January 11, 1948 - January 30, 2019
The City of Raleigh lost one of its most ardent advocates and an eminent arts visionary with the death of Lee Hansley on January 30, 2019. Lee had been in North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital for more than three weeks and succumbed to heart failure at the age of 71.
Lee was born in Roanoke Rapids on January 11, 1948, to Lonnie and Kathleen Crumpler Hansley. He graduated from Roanoke Rapids High School in 1966. He never lost his appreciation for his historic hometown and his high school, which is housed in a beautiful Gothic building designed by Hobart Upjohn and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lee studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from 1966 to 1969 and began his career as city editor of The Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids from 1970-1973. He was editor-in-chief of the Northampton News in Jackson from 1973-1975 and, between 1975 and 1979, was editor-in-chief of newspapers in three communities: The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Hertford County, Halifax County This Week, and The Suburbanite and The Weekender in Winston-Salem.
During that time, he managed to attend summer classes in studio art and art history at East Carolina University, a step that hinted at the passion that would occupy him in later years.
In 1980, Lee was hired as a curator of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem. He was manager of SECCA's Art Advisory Service and was responsible for the art center's external exhibitions and traveling shows. While at SECCA, he coordinated the national Awards in the Visual Arts program and organized awards exhibitions that traveled to major museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Orlando Museum of Art.
Lee left SECCA in 1986 to move to Raleigh and become promotion director of WUNC FM, the National Public Radio affiliate at The University of North Carolina. During his years at the station, he maintained an active and highly eclectic schedule of station-sponsored concerts by well-known musicians and lectures by distinguished guests. He also took advantage of the opportunity to study art history at UNC in his spare time.
In 1991, Lee left WUNC with a plan he had nurtured most of his life. He began talking to leading artists in the Southeast and prowling about the city looking for the perfect space for an art gallery. In February 1993, he opened Lee Hansley Gallery in the Capital Club Building. The gallery featured works by American artists working in a modernist vein and quickly earned a reputation as a major contributor to the cultural life of the city and the Southeast. Lee's goal was to sell quality art work and, along the way, engage the public, elected officials, and business leaders. As his reputation grew, Lee became an important participant in the national dialogue on the arts.
Lee Hansley Gallery moved to Glenwood South in 1999 and, in 2016, to Dock 1053 on Whitaker Mill Road. Over the past 25 years Lee has represented scores of the finest artists in the Southeast and has curated some of the region's most memorable exhibitions.
From the beginning, Lee's cultural interests and ambitions reached far beyond his gallery. He was interested in creative approaches to urban design and development and was convinced of the importance of cultural arts to quality of life in the community and the wisdom of including art in public buildings and open spaces. He sought an expanded role for citizens in community affairs.
Lee never hesitated to share his passions. He was tireless and persistent. Just below the surface of all his great ideas and proposals was a deep and abiding affection for his adopted city and its vibrant downtown. Every success became a stepping stone to another idea, something new and exciting.
And there were plenty of successes. Lee was instrumental in reorganizing the Performing Arts Center Task Force, which led to an expansion of the Memorial Auditorium site and created a major performing arts complex for the city. He chaired the Raleigh Outdoor Sculpture Expo, led in the establishment of a City Art Bank, published a guide to 20th century architecture in Raleigh, and convinced City Council to increase per capita funding for the arts.
He also valued his opportunities to showcase the work of some of the nation's finest artists. Edith London: A Retrospective was a sixty-year survey of the artist's life's work. Gregory Ivy: Watercolors 1938-1949 was an exhibition of mature works by the state's first resident modernist and founder of the art department at UNC Greensboro and founder of the Weatherspoon Art Museum. E.C. Langford: A Retrospective surveyed 50 years of work by the North Carolina painter and sculptor. The George Bireline Memorial Exhibition highlighted the life's work of the UNC MFA graduate who was known for abstract impressionism and color-field painting. In 2014, Lee organized Sylvia Heyden and Edith London: Together Again, a luminous exhibition that featured the work of these two famous friends, at the Durham Arts Council.
Lee served on numerous boards and commissions, including the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, NC State University's Gallery of Art and Design board of directors, the Raleigh Arts Commission Public Art Committee, NC State University Theater's board of trustees, and Durham Art Guild's board of directors.
Frequently honored for his accomplishments, Lee lectured often and was invited to judge juried exhibitions across the Southeast. He received the Raleigh Medal of Arts in 2005. In 2007, The News & Observer named him Tar Heel of the Week.
Lee Hansley had an immense number of friends and he kept them busy. He loved classical music, particularly Mahler, and he almost never missed a concert in the Triangle. He enjoyed movies, theater and restaurants, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He was always busy assembling a group to attend the next event on his calendar.
Lee was predeceased by his father and his younger sister, Mary Ruth Hansley. He is survived by his mother, who lives in Roanoke Rapids, and his sister Lou H. Proctor and her husband Jim Proctor of New Bern. Memorials may be sent to the Lee Hansley Gallery Scholarship Fund at Roanoke Rapids High School, 800 Hamilton Street, Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870.
Lee Hansley Gallery will remain open through March 1, 2019. A memorial service for Lee will be announced. (Photo: Brandon Cordrey)
Published by The News and Observer on Feb. 3, 2019.