The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1988, Volume 34, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

by Bruce Kamerling
San Diego History Center Curator of Collections

Images from this article

Leslie W. Lee was a direct descendant of Col. Isaac Lee who named the parish of New Britain, Connecticut, in 1754. A native of New Britain, Leslie’s father, James Todd Lee, was the European purchasing agent for the New York wholesale dry goods firm of Lee, Tweedy & Co. In the course of this business, James Lee crossed the Atlantic nearly eighty times in twenty years. He lived in Manchester, England, for several years, and it was there that he married Caroline Wake, a native of Yorkshire, on December 24, 1867. A son, Percy Howard, was born to the couple in Manchester on October 5, 1868. Leslie William, the second child, was also born in Manchester, on March 26, 1871. Two daughters, Ida Caroline, born in 1873, and Ella Beatrice, born in 1874, did not survive childhood.1

Little is known of Leslie Lee’s formative years. It would appear that he traveled between the United States and England several times before his family returned permanently to Connecticut. In Manchester, Leslie’s mother had a brother named Joseph Wake who was a painter, and this may have influenced the youth to pursue a career in art.2 At an early age, Lee developed an interest in ancient artifacts, particularly Indian relics which he found around his Connecticut home. When he was seven years old, his aunt gave him some old Spanish armor, said to have been dug up in Georgia, which he still owned at the time of his death. A notebook in which he recorded his many finds shows that he collected Indian artifacts all over Hartford County from his teenage years until the time he moved to San Diego.3

Having decided on a career in art, Lee studied at the National Academy of Design, and also with John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) at the Art Students’ League in New York. By 1892, he was employed as a newspaper artist and cartoonist in New York City. In 1899, he was in Paris where he studied at the Academic Julian, and with Jean Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 -1921). Returning to New York, he became an instructor at the School of Applied Design for five years beginning in 1903.4

On January 5, 1909, Lee left New York for the West Coast, traveling by train with his friend Charles W. Gould.5 It was at this time that he began to keep a private journal which he continued on and off for the rest of his life.6 Traveling through Chicago to Albuquerque, the painter noted his “…first view of the real west.” He stopped at the Indian villages, recorded the activities, and purchased a copper bracelet from an Indian girl. Finally arriving in California, the two travelers boarded with Charles Gould’s family in Santa Barbara. Staying for about three months, Lee painted several portraits including Gordon and George Gould. Returning to New York at the end of April, he began packing for a trip to Europe.

On May 11, 1909, Lee left New York on the S.S. Hamburg bound for Naples. Because of his interest in fine art and antiquities, he visited Pompeii and many of the museums and private villas in Rome. He was obviously well educated in art history and his journal is full of comments on the Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities and works of the Old Masters that he saw on this trip. A note in the journal states “I must hurry on to Florence for there are the paintings that I came to see & study.”7

Spending most of June in Florence, he went on to Venice, leaving for Austria on July 17th. Continuing to Munich, he found the Alte Pinakotek “splendid — unexpected,” but was “most disappointed” in the new picture gallery. July and August were spent in Paris where many days were devoted to the Louvre. Stopping briefly in Amsterdam, Lee traveled to London where he copied the works of Turner at the National Gallery.

Returning to New York in October with Charles Gould who had met up with him in Paris, Lee immediately made plans to go to Mexico. After taking Spanish lessons at Berlitz in New York, he started for Santa Barbara with Charles Gould on November 16th. Spending the remainder of 1909 in Santa Barbara, Lee completed a portrait of Charles’ sister-in-law, Mrs. Fred Gould.

Bound for Mexico, Lee left Santa Barbara on January 1, 1910, his train passing through Arizona and Texas. Arriving in Mexico City on January 12th, he departed the next day for Cuernavaca, where he noted “In the cultivated areas are to be seen natives ploughing with primitive wooden ploughs as of bible times to which are attached large white long-horned cattle.”8 Getting acquainted with the town, he commented “I can see the rosy sunrise behind Popocatepetl from my balcony.”9

After the bustle of New York City, Cuernavaca must have seemed like paradise. Lee’s journal reads “Lazy brilliant days. This is truly a country of procrastination. I paint in the mornings mostly from some good natured child-like man or boy in sombrero & scrape in- a beautiful little flower bedecked patio, with its old fountain and plastered and filled walls…”10 But it was not entirely without problems. “The Indian makes an unreliable model, often either do not turn up at all or send some equally unreliable substitute, friend or small brother instead.”11 One of his first paintings from this trip Mexican Muleteer was purchased by the City Art Museum in St. Louis whose 1915 catalogue described it as “The figure of a swarthy, muscular man, half length, wrapped in a red blanket, and surmounted by a brown sombrero, against a background of indeterminate grays and browns.”12 This description could fit many of Lee’s Mexican portraits.

