Tales of Terra: A Lee Brown Coye Retrospective

September 21, 2023−March 3, 2024
Picker Art Gallery, Dana Arts Center
Etching of woman in front of decayed barn
Lee Brown Coye (American, 1907–1981), Freedie By the Old House, 1954, woodblock print. Gift of Robert Coye '54, 2009.2.10 © Lee Brown Coye Estate

Opening reception: Thursday, September 21 at 5:00 pm, Picker Art Gallery, 2nd floor, Dana Arts Center

Grotesque. Macabre. Horrific. These are words frequently used to describe artworks by Central New York artist Lee Brown Coye (1907–1981), recognized mostly for his unsettling illustrations in horror anthologies and pulp magazines. His creations for popular pulps such as Weird Tales and stories by the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Manly Wade Wellman earned him a place in American illustration history as the ghoulish face of the “weird fiction” subgenre. Coye’s uninhibited depictions of the macabre would go on to inspire future masters of horror, magical realism, and science fiction. 

But Coye was far more than an illustrator. He was a prolific self-taught artist who worked in many mediums, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and silversmithing. Coye drew on his love for stories, history, and the buildings and landscapes around his home to produce thousands of lyrical, comical, mysterious, and haunting scenes and characters. Featuring examples from Picker Art Gallery’s vast collection of artwork by Coye, along with loans from other regional museums and private collections, Tales of Terra  brings into focus the less gruesome side of Coye’s artistic output and puts these works in dialogue with his published illustrations. This retrospective exhibition includes artworks that span Coye’s lifetime, examining his regionalist roots, his fascination with architecture, and his relationship to the places he lived, all of which found a place in his unique takes on the grotesque.