It is amidst heartache and tears that I share the news that Lee Brooks of Alex & Lee jewelry has passed away. I not only had the pleasure of enjoying countless years of inspiration from the design, artistry and spiritual power of Alex & Lee’s remarkable wearable art pieces, but also had the pleasure of getting to know Lee personally – along with this wonderful partner Greg – to form a friendship I will always cherish.
It was in November 2014 when I made the long and winding drive along Hwy 1 from San Francisco to the California coast to meet Lee and Greg for the first time at their home. As I approached this jewel of a house (an architectural echo of the famous Alex and Lee jewelry aesthetic) the door swung open with Greg smiling to greeting me. Three steps inside the door stood Lee, gentle and calm, extending both hands and then saying, “Welcome home.” The grace and peace with which Lee carried himself was impressive, inspiring, and inspired. I arrived with butterflies in my stomach, about to meet the man who had already given me over 15 years of unending artistic fire and delight by way of the images I first saw in the iconic book Native Funk & Flash, along with the research I would continue to pursue in the interest of creating my exhibition Counter-Couture. Upon spending the day with these gentlemen, I was warmly offered the stories of Alex and Lee’s earliest days together, and the birth of their career as the true cosmic-hippie-jeweler-heros of the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Lee’s passion for telling stories – richly decorated and impassioned tales – quickly queued me into the preciousness of the history Alex and Lee created as artists. He shared memories of the duo decorating the necks of everyone from society women to Tina Turner, Salvador Dali, and countless blessed individuals who were lucky enough to be able to own their handmade treasures. Amidst these hours of dynamic tales of world-travel, psychedelics, sex, celebrities, art world royalty and truly eye-dazzling show and tell of photos and jewelry and art, Lee told me, “When I was about your age I had a realization that forever changed my life. I heard the voice of God inside me, and he told me that I was perfect! From that moment on I knew that within me was everything I ever needed, and that my only job was to live the life that I was meant to live – and to be ME in only the way that I can be me!” He shared this without a glimmer of ego or boastfulness. It was clearly an honest expression of the beauty and power of self-realization in an artist’s life – something so many of us dream of finding only for moment. Hearing these words added another rich layer of meaning to my understanding that we all have a voice. And we each have special gifts that are unique to us. To not share those gifts is not only a disservice to our own soul, but also to the rest of the world who eagerly awaits the presence and pleasure that happens when we share those gifts. Those words of this beautiful elder-mentor-brother-icon friend can never be unheard, and are imprinted into my mind and heart forever.
As my work evolved, Counter-Couture eventually became an 8500-square foot-museum-reality at Bellevue Arts Museum last fall. We were treated to Lee and Greg’s company at the opening night celebration of the exhibit, which showcased over a dozen items from the archives of Alex & Lee. The show not only featured jewelry by these men, but also the exact head-to-toe ensemble Lee wore in the Jerry Wainwright photographs featured in Native Funk and Flash in 1974. Seeing then-75 year old Lee standing beside the museum-displays of himself from 40 years prior was magical, and a testament to the power of a life devoted to sharing one’s vision and gifts.
At the end of the museum celebration that night, Lee pulled me aside and said “I am so lucky to know you, and so grateful for all the hard work you’ve done to bring us all together and put so much artwork back into the spotlight after all these years. May I stitch you into my life?” I of course said I would be honored, not realizing that this stitching would shift over to the spirit realm so soon.
I share these words and photos in tribute to Lee Brooks, a marvelous man filled with love, talent and wisdom that took form in each work of art he made, each storied he shared, and the acts of grace and goodness and just plain fun he was so committed to making. Rest in peace, Lee, you will forever be remembered.
Lee Brooks, 1974. Photo by Jerry Wainwright for book “Native Funk & Flash” by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart.
Lee Brooks beside a photo of himself in my exhibition “Counter-Couture” at Bellevue Arts Museum.
Greg Franke, Lee Brooks and Alexandra Jacopetti Hart exploring “Counter-Couture.”
The hands of the artist: Lee Brooks.
Michael Cepress and Lee Brooks
Michael Cepress and Lee Brooks celebrate on opening night of Counter-Couture.
Lee Brooks in front of a portrait of Alex and Lee in Counter-Couture.
Lee Brooks, 1981.
Arin Burch (daughter of jewelry designer/artist Laurel Burch) Greg Franke, Lee Brooks and Michael Cepress on opening night of Counter-Couture at Bellevue Arts Museum.