Chickasaw artist finds success in art and business
December 10, 2020
SANTA FE, N.M. – Lee Bowers decided at age 6 she wished to be an artist.
Sixty years later, it is difficult to define Bowers solely as an artist.
She is also a savvy businesswoman and has spent her career balancing a love of oil painting with a love of operating successful businesses.
Bowers was one of seven Chickasaw artists recently featured in the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts (SWAIA) Indian Market, considered the most prestigious art show in the United States for First American artists.
This year, the entire market was conducted virtually due to COVID-19. Other Chickasaws accepted by SWAIA included Joshua Hinson, Billy Hensley, Daniel Worcester, Brent Greenwood, Dustin Mater and Tyra Shackleford.
The SWAIA art market ended Aug. 31, but Bowers' art may be enjoyed online at LBowers.Artspan.com.
Born in Kansas and reared in Topeka, Bowers remembers attending an hourlong art class daily while in grade school. "Most school systems don't do that anymore," she observed, crediting art classes in public schools as inspiring an appreciation of art in different mediums and styles.
In fact, her senior year at Topeka West High School consisted of taking three art classes a day as she had completed the required courses to graduate – where she studied figure drawing, painting and jewelry-making.
She enrolled at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas. It was at SMU she embarked on a project with Juan Manuel DiAmente, a retired animation director with Disney Studios, to create an animated short film.
"It is nearly impossible to earn a living by merely painting, so I made my first animated film and then went on to earn my master's degree in film from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles," Bowers said.
"When you love art as I do, you never know what opportunities are going to come your way."
She specialized in what was then called "motion graphics and special effects" imagery.
As a director for special effects, she used motion control cinema cameras to "apply layers upon layers of images to accomplish the desired effects. Think 'Star Wars' in the 1970s," she said.
Bowers worked on the first "Star Wars" movie as an assistant to one of the special effects directors. Even then, special effects were assisted by computers, but it was dubbed "motion control" 40 years ago, Bowers explained. In today's films, special effects are almost entirely computer-generated imagery (CGI).
She formed her own company with a like-minded friend, called it Bowers and Eddy, and zeroed in on creating special effects and "branding" with motion graphics for television giants such as ABC, HBO, Showtime and many others.
Bowers and Eddy racked up dozens of awards for their special touch and enjoyed a multitude of publicity from trade magazines and industry movers and shakers.
She also started an art gallery in West Hollywood with French partner Stephan Sparta, which they called Gallery Sparta.
"I thought that sounded a little stronger than Bowers Gallery. It had a little more spunk. It was a lot of fun. We opened it on Sunset Boulevard and did a lot of exhibits and openings. It was interesting, but I would not do it again," she said with a laugh.
She moved from California to New Mexico in 2017.
Bowers is currently a real estate broker in Santa Fe with Sotheby's International Realty. All the while, she creates oil paintings depicting the "land" in surreal colors.
While her paintings feature mountains, the sky, adobe dwellings and a love of her surroundings in the Southwestern United States, each is a unique blend of realism and abstraction.
On the website are her visionary landscape oil paintings, "The Land Dreams Me," inspired by the mysterious and jaw-dropping beauty of Northern New Mexico, Bowers explained.
Her favorite painting, "Ghost Dancer," illustrates the realism/surreal aspects of Bowers' endeavors.
"It is one of my best paintings. It is full of colors not actually created in nature but in dreams," she observed. "The painting is sold, but I visit it whenever I wish at the owner's home in Santa Fe."