Moving later to Mexico City, Lee’s interest in ancient cultures took him to Teotihuacan where he searched for relics among the Mexican pyramids. He also visited the cathedral, and his sight-seeing was only slightly slowed down by a mild case of typhoid fever. On May 18th, he witnessed the “Day of the Great Comet (Halleys) nothing happened despite the fear and terror of many natives in this country. The comet showed a most remarkable spec-tide (sic) in this part of the world.”13

Returning briefly to New York by ship from Progresso, Yucatan, Lee arrived on June 18th, 1910. After visiting his family in New Britain, he packed up his studio and headed back to Mexico, landing in Vera Cruz on December 31. He returned to the same hotel in Cuernavaca and resumed his old schedule of painting in the mornings in the patio, and riding and hunting for ancient relics in the afternoons. Soon, however, there were rumors of revolution and rebel campfires could be seen on the hillsides around the town. Everything was in readiness for attack, but Lee was able to reach Vera Cruz without incident, and immediately left again for New York. He wrote “My second visit to Mexico was even more satisfactory than my first. I love the places & people taking them all in all. I can live here and do the things I like best and have nearly everything that I wish by sending either to Mexico City or the States. I long to go back someday.”14

The next few years appear to have been somewhat aimless for Lee. Comments such as “…painting and wasting good time at Tuxedo…” dot his journal.15 With New York as his base, he exhibited in Chicago and New Britain (1912), and Cleveland (1913) where 600 attended the opening of his show at the Cleveland Art School. Sales were few, but he continued his portrait work and even produced tapestry designs for the Herter looms in New York. In June of 1914, he packed up his studio and moved back to New Britain, recording “…have little time and less inclination to do anything but take care of matters here. Do a little etching when opportunity affords, but out here in this town is impossible. I live only in the hopes of selling out this property & all moving out to California.”16 In November of 1915, Lee’s mother departed for San Diego, leaving her husband in New Britain, perhaps because of ill health. It was about this time that a young woman stepped into Leslie’s life. By the Fall of 1916, his journal becomes filled with notes about “M.E.H.”

Melicent Eno Humason was the daughter of William Lawrence Humason, Jr., and Florence Minerva Cole. William L. Humason, Sr., had founded the Humason & Beckley Manufacturing Company of New Britain in 1853, which produced fine pocket cutlery and other hardware. A Harvard graduate, William Humason, Jr., who was born in New Britain in 1853, married Florence Cole on October 15, 1884. He became president of the firm after the older Humason’s death in 1889. The Humasons had two daughters, Marjorie Florence born in December of 1886, and Melicent Eno born in New Britain on January 11, 1890, and a son Lawrence Cole born in May of 1891.17

Melicent’s mother, who was prominent in local social circles including the woman’s club and the Daughters of the American Revolution, died in September of 1903, when Melicent was only thirteen years old. Nothing is known about Melicent’s youth, but one may assume from the social and economic position of the family that she received an excellent education. Her father married Grace Langdon Sturgis in 1915, by which time all the Humason children were in their twenties. It is not known how or when Leslie Lee and Melicent Humason met, but certainly their families must have been acquainted in New Britain.18 Lee’s journal jumps from December of 1916 to November of 1918, without giving any clues about their relationship or even mentioning his father’s death on February 2, 1918. In spite of the nearly twenty-year difference in their ages, Leslie Lee and Melicent Humason were married at New Britain on August 1, 1918. Melicent later told the story that on the morning after their wedding, she called Leslie in to breakfast and he replied “Oh, I had mine an hour ago.”19

People who knew the Lees remember them as being very reserved, almost reclusive. Melicent was proud and brave, and if there were any problems, she would not speak of them. She was very sensitive, and to protect herself, would turn anything disagreeable into something humorous. Leslie was undemonstrative, a man of few words. His preoccupied nature at times made him seem insensitive. He would often sit and draw on his pipe rather than participate in conversation. The Lees did not entertain much, but when they did, Melicent was very gracious and put a lot of effort into it, always without pretention.20

After their marriage, Leslie and Melicent moved to a farm in Berlin, Connecticut, a few miles south of New Britain. Leslie noted in his journal “Have resumed painting somewhat though much occupied with our little cottage farm.21 Their life on the farm, however, was short-lived. On May 15, 1919, Leslie sold out the Lee estate, and six days later he and Melicent set out for California.

