Calvin Lee was born in Chinatown, San Francisco on February 5, 1947.
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, hundreds of real estate cases, subrogation cases for State Farm Insurance Company and Union Insurance Company, Garfield County Affordable Housing Authority, 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 https://www.denver.org/blog/post/5-denver-artists-to-know/) and 2017 (see https://www.denver.org/blog/post/5-denver-artists-you-should-know/) 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 https://www.5280.com/2018/12/the-european-refugee-crisis-inspired-this-denver-artists-latest-collection/