December 1996

Larry Francis Lebby

Artist

Larry Francis Lebby

Nobody could accuse Larry Francis Lebby of being unoriginal. Using a ball-point pen which cost four cents, he crafted a finely detailed portrait of the former United States president Jimmy Carter which hung in the White House during the Carter administration. He has also worked in such unorthodox mediums as Worcestershire sauce, tea and berry juice. Lebby boils the berries of his choice, adds vinegar, then brushes on the hue as he would a water color. His use of the common ball-point pen in his artistic creations has helped to establish him as an internationally renowned artist. Lebby, the third of five sons of Irene Barbara Johnson Lebby and Edward Emerson Lebby, Jr., was born in Dixiana, South Carolina in 1950. As a youth, he entertained himself by drawing in the sand while his two older brothers paired off to play. “I did not have a playmate, so I drew in the sand,” said Lebby. “That was the beginning of my artistic interest. I cannot recall ever making a conscious decision to become an artist, as the choice always became obvious to me.” The segregated schools that he attended could not afford qualified art teachers and he did not receive formal training until he was able to move to an integrated school, Airport High. He developed and honed his artistic skills at Allen University in Columbia and the University of South Carolina, earning a BA in 1973 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1976. Success in the field of art was not inevitable. Warned by one of his professors that “there’s no way you can get any subtleties with a ball-point,” Lebby persisted with his experiments until he perfected his unique style. He also works in more conventional media such as watercolors, oils, acrylics and lithographs. Lebby’s southern roots are evident in many of his works especially his paintings of the people, the architecture and the landscape of his native South Carolina. “Art to me is a response to nature,” says Lebby, “a personal statement about life. My statement is about people and places, time and nature.” In 1973, his first art show was sponsored by USC professors Drs. John and Grace Jordan McFadden, who were early collectors of his art. Since then his work has been displayed throughout the United States in places such as the White House, the Smithsonian Institue, the United Nations and the United States Senate. In 1989, his work was displayed at the Vatican in Rome. Politicians such as the South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and the former mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young have selected collections of Lebby’s work as do people in the entertainment world like Eddie Murphy, Gregory Peck, James Earl Jones and Roberta Flack. His portraits of the noted South Carolina educator and theologian Dr. Benjamin Mays and the outstanding civil rights advocate Modjeska Simpkins hang in the South Carolina State House. Exposing young people to the cultural wealth and diversity of the United States is very important to Lebby. He believes that schools must provide the facilities, supplies and instructors to teach and motivate young minds. “I have taught, demonstrated, and encouraged our youth to the importance of developing his or her special talents or gifts, cultivating them and sharing them with others,” he says. Lebby is affiliated with the United Negro College Fund Action Committee. He has served on the board of the South Carolina Nation Diabetic Association, the South Carolina Arts Commission, and the Governor’s Task Force for the Arts.