Arriving in San Diego on the evening of June 9, 1919, the Lees stayed at the Hotel Casa Loma. The next day, they rented a small house in Pacific Beach on a marsh along False Bay, now called Mission Bay. After two ranch hunting trips, the Lees purchased the old Meister Ranch in Dehesa Valley near Alpine. The ranch included an old house, barn, a good creek and well, and a run-down orchard with figs, apples, pears and apricots, and a vineyard. When the Lees moved into the place in October, they lived in the fruit house while fixing up the main house. They named the ranch “Viña Vieja,” but later changed the name to “Hollow of the Hills.” In 1921, Lee constructed a studio on the property.

After settling in, Leslie and Melicent began to explore the San Diego backcountry. They made trips to the San Diego Mission ruins, San Luis Rey, the Laguna Mountains, and the desert around Coyote Wells and Jacumba. Leslie painted the local Indians and scenes of the desert. Some of these works were exhibited at the John Bush studio on Sixth Street in August of 1922.22 Sometime later he also had a one-man show at Beatrice de Lack Krombach’s Little Gallery on Fourth Street.23 In the mid 1920s, Lee set up a studio in the old New Mexico building in Balboa Park, left over from the Panama California Exposition of 1915. Here he entertained Hopi Indians from New Mexico who performed native dances.

In 1926, the Lees decided to build a second home and studio closer to town. They purchased nearly three acres on the south rim of Mission Valley, west of Mission Cliff Gardens. Construction started in May, and Leslie and Melicent would often pack up a lunch and hike across the valley to watch the progress of construction.24 Almost invisible from the street, the house was built down the valley slope on four levels. A tile staircase descending from the street made several turns until it reached a vaulted tunnel that pierced a section of the dwelling. After passing through the tunnel, one was confronted with a spectacular view up Mission Valley to the east. The arched doorway leading into the studio was to the left on a short terrace. The studio itself was an enormous room with a fireplace in one corner and a large window facing north to provide the best light for painfing. Almost unfurnished, the room contained only a few throw rugs and a couple of big chairs in front of the fireplace. In fact it was so sparse that some visitors got the impression that the Lees were only “camping out” in the house.25 In the corner opposite the fireplace, Leslie set up his etching press. The hillside was lushly planted, and one story even claims that exotic spiders were imported for the different types of webs they would weave.26

Although by nature reclusive, the Lees developed friendships with many members of the local arts community. They also counted numerous Indians among their friends, some of whom came from as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, to stay with the Lees both as subjects for paintings and to share their knowledge of Indian lore.27 Santos Lopez, one of the Lees’ informants, constructed an authentic Indian dwelling at the ranch in Dehesa, so that their guests would get some exposure to the Indian way of life. Lee painted Santos’ wife, Rosa, sitting at a traditional stone metate grinding acorns. Melicent also compiled a dictionary of local Indian words.28

Several local artists shared the Lees’ interest in Mexico and Native American culture, and became lasting friends. When sculptor Donal Hord and his assistant Homer Dana were searching for Indian artifacts in Alpine in 1923, they were directed to the Lees’ Dehesa ranch. Through Hord, they met Dorr Bothwell, and later the artists Edith Hamlin and Maynard Dixon. Hamlin and Dixon spent several months at the Dehesa ranch in 1926 while the Lees were in San Diego overseeing the construction of the new studio. Later, the Lees met artist Everett Jackson and his wife Eileen who became neighbors in San Diego, and also became close friends of another artist Ivan Messenger and his wife Evelyn.

By the late 1920s Leslie’s career began to take off. In October of 1928, he was accepted as a member of the Grand Central Gallery in New York, and had exhibits in San Francisco, Pasadena, Houston and Tucson in 1929. San Diego had become home to a number of serious professional artists by this time, and eight of these met at Lee’s studio on June 22, 1929, to form the Associated Artists of San Diego.29 The sculptor James Tank Porter was appointed president, and painter Alfred R. Mitchell, secretary/treasurer. Other members present at the original meeting included Maurice Braun, Charles Fries, Charles Reiffel, Otto H. Schneider, and Elliot Torrey. To these were later added Donal Hord, Everett Gee Jackson and Leon D. Bonnet.30 Eventually changing the name to Contemporary Artists of San Diego, this was the first local professional artists’ organization. Although the difficult years of the Depression were ahead of the group, it did hold several exhibitions and briefly operated a gallery at 1133 Seventh Avenue in downtown San Diego.

Melicent at this time was pursuing her interests in Indian lore and writing. Before her marriage to Leslie, she had published an article titled “Whip-poor-will” in the magazine Bird Lore.31 As her interest in Indians grew, they became the main subject of her writings. The February, 1928, issue of Art and Archaeology carried her article about an “Ancient House of the San Diegueno Indian.” She carefully recorded the materials and construction methods which had gone into building the house, which had been constructed at her request by some of her Indian informants. In July of 1929, she and Leslie helped recreate an Indian rancheria for the dedication pageant of the Junipero Serra Museum in Presidio Park. It was also about this time that she founded and became the director of the Indian Arts League, an organization whose main purpose was to document and bring to public awareness the presence, lore and needs of San Diego’s Indian population.

