After being hospitalized due to a recent car accident, artist Lee Littlefield was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He was released a few days ago and died at home, surrounded by friends and family.
Littlefield was born in 1936 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He received his BA from Florida State University in Tallahassee, and later attended the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where he received his MA in 1968. Littlefield was a narrative painter for thirty years before moving toward sculpture in 1983.
In 1998, along Interstate 10 near downtown Houston, Littlefield installed the first of his many “Pop-Up” sculptures. Initially a renegade-artist-and-his-pickup venture, the public project grew as Littlefield eventually befriended the proper authorities. They were dubbed “Pop-Ups” by a friend who observed that the colorful sculptures unexpectedly pop into the sightlines of highway drivers. His signature color scheme of blended yellows, reds, and greens have been called “Seussian,” and Littlefield himself once stated that “the look of both my indoor and outdoor sculptures lies between reality and the Little Shop of Horrors.”
Making his sculptures from natural materials like vines, bald cypress wood and bamboo, Littlefield drew inspiration from bayous. In a statement for the 2010 Poissant Gallery two-person exhibition (with his wife Liza Littlefield), he could have been speaking of the artistic impulse and process: “If you think about everything that grows in the bayou, it is reaching for light and bends and twists in very unusual ways.”
Littlefield’s sculptures were collected and shown in many exhibitions over the years. Most recently, he was included in the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston (2009). His sculptures were installed at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis last year and at the Indianapolis Art Center only weeks ago.
Many of his sculptures may disappear, but Lee made a positive impression on almost anyone who met him. He was a rebel-like artist, who would be seen from time to time on a badass red motorcycle; but also ingrained in my mind is seeing him shacking hands with students at openings, and smiling huge with friends for photos at exhibitions. I too remember seeing those “pop-ups” when a student at UH, and feeling like I was the only one who saw them amoung the thousands also in traffic. They made me slow down and appreciate things then, and his work will always resonate that way with me.
Liza, I am so sorry to hear about Lee’s passing. I want to wish you the very best and send regards from Cathy and me. Lee was a great soul and a very good artist. Ultimately he was our friend.
Please accept our deepest sympathies.
Ken and Cathy
Liza, I would like to add Ann and my heartfelt sympathy for your loss. Not only was Lee a friend and an excellent artist, he had a wonderful passion towards his work and approach to life. He will be greatly missed.
Bill and Ann FitzGibbons
As sad as it is to hear of Lee Littlefield’s death, I am gratified to learn more about his “pop-up” work in and around Houston. I was fortunate to have studied with him at SIU-Carbondale in the late’60s, and on a return visit to my alma mater in 1982 I remember seeing one of Lee’s earliest sculptures in a cornfield outside of town. I thought at the time that the switch from two- to three-dimensions and from in- to out-of-doors was more in tune with Lee’s emotional expansiveness and rebellious nature. From what I’m reading now I gather that the pop-ups embody those attributes of Lee’s character. I’ll miss him.
It’s been a long time since I have seen you and much longer since I have seen or spoken to Lee. He was a big factor in my early Carbondale days as both a teacher and friend. The recent pop-up sculpture seems so joyous and free that it makes me quite happy and seems so emblematic of his nature.
Liza: Byron and I are sad to hear of Lee’s death. He was a good man and we are happy that we saw both of you recently. I hope the memories of your long life together bring you much joy at this time!
Melanie and I are heartbroken from the news of Lee’s passing. We had tried to stay in touch over the years, but last talked with Lee Christmas of 2011. Did not hear from him this Christmas, but chalked it up to being busy. I heard about Lee’s illness from a colleague in Beaumont over the week end and had planned to call him to wish him peace and comfort just this evening. You cannot take life or mortality for granted. He abounded with energy and lived life to the fullest.
I met Lee in 1995 when he wandered into the Art Museum of South East Texas where I was director at that time. His organic frankensteinian creations of painted telephone poles and tree limbs intrigued me and I arranged for an exhibition of his sculptures on the grounds of the museum. My wife and I quickly became fans of his art and friends. We stayed in touch throughout my time in Beaumont and when we moved to NC in 2000, we talked from time to time by phone and we follwed his art from the extensive print portfolios and articles he would send us that documented the popups to his more refined, but equally compelling colorful gallery work. We always talked about having him do an installation in NC, but just never could make that happen. Lee was a great teacher and mentor to his students, an artist with a unique vision that he wanted to share with the world and the motorists along I-45 in Houston ala his pop-ups, and a dear,dear person. My wife and I will greatly miss him and our heart goes out to Liza his talented soul mate.
