Above: Chen Lok Lee with students at Moore College of Art & Design.
Romana Lee-Akiyama remembers her father, longtime Moore faculty member Chen Lok Lee, as being patient and kind.
“He would bring students home with him,” she said. “We'd have dinner with them. A lot of really interesting people would come to meet our family.”
Lee passed away December 13, 2020. For more than 20 years, he was a professor of printmaking, silkscreen and lithography at Moore. He also taught Chinese calligraphy and painting classes to the community through the Community College of Philadelphia and other private venues and classes.
Lee narrowly escaped with his life from Communist forces in China in 1950 and was forced to leave his family behind, Lee-Akiyama said. He was rescued by a boat as he was swimming to Hong Kong. He stayed in Hong Kong for eight years, studying at the prestigious Hong Kong University, and then entered the United States as a political refugee in 1959. He settled in New York City’s Chinatown, and worked his way through the Chinese restaurant business to support himself as a burgeoning artist and learn English. He also began to study under some very prominent and contemporary artists. His background as a political refugee influenced much of his artistic creations and philosophies. Lee was eventually able to help bring his family to the United States. Read his full obituary here.
Right: Chen Lok Lee, Chinese watercolor
Lee met his future wife, Linda, while studying in Rome, where he also met lifelong friend Moe Brooker, professor emeritus at Moore. Brooker said Lee had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great cook.
"He was a great friend, someone who taught me a great deal about the creative process," Brooker said. "I owe a lot to Chen. He was inspirational to me."
Linda, also an artist and educator, brought Chen home to her family in Bucks County, PA, and married him in 1973. They moved to New Mexico, and then Chicago, before settling back in Pennsylvania where Lee was hired at Moore College of Art & Design.
Romana Lee-Akiyama, who was named for the city where her parents met, has pleasant memories of going to work with her father at Moore.
“He always said hi to every single person that we passed,” she recalled. “He knew everybody, even the security guards. And we would go up to the sixth floor where the printmaking studio was, and his office, which was always messy. And his studio at home was a complete mess, but now we read about people who have the creative bug and like the most creative people are the messiest people, so now I can accept that."
“He was a passionate educator, and that was first and foremost who he was,” she said. “He was there for people to help them reach their potential. He may have pressed hard, but he had this perfect balance of never using force to help people to grow.”
Left: Chen Lok Lee, Portrait II
Lee-Akiyama said her father wanted her to become a doctor, telling her that the life of an artist can be difficult.
“I'm the deputy director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs in Philadelphia,” she said. “My dad's life has impacted me in that way. I became a social worker to support families, in particular immigrant families in their migration to the U.S.”
Lee-Akiyama is nurturing her 10-year-old daughter’s artistic talents. Hanalee takes classes at Fleischer Art Memorial in Philadelphia, where many Moore graduates teach, including her teacher Robin Turnage '86.
“My husband came to pick Hanalee up, and Robin was just saying how great of a job she was doing, like how talented and how focused she was,” Lee-Akiyama said. “And my husband just casually said, ‘She gets it from her grandfather.’ And the teacher said, ‘Who's her grandfather?’ and he said it's Chen Lee. And she said, ‘Oh my god, that's my professor.’ And I just couldn't believe this whole circle that had come; now my dad’s student is teaching my child."
Right: Robin Turnage '86 with Hanalee.