New York City gallerist and entrepreneur Lee Nordness (1922-1995) was born in Olympia, Washington. He studied art in college and received a bachelor's degree from Uppsala University in Sweden. From 1954-1956, Nordness ran a small gallery, Talent Discovery Company, out of his apartment in New York City. Around 1955, Nordness became the director of The Little Studio, Ltd., a gallery started by Richard Kollmer in 1952 to showcase moderately priced artwork by young artists. Nordness took over the business in 1957; it closed in April 1963.
In 1958, Nordness incorporated American Art Expositions, Inc. to organize Art:USA:58, a large exposition of contemporary American art held at Madison Square Garden. The following year Art:USA:59 was held at the New York Coliseum.
Lee Nordness opened his own gallery, Nordness Gallery, Inc., in December 1957 on Madison Avenue. The gallery promoted a roster of contemporary painters and sculptors, including David Aronson, Al Blaustein, Alberto Collie, Ralston Crawford, Robert D'Arista, Kahlil Gibran, Ruth Gikow, Peter Grippe, Milton Hebald, Zubel Kachadoorian, James Kearns, Julian Levi, Walter Meigs, Gregorio Prestopino, Hiram Williams, Karl Zerbe, and the estates of Louis Guglielmi and Rico Lebrun. In 1966, Lee Nordness reorganized his businesses. He closed Nordness Gallery and opened Lee Nordness Art Advisory Section, an art consulting service to corporations, collectors, museums, and individuals, and Lee Nordness Galleries Exhibition Sections, Inc. to handle exhibitions and the sale of paintings and sculptures.
Lee Nordness had an interest in American crafts and, beginning in 1968, he added a permanent roster of American craftmakers to exhibit alongside paintings and sculpture. He opened Forms & Objects, Inc. to handle the exhibition and sales of fine crafts such as ceramics, fiber, glass, metal and wood. With a need for additional exhibition space, the gallery moved a few blocks off Madison Avenue to 236-238 East 75th Street.
Nordness traveled the globe to assemble prominent collections for clients, such as Art:USA, a collection of contemporary works by 102 American artists for S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Art:USA traveled throughout the United States and Europe in the mid-late 1960s before being donated to the National Collection of Fine Arts (Smithsonian Institution). In the late 1960s, he assembled a collection of 300 American craft objects for S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. called Objects:USA, which toured throughout the United States and Europe. This collection was disassembled in the late 1970s, many of the works donated to the Museum of Arts and Design, formerly the Museum of Contemporary Craft.
Nordness closed his New York galleries in the mid-1980s. Soon after, he moved to Belfair, Washington and opened Lee Nordness Galleries, Inc. in 1986. He passed away in 1995 in Washington.