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Annie is born on March 3, 1935 in Gadsden, Alabama. Her parents are Robert and Ruby Moten. They have two kids. Annie is the youngest of the two, and the only girl. Their family leaves Alabama, and relocates to Illinois. Some time after arriving in Chicago, her parents separate. Annie and her brother Tony are raised by their mom. They are very compatible siblings that share a love for drawing and painting. Ruby adores Tony, but is very strict with Annie. When Tony leaves them to join the military, both Annie and Ruby are saddened. Annie feels deserted and Ruby slips into a depression. Money is tight and their relationship is precarious. Painting becomes Annie's refuge and she is clearly a gifted artist.
Although Annie is offered a four year scholarship to Northwestern University to study art, she opts to start a family instead. She graduates from high school, gets married, and shortly after that gives birth to her first child. By the time her daughter Joy is two years old, Annie's husband Louis is stricken with cancer and dies. Annie is thrust into the reality of being a single black parent with only a high school diploma. She takes up typing and short hand to make herself employable. Meanwhile, the dream of being a career artist is distant and seemingly out of reach.
Time passes and Annie gets married again. It's a rocky union. This is the last time she exchanges wedding vows. Domestic abuse and irreconcilable differences lead them to divorce. Annie and second husband, Howard Marvin Lee Sr, conceive a son, Howard Jr. The marriage hits rock bottom and they part ways. Annie is faced with single parenthood again, leaving the marriage with only her kids and her ex's last name. Annie Frances carries two, sometimes three jobs at a time to make ends meet. Yet and still, her love for creating art remains. Drawing, sketching, and taking art classes in her free time provides her with a much needed outlet.
Post divorce, in addition to her own two children, Annie raises two foster kids. Both her daughter and son, in unrelated instances, bring a friend home that needs a place to stay, and Annie obliges. Her modest means is no deterrent when it comes to helping someone in need; especially a child. With hard work and determination, this forty-something year old full-time mom and employee, put herself through night school to complete her undergraduate degree. She doesn't stop there. Annie continues her pursuit for scholastic recognition and earns her Masters of Interdisciplinary Art degree from Loyola University. Both her son and daughter get to see their mother graduate. However, her son only witnesses the beginning of her art career.
While on her ascent in college and on the corporate ladder, tragedy strikes another fatal blow. Annie's 28 year old son is killed in a car accident, and his untimely death rocks her to the core. As if growing up poor without her father at home; or forfeiting her scholarship offer for a marriage that ends with her widowed; or surviving domestic abuse; or raising two to four kids by herself isn't enough to bare, Annie is pushed to the edge of sensibilities with this event. Within the same time frame of her son getting killed, Annie's father, brother, and ex-husband pass away also. At 54 years old, the pain of her loss is overwhelming and she becomes very ill.
She takes a year off from her Chief Clerk position at NorthWestern railroad to grieve. Like all the other times in her life when art is there to help her cope, Annie finds comfort in painting. With art as her vehicle and deep emotional pain for fuel, she paints her way back to her original calling. That year, by selling her paintings, Annie surpasses her work salary. She doesn't keep her day job. She takes the ultimate leap of faith and resigns from the railroad, to pursue her destiny as an artist.
In the three decades that Annie supported herself as a professional artist, from 1984 up until when she passed on November 24, 2014, she carved out a career that quickly attracted a large following. She dedicated her artistic talent exclusively to revealing the black experience in a unique and authentic way. Her personality resonates through her art. Her life story and body of work provides us an invaluable narrative of African American idiom, with a sense of dignity that is often lost in modern portrayals of black people. The genius of her work is in its honest simplicity. Annie put the spotlight on the mood and emotion of her subjects, by omitting their facial features. The cultural significance and aesthetic value of her images make them timeless heirlooms of the African American race. For these reasons, Annie is an inspiration, an icon, a hero, and a legend.