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Biography of

Calvin Lee


Calvin Lee was born in Chinatown, San Francisco.


His real last name is Yee.    When his parents were 12 years old they came to the United Stated from China.   His  father came to the United Stated illegally.    In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.   The Chinese were the first people to have a quota imposed upon them.   People here were afraid of the Yellow Peril.   But America was known as Gim San,   Gold Mountain, The Chinese thought they would come over here and pick gold up off the streets.   So, his father's family paid  a family who had a permit $1200.00 for his  father to pretend to be their son.   The family's last name was Lee.  Calvin’s father and mother  spent three months on Angel Island being interrogated by immigration.  His father had a nine  page biography of the Lee family in calligraphy with him to memorize so he would not be tripped up by the immigration service.  Those coming into the United States pretending to be a child of someone else’s family were known as “paper sons.”


Calvin was the photography editor of his high school yearbook.   Calvin’s parents refused to pay for him to go to photography school, saying that photography as a career was not practical.   So, Calvin enrolled in the architecture school at the University of Arizona.  Receiving a D in Art and a C in Fundamentals of Architecture, Calvin figured he had no art talent and  got a Bachelor  of  Arts  degree  in  Oriental  Studies, graduating Summa Cum Laude.


Then he joined  the  U.S.  Navy, and lived  in  Japan  for  two  years. 


After the Navy, Calvin obtained a Juris  Doctor  degree  from  Arizona  State  University in 1975.  Upon graduation, Gilbert Venable, Calvin’s environmental law professor, asked Calvin to join him in private practice with the purpose of the firm to do as much environmental and civil rights law as possible supported by a general practice.   Calvin became a partner  in  Venable,  Rice,  Lee  and  Capra  in  Phoenix.  He engaged in  pro  bono  representation  of  gays  and  lesbians,  nuclear  power  plant  protesters,  the  developmentally  disabled,  prisoners,  and  peace  activists,  supported  by  criminal  defense  and  personal  injury. 


In 1980, Calvin left Phoenix and worked at  the Colorado Public Defender’s Office for Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Meeker, Rangely, and Vail.


In 1984, Calvin started  a solo law  practice  in  Glenwood  Springs,  Colorado,  serving  the  Aspen,  Carbondale,  Glenwood  Springs,  and  Vail  area.  Areas of law  were   criminal  defense,  divorce  and  real  estate,  as  well  as  representing  gays  and  lesbians  and  the  developmentally  disabled. 


Representative cases and clients of Calvin include four death penalty cases, thousands of felonies and misdemeanors,  thousands of divorce and child custody cases, hundreds of dependency and neglect cases, hundreds of guardianship/conservatorship cases, Garfield County Affordable Housing Authority, hundreds of real estate cases, subrogation cases for State Farm Insurance Company and Union Insurance Company,  and class action lawsuits alleging the violation of the civil rights of prisoners and the developmentally disabled.


In 2000, an artist, gallery owner and framer owed Calvin money for legal fees.    Up to that point, Calvin had been doing calligraphy every several months with brushes purchased in China when he went with his parents to find each of the houses in which they were born.   Calvin said to frame some of the calligraphy and he would deduct the cost from the legal fees.    Several pieces of calligraphy were framed.  Then the framer said he was asked to supply art to a gallery in Park City for the Winter Olympics and wanted to take the calligraphy.   A month later the framer said Calvin should do some mountains scenes.  Several months later a gallery owner in Telluride said she did not carry works on paper but if Calvin ever did any oil to let her know.   Calvin bought oil paint, brushes and canvas, and six months later the gallery carried Calvin’s mountain pieces in oil.


Calvin has been represented  by  galleries  in  Park City, Telluride,  Frisco,  Aspen,  Denver,  Glenwood  Springs,  and  Carbondale.   He was listed by the Denver Visitors and Convention Bureau in both 2016 (see and 2017 (see as one of five artists to know and see during Denver Arts Week. 


His mountain scenes are inspired by having climbed  all  54  of  the  14,000  foot  mountains  in  Colorado, and mountain  climbed,  ice  climbed,  rock  climbed  and  skied  in  Colorado,  Wyoming,  Utah,  Washington,  Arizona,  France,  Nepal,  Japan,  Mongolia,  Peru  and  Ecuador.  The mountain scenes project feelings of spirituality and struggle.


His calligraphy is in his Chinese DNA.   His brush strokes dance across the paper.


Calvin is not content to paint “pretty pictures” and stuns the viewer with his social and political art.


Not content with representing those whose civil rights have been violated, Calvin thought it would be more fun to be a community organizer.   He organized  and  was the spokesperson  for  the  Roaring  Fork  Peace  Coalition,  an  anti-war  group  opposed  to  invading  Iraq. 


He was the organizer  and  spokesperson  for  the  Roaring  Crystal 

Alliance,  a  grassroots  environmental  group  promoting  clean  air,  affordable  housing  and  sustainable  planning in the Roaring Fork Valley.


Calvin went to Zambia  in  May of  2008  for  five  weeks  to  teach  art, math, social studies, geography  and  English  to  AID's  orphans. 


Calvin closed his law practice in Glenwood Springs and moved from Carbondale to Denver in 2012.   He opened an art studio in  Denver’s RiNo Art District.


Calvin currently accepts  law  cases  in  Aspen,  Carbondale,  Glenwood  Springs  and  Denver  if  the  matter  is  serious  and  interesting.  His most recent case was representing a woman charged with trespassing at Senator Cory Gardner’s office.   She was trying to see Senator Gardner about how disabled people would be adversely affected by repeal of the Affordable Care Act.


In September, Calvin went  to  the island of Lesvos, Greece where with binoculars he looked   for refugees from Syria and Afghanistan landing on the shore to assist bringing them to shelter and food.    Upon his return Calvin has been providing legal services  to  refugees seeking asylum.  The experience also inspired a series of refugee paintings.   See

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