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River’s Edge, 2010


Three Birds 2019, Hidden Treasures 2019


Organ Pipe Medley 2019-2020

Charlotte Lees (1942-) 

About the artist:

Lees was born in Cleveland, where she continues to live and work. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University and then studied further at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University, earning a Master of Arts degree. She has received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council as well as the Francis E. Willard Award and the Alpha Phi International Outstanding Career Achievement Award, both in 2002.

Charlotte Lees' works in a park on Third Avenue in Harrison West, Columbus, Ohio.

Where you can see more of this artist’s work:

In addition to finding good information on her work and thoughts on her websiteyou can see Lees’ sculptures in many area collections, among which are located in the Cleveland Clinic, Hillcrest Hospital and the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland and the City of Solon, as well as others in Maryland, Indiana, Florida and Georgia. She has exhibited in museums throughout Ohio and Indiana and received prizes for work in exhibitions throughout Ohio, the U.S., and Japan. She is represented by galleries in Cleveland and Akron and has been archived in the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.

The healing arts at Summa Health

Rivers Edge

River’s Edge, 2010

Materials: maple and poplar, paint 48" x 96" x 4”.

Location at Summa Health:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, ground floor, waiting room. 

About the art:

Playful and full of movement, abstracted leaf forms evoke the edge of a river (given to us in the title), without actually depicting it by showing us instead what we might see flowing past, from one of its banks. The expansive size of this 3-part work contributes to the sense that it envelops us. The individual forms have been painted with certain patterns that themselves swirl and contribute to a sense of motion, as well as other patterns that refer to systems of texture and veining, we might see on a leaf’s surface. Charlotte Lees organizes the three parts of the piece to suggest a swell in the river — avoiding the hackneyed representation of a wave in favor of just alluding to it — and lets that swell toss the leaves in the center of the composition upward, into the air, before continuing its implied movement to the right. 

Lees has chosen wood as the primary medium for her art-making — cherry, and here, poplar and maple — which she connects to living on wooded property. Recently, she also has incorporated embossed metal into her sculpture after being impressed with its ubiquity in art she first saw in Oaxaca, Mexico. Many of Lees’ works function two-dimensionally and are painted and sometimes also collaged with found objects. Her work aims to explore the relationship between the environment and those who inhabit it, in both pieces of this scale and also in larger public commissions that call for her to fabricate work in stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum, involving processes quite distinct from those used in woodcarving.

More about Three Birds and Hidden Treasures


Three Birds, 2019, Hidden Treasures,2019 

Materials: maple and poplar wood, paint, 16 x 23 x 5”; pecan wood, paint, mixed media wall sculpture 13" x 20" x3"

Location at Summa:  Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, second floor, south waiting room.

About the art:

Three Birds and Hidden Treasures are two separate works created within a month of one another.  Both epitomize habits and processes that Charlotte Lees found intensified during the period of pandemic seclusion.  Her daily walks on her own land and in the Cleveland Metroparks – particularly the South Chagrin Reservation, which she tells us shes been walking for over 40 years – brought her into the habitats of animal populations that offered her many choices for art-making.  She followed her eye as well as her intuition to create works in which she imbues observed nature with her own more abstracted interpretation of it.

The Three Birds, in fact, represents three separate glimpses of the same bird at different times.  Lees realized that we rarely see the whole bird at once.  Her composite is both one and three simultaneously, mediated by various technical processes that intrigue her almost unconsciously. 

She printed selected photographic and hand-drawn images of the bird onto paper, then fixed or transferred these prints onto the sculpted wood surface, the "ground" of each.  She then washed off the paper, leaving a somewhat indistinct -- so "abstracted" in that specific sense of the word -- image.  Multiple transfers cumulatively captured varying views, varying characteristics of the bird which she then further blurred through the application of multiple layers of paint, which are partially rubbed off.

Lees has frequently blended more playful sculptural shapes, such as the leaf-forms here, with more traditional formats, such as the square behind the leaves, a depiction of the forest habitat seen from a greater distance.  The printed and manipulated forms on the leaves function as details singled out from that larger habitat, enlarged and projected to draw our attention.

