Lee Schmelzle has been happily married to her husband Dick for 66 years, but she’s had a love affair that’s lasted even longer: art. Her drawing, titled “Johnny,” recently won Amateur Best in Show in Presbyterian Manors of Mid America’s masterpiece level Art is Ageless® juried competition. Her work will also be featured in the upcoming Art is Ageless Calendar.
“I really started drawing and painting when I was a real little girl. I always enjoyed it. In fact, my mother told me I started drawing before I even started walking!” said Lee. “After high school, I went to the Washington University School of Fine Arts. Then when I got pregnant with our first, I left school. We had four children in a short amount of time, so that kept me very busy. I eventually went back to school though, and even took classes from Fontbonne University. My main teacher was famed portrait artist Tito Gay. She is quite an artist, and I owe her a lot of gratitude for the wonderful start she gave me. She said I had quite a talent, so I believed her.”
Even though Lee had a full plate with family obligations and a very successful career in real estate, she always found time for art.
“I’ve always found time to keep up with the drawing. I have sketch books of our family trips going back to heaven knows when. If you look at something hard enough to put it down on piece of paper, you tend to remember it better,” said Lee. “Some are surprised to learn I had a career outside of art. I sold real estate and had my own little company. I did feasibility studies for builders and developers, and it was very rewarding. I’m very lucky to live in the age where women can work. I think about my mother who couldn’t work, and I feel grateful for my career.”
Lee credits her husband Dick with being very supportive of her artistic pursuits, and she’s very appreciative of the blessings her life has bestowed.
“I’m lucky to have a lot of energy left at nearly 88. And I’m grateful to my husband who’s always been enormously supportive. I’ve also got wonderful friends, especially here at Aberdeen Heights. We’ve lived here five years now, and I have the freedom to do so many things. My body will no longer let me play tennis or golf, but I’ll always be able to do my art. Always. It gives me so much joy.”
Lee has continued her art education over the years and takes one or two classes from Merrimack Community College every year.
“I only started doing portraiture 10 years or so ago. I didn’t even know I could draw a likeness of someone. My professor came over and said, ‘I didn’t ask you for a portrait,’ and I said, ‘I didn’t know I could draw one!’ Then I started doing some graphite drawings from photos of family members. Eventually, I tried pastels.”
A dear friend at Aberdeen Heights had asked Lee to draw a portrait of her great-grandson, Johnny.
“Well, I did and she loved it. She gave it to her daughter, the boy’s grandmother, and they were very appreciative. Well, when it came time to submit artwork, they insisted they send it in, and here we are!”
A reception was recently given at Aberdeen Heights to honor Lee and her accomplishments, and she may never stop smiling. Lee’s work has been featured in a previous Art is Ageless calendar, but this is her first masterpiece Best in Show honor.
“I’ve had a wonderful life. I have four marvelous children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, and I’m surrounded by such wonderful friends here. I can continue doing what I love in a supportive environment,” said Lee. “The executive director (Jamie Kneen) has committed to making this a cultural environment. We even have a play writing club now! There are so many wonderful things to do. I can’t compliment him enough. I have a great life.”