The beloved artist and art teacher will be retiring from Woods Cross High School at the end of this year, after which he and his family will be moving up to a home and studio they’re building in Cache Valley.
“I was going to teach a couple more years, but the timing was right to check out now,” said Lee. “I’m sad, but I’m a believer that change is a good thing.”
His home here has already sold, so a few days after school ends the Lees will pack up and head to their new home in Clarkston, Utah, where his wife’s family lives and where Lee has gone to paint for years. Though his youngest son calls it “the middle of nowhere,” for Lee it will feel like familiar territory.
“I was raised on a farm, too,” he said. “I’ll feel at home living on an acre again.”
Lee has appreciated the response he’s received from the community in the month or so since he announced his retirement, but he admits to being a little surprised by the outpouring. Though he’s done logos for several businesses in the county, and the cover art for the hardcover Work and the Glory books, he doesn’t see himself as any different from anyone else.
“People retire and move away all the time. I’m no one special,” he said. “I’ve just been in the county and the public eye a long time.”
He does understand any dismay that might be felt by Melanie Swann and Shon Feller, his fellow art teachers at Woods Cross High. Since the school won’t be rehiring his position, the two will be dividing 200 extra students between them in the 2010-2011 school year.
As for the students themselves, their reaction has been much more practical.
“I’ve had plenty of juniors ask me in a begging fashion to just stay one more year,” said Lee with a smile. “The seniors, though, don’t care. They just say ‘I’m glad you were here as long as I was.’”
Lee knows, however, that he’ll miss the students.
“We think of art as being reclusive, but I think that most artists today would disagree with that,” he said. “I think that artists need to be around other artists, and I’ll miss being around these young artists. It feeds me.”
He sighed. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”
He is, however, trying to come up with ideas. Lee hopes to get a position as an adjunct professor at Utah State University, and the studio in Cache Valley is big enough that he can hold classes there once he gets it completed. He’s had previous experience teaching adults – he’s taught evening classes for several years that draws people from as far south as Provo – and admits that there are advantages.
“Anytime a person has to buy their own car, or their own education in this case, they’re more likely to take care of it and put their heart into it,” he said.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the college students he might go on to teach will take the place of his students at Woods Cross.
“I associate a lot more with this age group than I do my own,” said Lee. “In a lot of cases, my students are my best friends.”
His other friends in the community have also taken the opportunity to say goodbye. Lee was honored earlier this month at the opening reception for the Bountiful/Davis Art Center’s High School, Junior High, and Art Educators exhibit. He was presented with a painting by one of his favorite artists, Aaron Bushnell, which was especially significant since Bushnell was a former student of Lee’s.
“I didn’t really have time to be emotional, because I was also in charge of the show,” said Lee, expressing his appreciation to the BDAC for continuing to put on a show that they know won’t make them a profit. “But I will definitely miss the art center and all the people there.”
Missing people, though, is only to be expected.
“Some people have said they don’t want me to leave, but I think they’d be that way with anyone after a long tenure of friendship,” said Lee. “It’s hard to lose friendships, but I haven’t had any second thoughts.”