First published: Summer 1999
It was as if Queen Victoria had entered the lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center on the opening night of Lee Godie's twenty-year retrospective exhibition. No one knew for sure if the eighty-five-year-old artist, who was in ill health and lived in a nursing home, would even make it to the reception on that cold, rainy evening in mid-November 1993.
About an hour and a half after the doors opened to the most extensive display of her work ever assembled, Godie made her appearance, hobbling slowly, one step at a time, on the arm of her daughter Bonnie Blank. It was an extraordinary occasion, a proverbial last hurrah, for in less than four months, Chicago's venerable grand dame of outsider art would be dead.
A hush spread over the crowd of friends, fans, admirers, and collectors who had gathered that evening. Several photographers came forward, a little gingerly, to snap pictures. They had heard stories of how the feisty old lady used to attack photographers, clobbering them with her heavy portfolio of art or chasing them for half a block down the street. Times had changed. Godie was older now and not fully aware of what was going on.
Some of this had to do with the encroachment of Alzheimer's-like dementia, some with the medication she was on, and some with the undiagnosed mental state she had harboured all of her life - a condition responsible for both her eccentric and quirky behavior as well as her unpredictable mood swings.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #27