Working with Multi-media
Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)
The Quintessential Blade
Doing the Gallery Thing
Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)Artist Spotlight
by Giovanna Adams
Lee Brown Coye began his artist life during the Great Depression, and much to his discontent, worked as an advertising agency art director through much of the 1930s. He lived with his wife Ruth in Central New York, USA, throughout his entire life. He pursued his love of art by teaching adult art classes and producing a variety of commissioned works. (1)
As an artist, Coye was almost entirely self taught. He attended one semester of night art class, but most of his artistic knowledge came from his many years of artwork and self study. In the early 1940’s, eager to develop a knowledge of anatomy, he took on work as a medical illustrator, and became extremely familiar with the human body. (2)
One recurring feature in Coye's work is the motif of wooden sticks. Coye inspred his friend Karl Edward Wagner to write the award-winning story, "Sticks", based on Coye’s 1938 discovery in an abandoned farmhouse. Coye had returned to the North Pitcher, New York, area where he spent much of his childhood. While wandering deep in the woods, Coye discovered an abandoned farmhouse. Boards and pieces of wood which had been set perpendicular to one another surrounded the site. Neither inside nor out could Coye find an explanation for the presence of these crossed sticks. In the years following, Coye remained interested in the significance of his discovery. When Coye returned to the site in 1963, there was nothing left of the building or the sticks (the area had suffered severe flooding), and he never found out why the sticks were there or who it was that had arranged them in such a manner. Because of the strangeness of the experience, these forms never left Coyes mind, and they appear in many of his paintings and illustrations. (3)
While Coye dabbled in abstract paintings, Coye's fame as an illustrator of fantasy and the macabre developed as a result of his drawings for Weird Tales, a popular pulp magazine. From 1945 to 1952, his covers and interior work captured images of fantasy, horror and the supernatural. Coye illustrated August Derleth's horror story anthologies, Sleep No More, Who Knocks, and The Night Side, as well as the H. P. Lovecraft collection, Three Tales of Horror, and two deluxe collections of pulp stories edited by Karl Edward Wagner and published by Carcosa Press: Manly Wade Wellman's Worse Things Waiting (1975) and Hugh B. Cave's Murgunstrumm and Others (1978). For his work in Worse Things Waiting, and again in 1976, Coye won the World Fantasy Award for best artist. (4)
In author Luis Ortiz' words, "Coye was an art machine and an American Original. As a child he was considered a 'holy terror'. As an adult, after a hard day of doing medical illustrations, he thought nothing of walking into a bar carrying a skull under his arm, placing it on the counter and buying his guillotined 'friend' a drink. On another occasion he 'borrowed' the finger-bone of a saint (a holy relic he was building a reliquary for) from the Catholic Church in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. The Syracuse diocese was beside itself and had to send clergy to perform a blessing on Coye's studio since the relic could only travel to holy places." (5)
Coye's work is represented in numerous collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Everson Museum in Syracuse, the Onondaga County Historical Society, Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University, the Morrisville State College Library, SUNY Oswego, Syracuse University, and private collections. (6)
1) Rayfield, Tammra (1985). “Lee Brown Coye: Illustrator and Artist”. Interview. The Mage
2) Magner Gene (1966). “Lee Brown Coye” California: Albion Books
3) Loratun, Visau (1981). “The Macabre Art of LB Coye”. New York: Shuster
4) Talian, Monica (1995). “Horror Artists of the 1930’s”. PDF file
5) Gregor, Simon L. (1973). Excerpt from “New York Art”, Lee Brown Coye
6) Ortiz, Luis. (2005) Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye. New York: Nonstop Press.
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