Both Leslie and Melicent had been accustomed to a certain amount of affluence since childhood. The financial depression of the 1930s, however, began to change all that. Leslie’s mother, who had been living in Coronado with her other son Percy, died in April of 1930, and perhaps some inheritance helped ease the situation for a time. Melicent’s father had died in 1925, but she still had a step-mother, brother and sister living in New Britain. Financial problems could not have been too serious yet, because on May 12, 1930, the Lees left on a three month trip into Mexico. The trip included Guadalajara, Chapala, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Taxco, Oaxaca and Mitla.32 This was Melicent’s first time traveling in the heart of Mexico, and it had a major impact on her future writings.

Leslie exhibited nineteen paintings from the Mexico trip at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery in May of 1931. Also included in the exhibit were five sculptures by Donal Hord. One reviewer commented about Lee’s paintings, “In them with a swift, sure artistry, the painter has caught the spirit and types of the peoples he depicts in their naive moods and occupations, with truth and human insight. Colorful they are, with the brilliant hues of the lovely hand-woven garments, dyed largely with native dyes, brushed in with a fine sense of values. One notices particularly the clever use of cast shadows which the artist employs to get his delicious contrasts.”33 In another review, Donal Hord commented, “In all, this exhibition is a fascinating exposition of the street life, the bartering and passing by of these people. It is a picturesque show, done with the color of a region that is burnt at noon and only cool in shady patios.”34

The dominant features of Lee’s canvases are his bravura handling and lush colors. His paintings are boldly and rapidly executed using large brushes loaded with paint. Preferring coarse canvas, Lee on occasion even used old burlap sacks with the printing still visible on the reverse. With clean rich colors, he was able to capture the subtle hues of soft light on human skin as well as the strong shadow patterns of midday sun. He had an eye for the picturesque and colorful, and this is evident in all of his work. Occasionally, his paintings appear to be too contrived. In these, it often seems that he was interested in recording some aspect of his subject more as an anthropologist than an artist. For the most part, however, his paintings are lively snap-shot images of the native inhabitants of North and Central America.

Melicent’s literary interests culminated with the 1931 publication of her first book The Indians and I. Illustrated by her husband, the book was published in San Diego by Thomas Givens Dawson, and was selected to be used as a fourth grade text in schools in San Diego and Los Angeles.35 Dedicated to her Indian informants Rosa and Santos Lopez, Concepcion and Dan Ames, and “Carlotta, Candelita and Lorenzo,” the book was based on the author’s personal contacts rather than previously published material. As with many of her later books, it included an Indian vocabulary with a pronunciation guide. She also proudly included the name she had been given by her Indian friends, Shä-ti (“Tall Cedar”).

The Lees’ financial situation began to deteriorate in the early 1930s. Leslie had a one-man show at the Contemporary Artists gallery in downtown San Diego in February of 1932, but few people were buying art in these difficult times. In order to earn some money, he began to teach costume figure painting and etching at his studio.36 Later, he taught college extension classes in etching at the Russ High School building and at the Fine Arts Ga-llery. Finally, in the Fall of 1933, it became necessary to rent out the San Diego studio, and return to the Hollow of the Hills ranch. The Lees kept in touch with their San Diego friends by having “at home” every Sunday for anyone who cared to make the trip.37

To help alleviate their financial situation, Melicent decided to pursue her literary career in earnest. She deliberately chose the children’s market, and all of her books were written for young readers.38 Melicent was very fond of children, even though she never had any of her own. Ruth and Joan Kimball, daughters of the Lees’ good friends Lois and Harold Kimball, occasionally stayed for a weekend. To entertain them, Melicent would write poems for the girls. This later developed into plays the girls would put on with Melicent writing the script and assisting with make-up and costumes.39 A few of these were published in children’s magazines.

