Charles L. Sallee, Jr., the oldest child of Charles and Coranell Collier Sallee was born in 1911 in Oberlin, Ohio, where Charles, Sr. worked as a plasterer. By 1915, the Sallee family moved to Sandusky, Ohio. There were fourteen children in all, though only seven survived to adulthood. Charles, Jr. graduated from Sandusky High School in 1931. He was actively involved in art while enrolled in Sandusky City Schools, drawing cartoons, posters, and designing scenery for school plays. Charles contributed illustrations for the book Heart of Democracy, written by James Ross in 1930. During an Art Club display in 1931, Charles sketched pictures of all his high school teachers.
Below is a print created by Charles L. Sallee, Jr. for the 1931 Sandusky High School Fram:
In 1934, Sallee was the first African American to be admitted to Cleveland School of Art, now the Cleveland Institute of Art. From 1935 to 1941, Sallee was an artist for the Works Progress Administration, creating prints and murals. One mural painted by Sallee was for the Outhwaite Home, one of the first federally funded housing projects. After graduating from the Cleveland School of Art, he earned an Art Education degree from Case Western Reserve University. Sallee taught art at Kennard Junior High and Outhwaite Elementary School.
According to Mr. Sallee’s obituary which appeared in the Plain Dealer on February 25, 2006, he did much of his early important work with the Playhouse Settlement, which became the Karamu House. Before serving in the Army Corps of Engineers, Sallee was a civilian employee with the Army Map Service. After being drafted into the Army, he was a supervising draftsman, and later a cartographer in England. While in France, he helped design roads and escape routes, and made signs for Red Ball Express supply truck drivers. He also spent time in the Philippines.
Charles L. Sallee, Jr. enjoyed a long career as an interior designer. One his most well known designs is the ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland. Other projects included the clubhouse of the Cleveland Indians stadium, the Stouffer Hotel, and Cleveland Trust. In 1957, Sallee returned to Sandusky to place oil paintings at the Second Baptist Church, where he had been baptized. The paintings were placed in ornamental plaster frames that had been created by Charles Sallee, Sr. These paintings are still located in the church sanctuary at 315 Decatur Street. Several prints by Charles L. Sallee, Jr. can be retrieved at the digital exhibits of the Case Western Reserve Kelvin Smith Library. A video from WVIZ television which discusses Charles L. Sallee, Jr. is available at YouTube. An etching by Sallee entitled “Swingtime” appears in a selection from American art at the website of Howard University.
Charles L. Sallee, Jr. died on February 15, 2006,, at the age of 94. He was survived by two daughters, a stepson, four grandchildren, and four sisters. A biographical sketch of Charles L. Sallee, Jr. is found in the database Contemporary Black Biography, available through the ClevNet database Biography Resource Center. An article in which Mr. and Mrs. Charles Sallee, Sr. discuss their family appeared in the October 13, 1958 Sandusky Register, on microfilm at the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library.