The shining spirit of our mother, sister, friend, and artist Joyce Lee has departed from her body, but remains in the memories of all those who knew and loved her. Joyce Lee left us the morning of March 25, with an angelic smile on her face, surrounded by a circle of friends and family who helped to shepherd her from this life to the next.
Joyce Ann Lee was born to Charles William Brock and Helen Elizabeth Pfeifer in Douglas, Wyo., on Sept. 26, 1950. She grew up in a ranching family, moved to Pryor Creek, Mont., in 1965, and married Charles Lee in 1972. The couple had two children - son C.P. and daughter Olivia. Both children grew up with mother Joyce who constantly encouraged them to do whatever they loved. During their growing-up years, Joyce spent joyful hours and weekends taking them to barrel races and MotorCross events because these were some of the activities they loved.
Joyce's painting career began at an early age - maybe three or four years old - when her older sister Barb discovered Joyce finger-painting over one of Barb's paint-by-number sets. Her love of horses also began early, as she'd often spent time playing with a bit in her mouth, pretending to be a horse. These early beginnings led to her renown as an artist of horses, ranching, and the West. Joyce spent much of her life drawing and painting horses, mostly, and didn't take professional arts classes until the 1980's, when she studied under Ben Steele at Eastern Montana College.
Joyce's legacy lives on in her masterful paintings, and in the artists that she inspired. As an artist she was in a league of her own, capturing the essence of the horse and its relationship to the landscape in a way that no other artist has. Growing up on remote ranches in Wyoming, she witnessed her cowboy father's seasonal battles with the elements, as well as his small pleasures taken in pride of rugged tasks well done. Joyce herself experienced a childhood of exhilarating moments of horse riding and ranch work interspersed with long periods of quiet solitude - moments that nurtured the artist in her.
In Joyce's words, "Horses were a bigger part of my activities for many years, before and during my married life. They were a fairly constant thread. One of the benefits of riding was the opportunity to be out in the environment and soaking up the landscape, all parts of it. A vivid memory I have is of a drizzly morning wrangling horses. I rode out and came back with a memory, strong and simple - of riding across the soft earth among the green spring grass and the sage, lots of sage. The smell of wet sage over rolling hills under a low, gray sky stays with me. This is just one of many memories from the back of a horse that I know influences how and what I paint today."
To look at one of Joyce's paintings is to experience the wide-open spaces, the smell of sage, and the power of a horse moving through the landscape. Courage and grace are evident in every brush stroke.
"I feel very fortunate that I'm a Western artist who has done more than just visit a ranch to take some photos of cowboys," Joyce has said. "I still feel very connected to my many years of ranch life, ensuring that I bring authenticity to my Western landscapes and representation of the horse." Indeed, her work was authentic, because she was authentic. As a teacher and a mentor, she was articulate, attentive and generous, helping and encouraging aspiring artists to paint from the heart, not for recognition or accolades.
Joyce's paintings continue to be shown in prestigious galleries throughout the west; they are prized by collectors, and admired by artists. Joyce was small in stature, quiet, humble, and always to the point. She worked hard, dug deep, and left the world with a deep and abiding beauty that will last.
Joyce was preceded in death by her parents and half-sister Donna Simonson. She is survived by mother-in-law Helen Lee; former husband Charles Lee; son C.P. Lee; daughter Olivia Lee; half-sister Barbara Heinz; and cousins Shirley Forgey and Cheri Forgey Smith (Wayne); as well as too many friends to count.
The family would like to thank Monita Nemitz, Marcie Lardy, Dr. Ben Marchello and staff, and the Riverstone Horizon Hospice Home for their loving care of Joyce.
A celebration of Joyce's life will take place at Cremation and Funeral Gallery on April 2 at 10 a.m.