Madison firefighters save artist Lee Harper’s work

Lee Harper, founding director of Buckhead-based Lee Harper & Dancers, and current Artist-in-Residence for The Westminster Schools, has always sought to create an emotional connection between herself, her dancers and the audience. For more than four decades, she has inspired and taught thousands of children, choreographed productions for some of the premier arts organizations in the Southeast, directed her talented group of professional dancers and dazzled audiences with her one-woman shows.

In recent years, she has expanded her artistic endeavors and found a new medium with which to form emotional connections – fine art painting.  It is through this artistic pursuit that she found herself celebrating a connection she never expected to have: one with the Fire Department of Madison, Georgia.

“In addition to my Atlanta studio, I have an art studio and gallery in the historic Vason Building in downtown Madison, ” explains Harper.  “Just before Christmas two years ago, my husband, Wayne Vason, and I received a late night phone call alerting us that the structure was on fire. We got there as fast as we could, and I feared the worst for my paintings, which had been created over a period of several years. When we arrived at the scene, I was overjoyed to discover that the members of the town’s volunteer fire department had first protected my paintings with plastic coverings to shield them from water, and then safely removed them from the building. I thought showing all of the pieces together would be the best way to convey the scope of the work they saved, and by selling the paintings, along with some of my more recent art, I could make a financial donation to the fire department to show my appreciation.”

True to her word, last spring Harper hosted “Out of the Ashes” at Lee Harper Studios in Atlanta. The collection of paintings rescued from the fire and available for purchase included landscapes, figures, still lifes and abstracts, painted with bold, vivid colors in oils and acrylics. The art show also featured a number of Harper’s newer works. She repeated the show in Madison, with proceeds from both gallery sales donated to the Madison Fire Department.

Thanks to the quick-thinking firefighters, more than 40 fine arts paintings and photographs were saved from the fire. Some were treated for smoke damage, but none of them were ruined. The same was true of the historic Vason Building on Main Street. Although it was severely damaged, it was painstakingly renovated and re-opened in the fall of 2016.

The Vason family has owned the building for nearly 150 years. It was built in 1870 by Wayne Vason’s great-grandfather, Joseph Vason, ironically after the original structure was destroyed by a fire in 1869. The current owner first restored the building a decade ago and received a Preservation Excellence Award from the Madison Preservation Commission in 2005 and a Georgia Preservation Award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006.  The Madison Fire Department received a Preservation Award from the Madison Preservation Commission for saving the Vason Building.