Powers is a small community in
Michigan's upper peninsula which is supported by logging and
railroading. It also happens to be the birthplace (on October
5, 1913) of a very fine wildlife artist, Lee LeBlanc.
Beginning in early childhood
and continuing throughout his entire life, art has been Lee's
major interest. In spite of the hardships heaped on them by
the depression, Lee's parents, Vincent and Alice, never discouraged
his desire to draw.
In 1931 after graduating from
high school in Iron River, Michigan, he went to Los Angeles
and spent a year studying art at Frank Wiggins Trade School.
He left Los Angeles and headed for New York hoping to find
work as a commercial artist. In three short weeks he decided
that New York wasn't for him.
He wound up in Philadelphia where
he tended bar for three years to pay for more art lessons.
During that time he attended LaFrance Art Institute. Then,
back to New York again. But this time it wasn't for bartending;
he landed a job as a staff illustrator for the New York journal.
In his off hours he attended the Art Students League and studied
under Will Foster.
In 1937 Lee returned to Los Angeles
where he found employment with Western Lithography as a commercial
artist. Although the skill was there, his heart wasn't in
his work and six months later he joined Walt Disney's staff
at the staggering salary of $10.00 per week.
An offer of higher pay took him
to the cartoon firm of Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes. Can
you remember when you were a child, how everyone cheered when
Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig flashed on the screen at the local
moviehouse? Well, Lee's paintbrush helped create those happy
times for us.
Although he helped make millions
of children happy, times were not always as happy for Lee.
In 1955 his wife, Helene, lost the fight against a long-term
illness, leaving him with a fourteen year old daughter, Dierdre.
The role of both mother and father is a difficult one at best
and the added pressures of a large city and demanding schedule
of the motion picture industry sometimes made it nearly impossible.
Whenever he felt that he needed a break, he would pack some
fishing gear and he and Dierdre would head back to the Michigan
wilderness he loved so much. On one such excursion he met
Lucille Hayworth and in 1958 they were married.
By this time, Lee had worked
his way up to administrator of the special effects photographic
department for MGM Studios. He remained as head of the department
for six years in spite of the constant pressures of tight
budgets, impossible schedules, and television competition.
Then, in 1962, he leaned back
and took a good look at the direction his life was taking.
As he puts it, "There just had to be a better wav to
make a living." There was and he found it. He left his
good paving job at MGM and, with Lucille, headed back to the
only place he could really call home-Iron River.
Lee literally started life a
second time. He and Lucille built their own home on the shores
of Brule Lake, guided only by literature on the construction
of single family dwellings published by the Government Printing
Office. It was here that Patricia, their daughter, was born.
Understandably, Lee had more
than his share of doubts. He had poured twenty-five years
of his life into the motion picture industry and had worked
his way up to a position of high pay and considerable security
only to abandon it for a completely different way of life.
Each time his doubts would surface, Lucille would minimize
them and dismiss them as unfounded fears. Her moral support
kept Lee going and within a few years his income began to
match that of his best years with MGM.
Lee was a member of Ducks Unlimited,
National Wildlife Federation, The Audubon Society, National
Geographic Society, the Ornithologist's Union, and the Cornell
Laboratory of Ornithology.