Melicent also organized a project called Pueblo Boys of the Southwest for boys between seven and eleven years of age. Sponsored by the San Diego and W.P.A. recreation departments, its stated goal was “. . . to develop in young boys an appreciation for the simple and vigorous things of outdoor life.” By learning about camping, nature, and safe outdoor recreation, boys, through a merit system, could achieve higher levels within the group. The Advisory Council for the project included the Lees’ good friend the naturalist Carroll De Wilton Scott, the prominent ethnographer Edward H. Davis, Harold Kimball who was principal of the Cabrillo School on Point Loma, and the Lees’ Indian informants Concepcion and Dan Ames from the Sequan Indian Reservation at Dehesa. Although a detailed prospectus of the organization was prepared, it apparently never got off the ground.40

Melicent’s second book Pablo and Petra, a Boy and Girl of Mexico, published in 1934, was based on her research from the 1930 Mexico trip. It marked the beginning of an eight year relationship with the Thomas Y. Crowell Company of New York, who published six of her thirteen books. 1934 was an exciting year for San Diego as it prepared for the California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park which opened the following year. It is not known what part the Lees may have had in the fair, but Leslie did have his painting Katharine included in the official art exhibition held at the Fine Arts Gallery.41

While the exposition was under way, the Lees decided to travel to Central America, departing in November of 1935. A seventeenth century house in Antigua, Guatemala, served as their base, and they traveled to Lake Atitlan, the Rio Dulce, and the ancient Mayan city of Quirigua, and also visited Honduras. With a native guide, they poled up the Maria Linda river where they saw all kinds of exotic wildlife and thousands of parrots. Leslie painted while Melicent took notes for future books.42

Returning to San Diego in January of 1936, Leslie began to prepare for a one-man exhibit of his work at the Grand Central Galleries in New York. The Lees departed for the east coast in September to prepare for the show which opened on October 27, and ran through November 7. Afterwards it was shown in Rochester and New Britain. Emily Genauer of the New York World-Telegram wrote: “These are in the colorful, picturesque style on which the great American public places the stamp of its whole-hearted approval. They are highly interesting in subject, vivid in coloring, and if hung not in the gallery but downstairs in the Grand Central Terminal, would increase considerably the sale of railroad tickets to this picturesque land in the south.”43 Lee’s journal, however, recorded “no sales.”

The Lees returned to San Diego in February of 1937 after making stops in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. Although Leslie’s show had not been very successful financially, Melicent was doing well with her literary career. Two more books were published in 1936, but for the first time a publisher requested that another artist do the illustrations. This was upsetting to Melicent, who preferred that Leslie do the illustrations for her books.44 In 1937, she published four more books, two of which were based on her trip to Guatemala. One of these was chosen for the Little Cousin series published by L.C. Page & Company of Boston. The brief trip to Costa Rica provided the inspiration for her ninth book, published in 1938.

Maynard Dixon, now married to Edith Hamlin, came to San Diego in 1938 to convalesce following surgery in Los Angeles. Leslie and Melicent suggested that the Dixons stay at the Dehesa ranch over the Spring and Summer months while the Lees rented the studio above the caves and gift shop in La Jolla. Melicent was a strong swimmer, and loved the ocean. A show of Dixon’s work was held at the Fine Arts Gallery in September, at which time the Lees hosted an artists’ picnic in Dixon’s honor at the ranch.45

It was at about this time that the Lees lost the San Diego studio. They had borrowed heavily against the house, perhaps to finance the Guatemala trip and New York exhibition, and were unable to pay back the loan.46 Leslie had shows in La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe, and continued to teach. Melicent published two more books in 1939, one based on the stories told her by Jung Ho, a young Chinese boy the Lees had befriended. Melicent generously listed the youth as co-author, and Leslie painted his portrait which was eventually given to the San Diego Public Library.47

The summer of 1939 was spent in Baja California, followed by Christmas at the ranch. In the Spring of 1940, they returned to La Jolla where Leslie taught a portrait class, and Melicent wrote and enjoyed the ocean. Her twelfth book, Salt Water Boy, was published in 1941. In this same year they decided to build a house and studio near the beach at Encinitas, moving there in May of 1942. Because of the war, Leslie’s classes stopped, but he was able to get a job as a civilian painter, teacher and decorator at Camp Callan. Finally in August of 1942, it became necessary to sell their beloved Hollow of the Hills ranch at Dehesa.48

These were bleak times for the Lees. Gas rationing cut them off from their San Diego friends. Losing the ranch was a devastating blow. After visiting with some friends in Encinitas on October 4, 1943, Melicent went to the beach for a swim. She did not return. Her body was found on the beach at Cardiff the next day.49 The official cause of death was listed as drowning, but many of her friends felt that she was much too strong a swimmer for her death to have been an accident.50 Without emotion, Leslie recorded in his journal “Melicent Humason Lee died Oct. 4/43.”

