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Samella Lewis

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Information about Samella Lewis

Profile image of Samella Lewis

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Printmaker

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Shrimp Creole
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Caribbean
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
2/27/1924
Birth Location:
New Orleans, Louisiana

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Printmaker

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Shrimp Creole
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Caribbean
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
2/27/1924
Birth Location:
New Orleans
See how Samella Lewis is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Artist and art historian Samella Lewis is renowned for her contributions to African American art and art history. Born on February 27, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lewis's heritage led her to view art as an essential expression of the community and its struggles.

Lewis began her art career as a student at Dillard University, where she was instructed by the African American sculptor Elizabeth Catlett. At one of her instructor's suggestions, Lewis transferred to Hampton Institute, where she earned her B.A. degree in art history in 1945. Lewis completed her graduate studies at the Ohio State University, earning her M.A. degree in 1948, and in 1951 she became the first African American woman to receive her doctorate in fine arts and art history. In order to publish Black Artists on Art (1969), Lewis founded the first African American-owned art publishing house, Contemporary Crafts.

From 1969 to 1984, Lewis worked as professor of art history at Scripps College in Claremont, California, becoming the college's first tenured African American professor. Lewis also helped to found the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles in 1976 and established the scholarly journal International Review of African-American Art that same year. The journal went on to become one of the leading forum for educating scholars and others about the many contributions African Americans have made to the visual arts. Lewis published African American Art and Artists in 1978, a history of African American art since the colonial era. Through the museum and journal she founded, Lewis created exhibition opportunities for African American artists which have bolstered their credibility.

Lewis's work was exhibited in many important galleries and museums. Lewis's deeply-personal art embodies some experience from her own life in each piece. Lewis received several awards and distinctions; in 1995, she received the UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts, and from 1996 to 1997 worked as a distinguished scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles. Scripps College has also named an academic scholarship in Lewis's honor. Lewis and her husband, Paul G. Lewis, were married in 1948; the couple raised two children.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Samella Lewis interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis recalls her mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis lists her siblings and her position in the family
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis describes her mother and her murder at age 92
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis remembers her father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Samella Lewis discusses her family's property
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Samella Lewis details some mysteries of her family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Samella Lewis remembers her early development as an artist
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Samella Lewis discusses her mother's illness
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Samella Lewis recalls her elementary school in Ponchatoula, Louisiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis shares childhood memories of New Orleans
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis discusses attitudes towards race in New Orleans
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis remembers her aunt and uncle
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis discusses the practice of voodoo in New Orleans
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis recounts her teenage rebellion
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis remembers her mentor. Mr. Spriggins
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis describes her rich experiences at Dillard University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis recounts her interactions with Elizabeth Catlett
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis remembers her encounters with Benjamin Quarles and Paul Robeson
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis describes the maturation of her art under Elizabeth Catlett
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis recalls artist, Charles White
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis recounts her union activism with Elizabeth Catlett
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis remembers Victor Lowenfeld
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis remembers famous classmates at Hampton University
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis discusses Elizabeth Catlett and Viktor Lowenfeld's influence on her career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis recalls other influential people at Hampton University
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis discusses bringing history into her art
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Samella Lewis describes some of her work at Hampton University
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Samella Lewis remembers some of her earliest works of art
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis recounts an encounter with racism
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis details her continuing education at Pennsylvania State and Ohio State University
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis recalls her studio work at University of Chicago
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis remembers instances of racism at Ohio State University
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis recounts causing trouble as a teacher at Morgan State University
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis recalls her political activism
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Samella Lewis interview
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis recounts her challenges in becoming department chair at Florida A&M
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis discusses how white fathers dealt with illegitimate black offspring
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis lists her children
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis recalls her struggles against the all-white board of Hampton University
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis discusses what African Americans have lost because of integration
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Samella Lewis remembers her invitation to teach in New York
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Samella Lewis recounts Viktor Lowenfeld's career
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Samella Lewis explains why she couldn't take her Ford Foundation grant
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Samella Lewis recalls her experiences in Plattsburg, New York
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis discusses her studies in Native American and Asian art
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis discusses the Chinese influence in her work
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis describes the unethical collection of Native American art
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis recalls her studies of Native American art
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis details Elizabeth Catlett's exile in Mexico
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis explains why she left Plattsburg
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis finds her artistic voice through mentor, Viktor Lowenfeld
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis remembers working with Jacob Lawrence
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis considers leaving California and returning to vibrant Louisiana
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis descibes black arts low status in the 1960s
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis opines on the effect of the Black Power movement on art
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis recalls instances of discrimiation in art galleries
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis discusses her art publications
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis explains the idea behind her black art publications
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis recounts founding the Museum of African American Art
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis discusses other museums of African American art and culture
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Samella Lewis shares her plans for the future
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Samella Lewis reflects on the importance of history
  • Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Samella Lewis details the creative writing process behind books on black art
  • Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Samella Lewis shares anecdotes about Elizabeth Catlett
  • Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Samella Lewis highlights neglected black artists
  • Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Samella Lewis discusses dearth of African American art in museums exhibits
  • Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Samella Lewis considers her legacy