Husky purple isn’t normally in Kary Lamb Lee’s palette. The Pullman-based illustrator was born in Pullman, and her family’s ties to Washington State University go back 80 years.

Still, she was happy to pull out the purple to create the souvenir poster for the 2009 Windermere Cup, a premiere boating event in the Pacific Northwest and a signature event for the University of Washington.

In fact, Lee’s poster says UW crew like no other. While previous Windermere Cup posters have highlighted the grace of rowing, or the beauty of Montlake Cut, or even the storied history of the UW rowing program, Lee’s captures all of that and still manages to tell the story of a particular group of athletes.

Kary Lamb Lee '86 in her studio. Robert Hubner
Kary Lamb Lee ’86 in her studio. Robert Hubner

For the first time in Cup history, the poster features a women’s team, a nod to the 2007 NCAA Championship women’s team, which finished tenth. The central image is a women’s varsity four, driving through a stroke. There’s a backdrop of beloved landmarks including the Montlake Bridge, Conibear Shellhouse, and Mt. Rainier.

“The nicest compliment that I got is that the athletes loved the poster,” Lee said. “It seemed personal to them, and I thought, okay, I did my job.”

Though she was born in Pullman, Lee spent her childhood in Southern California, Tacoma, and Chewelah. When it came time for college, she headed back to Pullman with two objectives: “I wanted to do art, and I wanted to make money at it,” she said, and laughed. But in fact, she had a plan to do just that. She majored in communication and minored in fine art, and during her senior year threw herself into the National Student Advertising Competition, creating a campaign for Burger King. After graduation she married and moved to Dallas where she found a job as an art director for an international pet supply company.

It was challenging, interesting work, but it was also all-consuming, she says. After her son Colby was born, the Palouse called again when her husband was offered a job at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. “The timing was right,” Lee said. “I wanted to go home.”

Raising her three children, Colby, Debbie, and Katy, now 18, 15, and 14, took much of her creative energy, but she continued graphic design work on a part-time basis. She was creating art, and she was making money at it. Then about 10 years ago she realized she wanted more.

That’s when she turned to illustration. In a sense, it was a return to her first love, one that deepened during classes at WSU with fine arts professor Fran Ho. “Whatever I was doing for him I wanted to do my best,” she said.