Leslie stayed in Encinitas for a few more years. In 1944, he painted a mural for the Encinitas Clinic, and the following year painted a portrait of Dr. Kelb of Rancho Santa Fe.51 An exhibition of his work was held at the Art Center La Jolla in July of 1947.52 That same year he moved to El Cajon where he built a house on Wisconsin Avenue.53 He continued to print some of his etchings, and friends who visited recalled that they found him “touching up” some of his earlier paintings.54

Leslie died of heart disease at Balboa Hospital on April 5, 1951.55 His ashes were buried with those of his mother and wife at Mt. Hope Cemetery.56 In his will, he divided his remaining paintings between the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, Art Center La Jolla, San Diego Museum of Man, and the New Britain Museum of American Art.57 His vast collection of artifacts gathered over years of travel, as well as the Spanish armor he received as a child, were also left to the Museum of Man.

Although Leslie Lee’s works are rarely seen today, in his lifetime he was highly regarded as a skilled etcher, illustrator, and painter in oils and water-colors. The current interest in California landscape painting has overlooked many fine portrait and figure painters, and Lee should be considered among the best of these. With a genuine interest in the people he chose for his subjects, he brought the eye of an ethnographer to his work. His bold style and skillful use of brush, color and light make his art distinctive. His subject matter makes it picturesque.

Melicent’s love of children shines through in her thirteen books for young readers. By filling her books with facts about the different lifestyles of people in far-away places, from working on a banana plantation to harvesting raw rubber, she was able to make her books educational as well as fun reading. Many of the books include a glossary and pronunciation guide to help readers with unfamiliar languages, and allow them to get closer to her subjects. Her devotion to the native inhabitants of North and Central America was deep and unselfish. She felt compelled to investigate and share through her writings the rapidly disappearing ways of a people who had accepted her as their friend “Tall Cedar.”


The author would like to thank the following friends of the Lees who shared their memories and supplied other data for this article: Clara Breed, Edith Hamlin, Everett and Eileen Jackson, Evelyn Messenger, and Betty Quayle. Arlene C. Palmer of the New Britain Public Library and Judith E. Johnson of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford generously responded to numerous requests for genealogical information on the Lee and Humason families, and this article owes much to their kindness. In addition, the author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Lois Blomstrann, New Britain Museum of American Art; Bolton Colburn, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art; Linda Fiske, San Diego Museum of Man; Marie Louise Kane, St. Louis Art Museum; Martin Petersen and Anne Stretcher, San Diego Museum of Art; Michael Redmon, Santa Barbara Historical Society; and Sarah Wimbush, National Portrait Gallery, London. Finally, special thanks are due to Ruth Kimball Aroyan who was very close to the Lees, and shared many mementos and stories of “Uncle” Leslie and “Aunt” Melicent.




1. From John Lee of Farmington, Hartford Co., Conn, and His Descendents 1634 – 1897, compiled by Leonard Lee and Sarah Fiske Lee, published by the Lee Association, Meriden, Conn., 1897, and San Diego County death records.

2. Joseph Wake exhibited a painting titled At Vespers at the Royal Academy in 1870. A letter from Percy Lee to Mrs. Harold Kimball noted that “My mother’s oldest brother Joe Wake was a portrait painter during Queen Victoria’s reign. Her brother Arthur was a photographer.”

3. These artifacts as well as the Spanish armor were left to the San Diego Museum of Man, which also has the notebook.

4. Lee was listed at various addresses in Trow’s New York City directories for 1895/96, 1897 to 1903, and also 1904/05. A note in his journal on April 29, 1909 states “I have not seen Paris since 1899.” Information on his training and early employment comes from Who’s Who in American Art 1936-37, Martin Peterson “Contemporary Artists of San DiegoJournal of San Diego History Fall, 1970, and data supplied by the New Britain Museum of American Art.

5. Charles Gould was an attorney in New York. Most of his family had moved to Montecito, near Santa Barbara, where his brother George was a lawyer and his other brother Fred was a physician. Charles must have had some training in art because Lee’s journal mentions sketching with Charles.

6. The original hand-written journal is in the California Room of the San Diego Public Library. Hereafter referred to as Journal.

7. Journal, entry for June 7, 1909.

8. Journal, entry for January 13, 1910.

9. Journal, entry for January 14, 1910.

10. Journal, entry for February 22, 1910.

11. Journal, entry for February 22, 1910.

12. The City Art Museum, St. Louis, Collection of Paintings, 1915. In 1924, the painting was sent to the Ehrich Galleries in New York City in exchange for another painting.

13. Journal, entry for May 18, 1910.

14. Journal, entry for May 31, 1911.

15. Journal, entry for November 31, 1911.

16. Journal, entry for November 25, 1914.

17. From History of New Britain by David N. Camp, William B. Thomson & Co., New Britain, 1889. Additional genealogical information provided by the Local History Room of the New Britain Public Library and the New Britain Town Clerk.

