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From Field to Stream

Lee Weaver casts his line far and wide in the search for inspiration.

by Susan Guynn

A book, an unusual request, and a spur of the moment bus ride — each a brush with destiny, or perhaps a stroke of luck. Whatever you choose to call it, these seemingly small occurrences had a big impact on Lee Weaver’s life.

Lee is an educator, outdoorsman and, he says, first and foremost a painter of watercolor landscapes. Since retiring from Washington County public schools nine years ago, his sketchbook has become a constant traveling companion, and early morning hours are spent in the solitude of his studio capturing the beauty of nature with a brush and a palette of watercolors.

Lee has painted the local landscapes, abundant scenic farms and images from everyday life, but it’s the wild places that beckon him as an artist and outdoorsman. His passion for fly-fishing has taken him to Colorado and up and down the east coast. Last summer, he and a friend drove down the Oregon coast. The photos and thumbnail sketches he made using a ballpoint pen will no doubt serve as inspiration for a new series of paintings.

He enjoys painting moving water, a mountain stream or ocean waves crashing on a rocky coast. He’s attracted to the “sound and life” he finds in water. “It has its own character regardless of the time of year. Broken water is energetic and dynamic,” says the 71-year-old.

“Winter Stream,” from his Hunting Creek series, captures the Catoctin Mountain fly-fishing stream on a winter morning when snow and ice linger. “The water had an emerald look of late winter and early spring,” Lee says. Other series feature Sideling Hill Creek, the South Platte River in Colorado, the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers and the Maine coast.

He finds satisfaction in both pursuits. “With painting, you’re always making adjustments. With fishing it’s constant, you’re always casting, working the water. It can be a social sport if you want it to be,” he says. One or both of his sons often accompany Lee when fly-fishing.

“Painting is solitary. You’re by yourself,” he says. He rises around 4:30 in the morning to work on a painting until about mid-morning. “Years ago, when I had a little more energy, I would often paint until 1 or 2 in the morning, then get some sleep and go teach. But that wore me out,” he says with a laugh.

Most of his studio work is 18-by-24 inches, a paper size that when matted and framed works for most homes, he says. He pulls a stack of paintings from a shelf beneath his worktable — an October snow on the South Platte River, the churning and foaming water on the rocky Oregon coast, a neighbor splitting wood with an axe and surrounded by stacks of firewood.

Brushes With Destiny

“I always had an interest in art,” Lee says. As a youngster, growing up in the country near Hagerstown, he was an avid model builder. “Airplanes, ships, cars, you name it, I built it,” he says. He painted backgrounds for model train layouts. He liked building and creating things and planned to become a civil engineer.

In high school, he came across the book Way with Watercolor by Ted Kautzky. How he got it or where, he doesn’t recall, but after studying it he “was hooked for life.” He still has the book in his library. The Hungarian-born Kautzky’s instructional book (the first printing was in 1949) is considered to be one of the most successful books on watercolor ever published in America.

“Ted is still my hero,” Lee says. “The richness of color and compositions (of his paintings) are quite dramatic.” Years ago, Lee won the Kautzky Award from the Baltimore Watercolor Society.

“I liked his simplicity and his brush motions are indicative of how masterful he was. (John) Pike was that way,” Lee says. He studied with Pike for a week and still uses the palette from that workshop. “I’ll tell you how long ago it was, it was one year after Woodstock (which took place in 1969). We looked at the farm (where it was held) and the soil was still hard packed.”

Weaver also counts Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth among the artists who inspire him. “Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors, to me, they are the best,” Lee says.

He attended high school in Boonsboro where art class was not offered until his senior year. Then, both junior high and high school students used the same school, with high schoolers attending in the morning, so Lee’s afternoons were free. “The art teacher at the junior high went on maternity leave and I was sent over there for half the day every day to teach art. And I loved it!” Lee says.

That summer, Lee had a job in Boonsboro working for a civil engineer, and on a whim he caught a bus to Shepherdstown, W.Va. “I just got on it and went to Shepherd College. Of course, it was summer and it was shut down.” He walked around campus anyway and happened to run into one of the college deans, who recruited him to attend the college.

“It was on a lark,” he said of the bus ride, “but at the same time it was gnawing at me. That summer job was working on a road construction site and I realized I really didn’t like it! I just kept thinking about how much I enjoyed teaching,” Weaver said.

Weaver went on to graduate from Shepherd and spent the next 19 years in the classroom teaching art, all but one at South Hagerstown High School, and 20 years as a supervisor of art, music and technology education. For a number of years, he taught at the state gifted and talented summer program.

Last year, Lee’s paintings were exhibited at the Washington County Arts Council and he won the Clyde Roberts Award for Best Watercolor Landscape at the Cumberland Valley Artists Exhibition. That was special, he says, since the late Roberts was a friend, an “honest painter and was my boss for years.”

Lee sells his original paintings, no prints. But there is one painting that is not for sale. It’s a night scene painted years ago. “A neighbor used to bring in a couple dozen hogs to butcher. I tended the fires,” Lee says. The scene was “an artist’s dream,” with men bundled against the cold cutting meat at an outdoor table working by the soft light of a lantern and encircled by steam from the cooking fires.

As he talks about the painting on the wall of his cozy home in Sharpsburg he shares with his wife, Cindy, he reminisces about the people captured in that moment in time. “I’ll never sell that painting,” he says. That night scene aside, Lee’s original artwork can be viewed at and purchased from his website: www.leeweaverwatercolors.com.