The overall effect of layer upon layer of transferred print and then paint, which is itself partly abraded while drying, creates complex textures and even relief, the thickness we observe on the sculpted surfaces.  This contributes to the feeling of density within which we begin to discern details not so readily apparent at first glance, the "hidden treasures" of the title.

Lees tells us that she begins with an image and follows it without a specific plan, open to happy accidents” in the processes of sculpting, painting and transferring that offer her many aesthetic choices along the way.  In Hidden Treasures, her images began with naturalistic drawings which she then combined for texture with deconstructed photos of tree bark.  The results were processed until an image was fully realized, not so much because it was what she had envisioned as because it had developed into what she recognized as the final product toward which her intuition and experience had been shaping the work all along.  Once again, she combines cut-out shapes, leaves, with a more traditional, if very vertical, rectangular panel and suggests that, as we part the leaves, we begin to see into the complex tangle of wilderness.  This is, of course, one of the glorious contradictions of urban parkland: A glimpse of nature less tamed and less constrained.  Treasures indeed!

Organ Pipe Medley: a Tribute to Sister Ignatia

Title and date:  Organ Pipe Medley: A Tribute to Sister Ignatia, 2019-2020

Materials: mixed media: embossed aluminum, wood, paint, metal, wire mesh, 11 organ pipes Organ Pipe II 22”h x 2” w x 2.25” d; Organ Pipe XXII. 34”x 2.25”x 2.5”; Organ Pipe XII 43” x 3” x 3.5”; Organ Pipe XXXI 48” x 3.75”x 3”; Organ Pipe XVI 56” x 3.75” x 3”; Organ Pipe XXIX. 59” x 3.5” x3.25”; Organ Pipe XI. 55” x 3.5” x 3.5”; Organ Pipe X. 49” x 3.25” x 4”; Organ Pipe XV 38” x 4”x 3.25”; Organ Pipe XXIV. 30” x 2.5”x 3.25”; Organ Pipe XXVI. 23” x 2” x 2.25” (overall dimension 5x 5 as installed)

Location at Summa:  Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, ground floor lobby, opposite entrance to Conference Room 3

About the art:

In her work, Charlotte Lees is inspired by nature.  She prefers to abstract natural forms by simplifying, combining, and imposing textures and colors that cause the beholder to take a second, deeper look, as in her Three Birds, also in the Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, or her River's Edge, in which parts stand for the whole and movement creates a natural ambience that we recognize from our own experiences without it having to be spelled out explicitly.

Some years ago, a friend gave Charlotte Lees a number of pipes from old pipe organs.  An interesting gift and challenge! Lees decided to embellish eleven of these with motives inspired by the sounds of nature and with forms derived from musical notations: We can recognize some conventional musical symbols, some elements of simple musical instruments (such as the mbira or African thumb piano), and some natural forms whose motion we recognize and associate with certain sounds. 

This the artist does very simply: She pares down form, abstracting, so that the original shape and features of the organ pipes continue to be recognizable. She elaborates their surfaces with linear patterns, engraved in metal, painted and applied sequences of shapes that run across surfaces and over corners.  And she uses touches of color sparingly, leaving the original wood to shine on its own, like a long rest in a musical composition. In so doing, she transforms these recycled musical "spare parts" into visual references, or equivalents, to music as well as visual expression.

Charlotte Lees decided to dedicate this fanciful but deeply felt work to Sister Mary Ignatia (1889-1966), who was an organist and music teacher in Akron, as well as "the Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous." Foremost, her role in recognizing that alcoholics need to be treated as patients and then caring for thousands of such patients is honored both by Summa Health, in the St. Thomas Hospital of which Sister Ignatia worked, and by Alcoholics Anonymous.  Her lasting impact is celebrated in Summa's new Heritage Center in the Juve Family Health Pavilion where you can read about her pivotal role in the treatment of alcoholics and her beloved status at St. Thomas Hospital.  Summa is pleased to honor the artistic side of Sister Ignatia with this work by Charlotte Lees.


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