15 April 2013

Pulp Art of Lee Brown Coye

Coye's cover for HPL's DAGON scared me as much as the story, when I ventured from the "children's" area of our local library at age 11 and started in on more adult fare.

Lee Brown Coye was born July 24, 1907 in Syracuse, New York.

He grew interested in drawing as a teenager and studied instructional art books from his school library. In 1927 he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City to look for work as an illustrator and cartoonist.
  In 1934 he answered a newspaper advertisement for an open competition of the WPA, Federal Public Works for Artists Program, to create a mural of historic scenes for Central High School in Cazenovia, NY. He won the commission and went on to paint several murals in the region, such as the State College buildings in Morrisville and Oswego, Bristol Laboratories, Le Moyne College, the tap room at the New Worden Hotel in Saratoga, and Howard Johnson restaurant in DeWitt, NY. Many of these "murals" were actually painted with oils on canvas in a temporary art studio in the basement of the Syracuse Museum.

In 1944 he reported to his local draft board, where he was recorded to be five-ten and weigh 136 pounds. He was classified 4-F and rejected as physically unfit for military service.

During WWII he worked as a welder at a defense plant assembling half-ton GI trucks, where he developed an interest in metal sculpture and jewelry design.

In 1944 he painted four historic murals in the Rudolph Jewelry Store of Utica.

In 1962 according to The Syracuse Post-Standard, "Many Syracusans will remember Lee Coye's wood sculpture and impeccable models of canal boats, locomotives, as well as an intricately-detailed recreation of a colonial coffee house, rather like a three dimensional version of one of his romantic-realist paintings of old local dwellings that imply a colorful history." He was also said to be employed by the art department at Colgate University.

In 1962, after a ten year hiatus from illustrating publications, his work appeared in several horror and fantasy books produced by Arkham House.

 One recurring feature in Coye's work is the motif of wooden sticks, often in latticework-like patterns. This was inspired by a 1938 discovery in an abandoned farmhouse.
Coye had returned to the North Pitcher, New York, area where he spent much of his childhood. While wandering deep in the woods, Coye discovered an abandoned farmhouse. Boards and pieces of wood which had been set perpendicular to one another surrounded the site. Neither inside nor out could Coye find an explanation for the presence of these crossed sticks. In the years following, Coye remained interested in the significance of his discovery.
When Coye returned to the site in 1963, there was nothing left of the building or the sticks (the area had suffered severe flooding), and he never found out why the sticks were there or who it was that had arranged them in such a manner. Because of the strangeness of the entire experience, these forms never left Coye, and they appear in many of his paintings and illustrations.
The incident also inspired Coye's friend Karl Edward Wagner to write the award-winning story "Sticks". Image of Man with Wooden Sticks

Lee Brown Coye died at the age of seventy-four on September 5, 1981.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I love his work. No other pulp fantasy artist did anything like it. Unfortunately many of the illustrations he did for Fantastic Stories (both cover and inside) during the 60s seem to be forgotten.

  2. Great. Thanks. Must get that pulp art book.