18. Lee’s Journal mentions an Amos Eno in Paris in July of 1909, and again in New York in November of the same year. Presumably, Amos Eno was in some way related to Melicent Eno Humason.

19. Evelyn Messenger interviewed by the author on March 6, 1986. Melicent told the story to Evelyn, and was obviously hurt, but covered it up as a joke.

20. Various interviews by the author with people who knew the Lees: Ruth Kimball Aroyan interviewed in Fairfax, California, February 10, 1986; Everett and Eileen Jackson interviewed in San Diego, September 19, 1985; Evelyn Messenger interviewed in San Diego, March 6, 1986.

21. Journal, entry for November 1918 (no day given).

22. Journal, entry for August 1922 (no day given). John Bush managed the art shop of Coronado photographer Harold A. Taylor at 1139 Sixth Avenue in San Diego. Bush eventually took over the business about 1922, and operated it into the 1930s selling art goods and curios.

23. Beatrice Krombach was a journalist who wrote about the local art scene from about 1916. She operated the Little Gallery on Fourth Avenue in San Diego until her death in 1931. It later evolved into the Gallery Florist.

24. Evelyn Messenger interviewed by the author on March 6, 1986.

25. Evelyn Messenger interviewed by the author on March 6, 1987.

26. Eileen Jackson interviewed by the author on September 19, 1985.

27. Journal, without giving specific dates, Lee recorded that in June and July of 1928, Hopi dancers were in the studio, including Chief Young Eagle and Standing Bear.

28. This is now in the library of the San Diego Museum of Man.

29. See “Contemporary Artists of San Diego” by Martin Peterson, Journal of San Diego History Vol. XVI, No. 4, Fall, 1970.

30. A twelfth member, Aloys Bohnen, was later dropped or resigned for unknown reasons, Art News, September 14, 1929, pg. 9.

31. Bird Lore, Vol. XX, May, 1918, pp. 214-17, as Melicent Eno Humason.

32. Journal, they departed for the trip on May 12, 1930, and returned on August 16, 1930.

33. San Diego Union, 5-6-31 8:5, article signed “I.M.C.”

34. San Diego Union 5-17-31 Music 7:5, article by Donal Hord.

35. San Diego Union 9-13-31 Club 6:5

36. San Diego Union 2-31-32 Music 7:4

37. San Diego Union 5-13-34 Club 4:1

38. Evelyn Messenger interviewed by the author on March 6, 1986, said that Melicent deliberately chose the juvenile book market as much for the money as for the success it might bring.

39. Ruth Kimball Aroyan interviewed by the author on February 10, 1986.

40. An original manuscript copy of the prospectus is in the possession of Ruth Kimball Aroyan.

41. California Pacific International Exposition Official Art Exhibition catalogue as #201, exhibited May 29 to November 11, 19,35.

42. Misc. notes toward the end of the Lee Journal, also Eileen Jackson column San Diego Union 3-29-36 Club 8:4.

43. From unidentified clipping (probably theSan Diego Sun) in the Melisse Jewell box file, San Diego History Center

44. Ruth Kimball Aroyan interviewed by the author on February 10, 1986.

45. Misc. notes Lee Journal and correspondence with Edith Hamlin, September 8, 1985.

46. The studio was later obtained by Everett and Eileen Jackson through an exchange with the Homeowner Loan Corporation. The Jacksons were first listed at this address in the 1940 San Diego City Directory.

47. Correspondence with Clara Breed, September 29, 1985.

48. Journal, misc. notes.

49. San Diego Union 10-6-43 B:3

50. San Diego County death records. Most of the people interviewed by the author revealed that at the time it was generally felt that the death was a suicide.

51. Journal, misc. notes.

52. San Diego Union 7-13-47 D10:l-2

53. Misc. notes at the back of Lee’s Journal states that he built the house in May of 1948, but a dated receipt in the files of the San Diego Museum of Man shows that he was there by August 19 of 1947.

54. Betty Quayle recalls watching him work on some of his paintings.

55. San Diego County death records. Lee had apparently suffered from heart problems for twenty years.

56. Leslie Lee’s brother Percy died on November 30, 1951, and his remains were added to the same plot.

57. In 1950, Lee had discussed with Freda Klapp, director of the Art Center La Jolla, the possibility of having these same four museums “buy” four each of his more important paintings for $1,000 with the understanding that they would receive the rest of the paintings by bequest. She pursued the matter for him, but apparently none of the museums took him up on the offer. See letter from Klapp to Malcolm Farmer, director of the San Diego Museum of Man, August 29, 1950, Museum of Man accession file. Unfortunately for present day scholars, with the exception of the Museum of Man, these institutions have since disposed of most or all of their Lee paintings.

