Virginia Olga Lee, inventor, philanthropist and well-known mid-century modernist designer, died in hospice near her home in Sarasota, Fla., Dec. 24, 2014, after a short illness. She was 90.
Ms. Lee, known to all as Olga, had been a longtime resident of Cedar Beach in Southold and, more recently, Aquebogue.
A graduate of Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior and industrial design, Ms. Lee was part of the California design avant-garde that brought low-cost, innovative and eye-appealing furniture and furnishings to families eager to move on from World War II, a design movement that swept the country in the middle of the 20th century.
Early on, she married acclaimed furniture designer Milo Baughman. Together they ran a successful design shop in Los Angeles, working both collaboratively and independently. After their divorce, Ms. Lee’s company, Olga Lee Design, continued for many years to design commercial furniture for Winchendon, Drexel, Arch Gordon, and Thayer Coggin.
Her textiles are in the collections of Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago. Her iconic Ralph O. Smith lamp won a “Good Design” award from the Museum of Modern Art in 1955 and was included in that year’s MOMA Design exhibit. In 2011 the Olga Lee lamp was featured in both the Los Angeles County Museum exhibit “California Design, 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way” and the companion book published by MIT Press. Today her lamp is regarded as a rare modernist collector’s piece by Sotheby’s (2012) and other auction houses.
Until her death Ms. Lee was the owner of NuLotech, a company working toward simple solutions to everyday problems, with an emphasis on products for an aging population. She held a patent for a mixing device and had several patents pending.
Olga fell in love with the North Fork of Long Island in the 1970s and spent many years sailing and powerboating on local waters. She was noted for her fabulous parties and entertaining evenings of charades, onze and poker, as well as fantastic poolside fundraisers for animal welfare and North Fork Women for Women Fund. A lifelong poker aficionado, she also played a mean hand of Texas hold ’em.
In 2005 she was predeceased by her longtime companion Jane Preston, painting student of Hans Hoffman, art director at Macmillan, North Fork realtor and house re-habber, avid Peconic Bay sailor and licensed maritime captain. She was previously predeceased by her companion Ronnie (Gloria) Bamberger in 1989. Olga will be sorely missed by her friends, both on the North Fork and in Florida, who would like to thank hospice nurse Jessica Lyn Valencia for her support and tender care during Olga’s illness.
Her remains were cremated in Florida and will be interred on the North Fork. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
As per Suffolk Times, January 20, 2015
Olga attended Crones softball games and filmed some of the few images of those games that are available. View a short video of one of the games by clicking here.