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Thu, Nov. 14

Naked Truth: River trip down memory lane with Katie Lee

Katie Lee, 1983. Photo from NAU Cline Library.

Katie Lee, 1983. Photo from NAU Cline Library.

After devoting a lifetime to loving Arizona's diverse landscape, Western icon Katie Lee is becoming a lasting part of it.

A new exhibit "Naked Truth: The Katie Lee Exhibit" at Northern Arizona University's Cline Library is celebrating the life of the Southwestern environmental activist and entertainer.

"I spent my life telling people about the West," said Lee during a telephone interview from her home in Jerome. "I eventually want to leave a legacy that inspires others to learn to love, protect and respect it."

The exhibit chronicles Lee's journey from a child in Tucson through her days as a Hollywood starlet, folksinger, river runner and photographer and as an advocate for removing the dam at Glen Canyon on the Colorado River.

"Naked Truth: The Katie Lee Exhibit," will be on display through July 2009. The display also includes Lee's letters and recordings. She has bequeathed her collection to the library.

"It feels pretty strange to have an exhibit of my life while I am still alive," said Lee, who turns 89 on Oct. 23. "But I am an artist and have been all my life. I hope my work guides others to go out in nature and see what I have seen in our great wide open spaces."

Displayed in the library's second floor Special Collections and Archives gallery, the exhibit includes large, stunning black-and-white photographs capturing Lee during different phases of her life: in high heels holding her guitar, framed with friends among canyon walls and her many mirthful moments with nature. A series of photographs from the 1950s features a naked Lee blending into curves of sandstone.

"The canyon is an erotic place," quipped Lee. "It's like a woman, full of curves, bumps and bits."

Wooden and glass cases house Lee's maps, journals, hats, cameras, albums, records and books she wrote, and newspaper and magazine articles written about her. Items such as Lee's weathered hat, red bandana and worn guitar case are included. Additional photography adds to the river trip down memory lane.

"When I first hit the river, I knew it was going to be my life. I felt it embrace me and I embraced it back," said Lee, whose 1998 memoir All My Rivers Are Gone: A Journey of Discovery Through Glen Canyon weaves her personal recollection of river trips with breathtaking descriptions of the Colorado River.

"Katie Lee is a significant treasure for many westerners, and Cline Library is proud to honor her legacy," said Karen Underhill, head of special collections and archives for Cline Library.

An accomplished singer and songwriter, Lee's love for cowboy music and the river inspired her two albums, "Colorado River Songs" and "Glen Canyon River Journeys." Her book and album, "Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle," documents cowboy songs and verse. She also produced an award-winning PBS documentary, The Last Wagon.

A graduate of the University of Arizona, Lee grew up in Tucson with parents who encouraged her creativity and her intense desire to perform before an audience. "I need an audience, or I feel like I am stuck," Lee said.

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