Jeff and Melanie York
Liza, my thoughts are with you in this great loss. Every morning I wake up to the sculpture Lee made that hangs over my bed. The joy and happiness I feel from the brilliant colors makes each day start off with a smile. I will miss his wonderful presence and creative aura. I will continue to think wonderful thoughts each morning along with a little sadness for everyones loss. Let me know if I can ever help you in any way. Love, Joe Aker
Thanks Joe. Memorial is July 6 at 2 PM at Edison Middle School, 6901 Avenue I
Liza – Our love and thoughts are with you…such talent, such a spirit, such a love, such a cousin…he will be missed so much…Linda & Brad
Dear Liza, I am heartbroken to hear of Lee’s passing. I adore you both so very much and treasure the time when I came to your studio and experienced all the curiosities that you had and collected. Most of all, I loved seeing the exchange of conversation between the both of you. It was respectful, loving and magical. Little things that happen organically are not wasted upon those that happen upon them. I loved my Dr. Seuss-style additions when the gallery was new. I couldn’t believe all the steps he went though to have his art public and displayed and I marveled at his creations. I was blessed to have his work there and announcing the entrance. He was a true artist! You both always put a smile on my face. All my love and light, I hope for peace to be brought to you,
Dear Liza – Bruce and I are so sad to hear about Lee. We will miss him so much and we hope you will reach out to us if you need anything at all. Please come and visit us and “SquidWhip” any time and we can talk about the old wonderful days on Lillian Street!
We are terribly sorry about your loss. It is tragic and sudden and we can only imagine how difficult it is for you. His art made us smile every time we saw it or passed it on the Freeway! May all your fond memories and shared love sustain you and bring you comfort and peace!
With heartfelt sympathy,
Cristy & Mike Jadick
was at siu when lee was there, not long enough. mainly remember the fabulous rotational parties we threw in the country. i was sorry he left cdale and that we fell out of touch. seems like yesterday, though, corny as that sounds.
damn. just damn.
I will miss him.
Liza, lots of love and light and hugs to you… I has been an honor to known both you and Lee… Blessings to your family…
Moira & I are so sorry to hear of Lee’s passing and our hearts go out to you. We saw Lee in Memphis recently and enjoyed our reunion. I have so many fond memories of you and Lee. I’m happy I got to see Lee again and my only regret is that you weren’t there.
Dad, i love you so much and miss you. You are many many things to me i know Jesus has you i his arms and has taken away your suffering as i held your hand and took your last breath what a great teacher of Life ,your loving son Dana
your father was a great guy. like i said on my post, i wish he’d stayed in C’dale, but then he might not have been your father? so you are lucky he moved. anyway, my best to you this weekend.
To all Lee’s Family and Friends,
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. Please come to Lee’s Memorial on July 6 at 2 PM at Edison Middle School. 6901 Avenue I, 77011
in my thoughts.
Lee’s passing is Houston’s loss. Liza, my heart and prayers are with you and your family during this time. He will be missed!
Such a great loss…I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying Lee’s work each time I visit Beeville Art Museum…the LIVELY piece that adorns the entrance to the museum will have so much more meaning with the news of his passing from this life to Glory. Imagine the glorious sights and wonder he is taking in as he walks those streets we only read about! I pray that thought can in some small way bring a sense of peace and comfort to his beloved family. He will be sorely missed by all.
I only recently had a change to get to know Lee, although I had met him at a few events and I was saddened by the news of his passing. What a kind and welcoming soul.
Best wishes to your family
We loved Lee and his wonderful, colorful sculpture. It was our pleasure to see that work for many, many years at Poissant Gallery where owner Meg Poissant was one of Lee’s greatest supporters. Also, felt real pleasure when we saw his work everyday on the streets of the West End. He will certainly be missed.
Uncle Freddy was a wonderful spirit who was full of life. I would love it when he and Liza would visit the Cape. I would look forward to hearing my father, Uncle Nelson, and Uncle Freddy tell funny stories of their childhood.
He always made you feel good about yourself and cheered you on. Such a wonderful sense of humor and so much love to give. He will be greatly missed by so many! Our thoughts and prayers are with Liza, Lee-Ann, Dana, Dan, Larry, and Lee and of course their families. Wish we all lived closer to celebrate his life! Lot of Love, Heidi, Jason, Ava, and Sophia
Sorry for a great lost I really enjoyed mr littlefield he was a good and kind teacher to me at Edison middle school I remember he would reward ppl that guest what kind of color socks he was wearing god how I miss thoes days of funny littlefield but his of to a better place and sorry for the great lost
Everyone at LHUCA wants to send their deepest sympathy to you for Lee’s passing. It was a pleasure working with with Lee and meeting you both last year.
All the best to you.
Iam so sorry for your loss. A friend and teacher at SIU Carbendale 72.I will miss him, but will enjoy his art therefore his spirit.
Iam so sorry for your loss. A friend and teacher at SIU Carbendale 72.I will miss him, but will enjoy his art therefore his spirit.
Peace be with you Lisa
Hello, i am an old student of Mr. Lee Littelield from Edison middle school. i was heartbroken along with alot of my (then) classmates. Really, i hoped it wasn’t true but this confirms it. i lament to say i never got the time to visit my old art teacher the way i’d planned to and now ive missed his memorial as well. if you would grant me a location as to where i can go pay my respects to him i would be very grateful. ill never forget him or his class or his art.. thank you
Thank you Bri. Lee Littlefield was cremated after his passing and now his ashes have been scattered in many places. Go to a museum or art gallery to pay your respects instead. He would love that.
