportunity to develop a strong knowledge and love of wildlife and nature. He hunted and fished and could never remember a time he did not draw and paint the wildlife he so avidly pursued. He received a degree in art education from Troy University by working in law enforcement. After teaching art for five years in Florida, Lee returned to law enforcement. He earned a master’s degree in criminal justice administration, served as Chief of Police in Troy and then came to the University of Montevallo where he filled that position for 24 years.

Lee’s work has been exhibited throughout the Southeast. He won the competition for a painting used for the waterfowl stamp on Alabama’s hunting licenses in 1983-84 and again in 2003-04.

Judy Lee is also an artist. She modestly identifies herself as “his assistant,” but she filled a very active role in his work. She contributed her talents through composition and photography, as well as in painting the base layers of watercolor. Most of the paintings are signed by John Lee and in smaller lettering, J. Lee.

There are prints of many of Lee’s hundreds of paintings. Information on the availability of these prints may be obtained by calling 665-2254. Note cards depicting some of Lee’s work are also available at Parnell Memorial Library.

Catherine Legg can be reached at