Known Paintings by Leslie W. Lee (all oil on fabric (canvas, linen, or burlap) unless otherwise noted)

New Britain Museum of American Art:

The Game (three men at cards), 25″ x 30″
Market Woman (basket on head), 40″ x 30″
Mexican Cattle, 25″ x 30″

San Diego History Center:

El Mozo, 22″ x 18″
Jonchia, 25″ x 20″
Portrait of a Young Man, 22″ x 18″
Portrait of a Young Woman, 24″ x 20″
22 watercolor and gouache paintings of Mexico and California

San Diego Museum of Art:

May Moon, 25″ x 29″

San Diego Museum of Man:

Maya Woman, 22″ x 18″
Man of Atitlan, 22″ x 18″
Santas Lopez, 18″ x 15″
Zapotec Man, 18″ x 15″
Woman of Atitlan, 18″ x 15″
Noon (midday meal), 30″ x 25″
Sough (man with fire in cave), 50″ x 35″
Rosa Lopez, 48″ x 39″
Man Pouring Seed into an Olla, 48″ x 38″
Black Pottery, 30″ x 40″
Yuma Mary, 48″ x 39″

San Diego Public Library:

Jung Ho, 45″ x 36″

Private Collections, California

La Mesa, Mexican Woman,18″ x 15″
San Anselmo, Valentino, 22″ x 18″
San Diego, Don Pablo, 22″ x 18″
San Diego, Vicenti, 22″ x 18″

Unlocated Works

Formerly Art Center La Jolla:

The Bargain, Guatemala, 40″ x 30″
Portrait of a Child, 15″ x 18″
Return from the Market, 22″ x 18″
El Gaucho (man with guitar), 30″ x 40″
Goat Girl, 26″ x 29″
Washer Women of Taxco, 30″ x 24″
The Devotee, 19″ x 23″
Mexican Fisherman, 40″ x 30″
Under the Fig Tree, 26″ x 30″
Cuernavaca Market, 30″ x 25″
Pottery Seller, 25″ x 30″
Lone Eucalyptus, 25″ x 30″
Porteti, 30″ x 25″
Serrano Head (young man), 19″ x 16″
Weighing Coffee, 16″ x 19″
Indian Figure Dancing, 26″ x 31″
Small Landscape, 10″ x 12″
Serrano Woman, 19″ x 16″
Head of a Child, 40″ x 30″
Flickering Light, 19″ x 28″
Mango Market, 22″ x 18″
Woman Eating Mango, 22″ x 18″
Green Serape, 19″ x 23″
Yaqui Hunter, 31″ x 41″
Siesta, 41″ x 31″

Formerly San Diego Fine Arts Gallery:

The Burden Bearer, 22″ x 18″
Wind Before Rain (Mission Valley), 25″ x 30″
The Coquette, 40″ x 30″
Selling Coffee, 18″ x 15″
Meditation, 22″ x 18″
La Danza, 60″ x 30″
Butterfly Girl, 40″ x 30″
Desert Rat, 30″ x 25″
Reflections, 40″ x 30″
Amiga Mio, 30″ x 25″

Formerly St. Louis Art Museum:

Mexican Muleteer, 39″ x 32″

Formerly New Britain Museum of American Art:

At the Fountain, 25″ x 30″
Aztec Potter (Carlos), 40″ x 30″
Lady in Blue (Melicent H. Lee), 40″ x 30″
Portrait of a Lady, 30″ x 25″
Mexican Group, 30″ x 25″

Books by Melicent Humason Lee
(illustrated by Leslie W. Lee unless otherwise noted)

The Indians and I (1931)
Thomas Givens Dawson, San Diego

Pablo and Petra, a Boy and Girl of Mexico (1934)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

Lah-Luck and Tuck-She of the Brush
(1936) (illustrated by Don Nelson)
Reilly and Lee Company, Chicago

Children of Banana Land (1936)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

Marcos, a Mountain Boy of Mexico (1937)
(illustrated by Berta and Elmer Hader)
Junior Literary Guild and Albert Whitman & Co., New York

Volcanoes in the Sun, a Boy and Girl of Guatemala (1937)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

Indians of the Oaks (1937)
Ginn & Co., Boston & New York

Our Little Guatemalan Cousin (1937)
L.C. Page & Co., Boston

At the Jungle’s Edge, a Boy and Girl of Costa Rica (1938)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

In the Land of Rubber (1939)
(illustrated by Edmund Marine)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

Chang Chee (Jung Ho co-author, 1939)
(illustrated by Laura Bannon)
Harper & Bros., New York

Salt Water Boy, Pi-yuck of the West Coast (1941)
Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho

The Village of Singing Birds (1942)
(illustrated by Zhenya Gay)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York