What a shock to hear of Lee’s passing. He was full of life the last time I saw him. I feel privileged to have gotten to know him a bit and experienced his very individualistic sculptures. Karen and I send our sympathy to Liza.
Lee was a year ahead of me in Grad School at UNM. Our paths diverged but always will I remember him as one of my peer-guides. He couldn’t help himself but to be a kind and gifted teacher even among his fellow grad students. So sorry to hear this and not to re-connect these past years- Houston is hometown and now I live in Santa Fe. Sincerest sympathy.
Lee Littlefield was my bestfriend’s grandpa.When i would go over to his house I would feel warmth, happiness. When i saw him on his death bed. I cried. Thank god My best friend wasn’t there.
I just saw his work at the library downtown. and googled him to read the news of his passing.He is one of the most colorful characters I have ever known and brought sooooo many kids so much joy at Edison Middle School, and I’m super grateful to have been one of those kids.
Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments. There is a really great article about Lee in the November issue of Sculpture magazine. It’s available at Barnes and Noble.
Thank you Abel for visiting the Library, any library.
Lisa sorry for your loss. I will always remember “Mr Littlefield” as my out-of-the-box Art Teacher in middle school. He opening my eyes to visions I never recognized and til this day still implement in my art, 18yrs later. I really wish I had an opportunity to meet him again before his passing but nonetheless his teachings,inspiration and motivation will always be instilled in me.
I’m very sad to see this news I been searching for Mr. Littlefield for quite some time. I was an art student of his at Edison middle school from 1991-1993 and I wanted to thank him for all the encouragement he gave me to pursue an art career. He truly made a difference in my life coming from a single parent house-hold he was a true mentor he always encouraged me to follow my dreams. Mr. Littlefield will always hold a very special place in my heart. He was the best teacher I’ve ever had, he loved art just as much as he loved his students! My deepest thoughts to you to Mrs. Lisa.
Thank you, Fransheska
Lee Littlefield was an amazing and so inspirational person he saw me grow since i was 12-18 years old. He inspired me to follow my dreams if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be were I am at now. Lee was like a father and a mentor for me, he saw that I had hope in school and that is something i will never forget. It hurts to see that he is gone but he will always be In my heart. Both Lee and Liza Littlefield made a huge impact in my life, we went to art shows/competitions/restaurants together and those days i will never forget.
Thanks, Bryant! Hope you’re in school and having a wonderful time. Keep making art, it’s good for the soul.
My buttonbush is blooming and is reminding me of you and Lee. Please know that you are being thought of. I hope you are doing well and have found a little peace.
Take good care.
Thank you Kelly. I am doing so much better now that a year has gone by. I’m glad that a plant reminds you of us. Good luck to you and Bob.
I had not heard of Lee’s death until I received the Lawndale show flyer and noticed the ‘in memory of’ message. Graham had not heard the news either, so we were both shocked and saddened. I am sorry we were not in the loop to offer our sympathies sooner, but please know that as an artist and generous mentor, he will be missed. Graham and I often talk of you both and the last time we saw you as we strolled your garden and studios. I hope you have found some peace in the last year and I look forward to attending Lee’s upcoming show. Graham lives in Austin now, but I am sure he will try to attend Lee’s show as well. Affectionately, Renee Zuelke
Very sorry to hear about Mr. Littlefield. I worked at West Marine where he bought supplies to build his sculptures. He was always such an inspiration to me. I loved his art and would always point out his sculptures to my kids when driving around downtown. He will be missed but I’ll always remember the conversations I had with him about art.
Hi Renee, Just saw this today. thank you for your thoughts. Lee died so quickly (6 weeks after the accident) and we didn’t know he had cancer until 3 weeks before his death. Thankfully he was able to come home for his last days. All his children and 2 grandchildren were here with us and the house was full with friends. It was sad but beautiful. I am finally doing well. It takes a long time, as you know.
Thank you Ron. Lee loved West systems and he appreciated talking with you as well.
Liza, my condolences. I was in Carbondale as an undergrad back in the early 80’s. I never had Lee as a teacher but I remember his work (and yours): stimulating, ornery, shamanistic. I love Balinese shadow theater and I trace that love back to those days at SIU and you and Lee. It’s good to hear that his love and work live on. Peace to you.
Thank you Rob. Lee’s been dead for over 2 years and I still have work of his in my yard and in the house too. There is still one piece on I-10 in Houston. It makes me smile when I see it. One day it too will fall.
I’m glad to hear that you are smiling. I think we’re all ambivalent, as artists, to the fate of our artistic offspring. Thanks for replying.
I remember Lee from my undergraduate days at SIU-Carbondale. He was quite a cool character and a very insightful artist. He was also very striking in appearance with salt and pepper hair and long hair pulled back into a pony tail. He knew what he wanted to do with his art and he knew how to inspire and direct art students to create, think and investigate all options in their art images. Even though I am six years late in realizing his passing, after googling his name on my PC, I pray that he rest in peace and may his memory be eternal. Rest well Lee! my condolences go out to his family.
Thank you James, Lee was indeed a cool character. We were together for 41 years, so still, the loss is huge. I so appreciate your comments.