Samella Lewis, Artist and Activist for Art World Diversity, Dies at 99

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Black artist and art historian Samella Lewis has set up a museum specializing in the promotion of black art, not only blaming the racial blindfold for the establishment of white art, but also May 27. Died near Los Angeles in Torrance, California. She was 99 years old.

Her son, Claude Lewis, said the cause was renal failure.

Kesha Dumas Heath, executive director of the African-American Museum, founded by Dr. Lewis in Los Angeles in 1976, pointed out her widespread influence by email, “a leader in black art scholarships, and a black artist. Is a proponent of a new road for. “

“She envisioned opportunities that didn’t yet exist for black artists, and she created them,” she added.

In a very diverse career, Dr. Lewis also co-founded an art journal, helped run the gallery, made films about black artists, taught at college, and was first published in 1978, “Art. I wrote popular books such as “African American”. Kelly Jones, a prominent art historian at Columbia University, said the book (later republished as “African-American Art and Artists”) was still influential, and Dr. Lewis’ various efforts. Said that it is a feature of.

“She starts a magazine: still printing,” she said in a telephone interview. “Museum: It’s still there.”

“She did it all,” Dr. Jones added. “She really did everything.”

Samera Sanders was born on February 27, 1923 in New Orleans to Samuel and Rachel Sanders. (Born in 1924 with two oral histories, his son said he came to believe that 1923 was correct.) His father was a farmer and his mother was a domestic worker.

She grew up in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, northwest of New Orleans, and painted from an early age. In an oral history recorded in 1992 by the University of California, Los Angeles Oral History Research Center, she stated that the first sale of artwork was directed to kindergarten teachers. Pig.

“I drew a purple pig because all the other kids were doing brown pigs, white pigs,” she said. “And by playing that pig, I decided that I wouldn’t stay in anyone’s line. I just drew a line, but I moved out of the line. It’s like the pig is vibrating. was.”

She enrolled at Dillard University in New Orleans with the intention of studying history, but at the recommendation of a high school art teacher, she took a freshman art course. Her professor was the artist Elizabeth Catlett, who had significant artistic and activist influence. For example, when they boarded the bus together, Catlet grabbed a “colored patron-only” sign that bounds the black seats and threw them out of the window. The racial situation in Louisiana, as things are.

“I sat there and grew up in this situation. This woman comes here and confuses the whole situation,” Dr. Lewis said in the history of dictation.

Catlet also changed his approach to art.

“One of the important things I learned in Elizabeth’s class is that I don’t portray people without knowing who they are and where they are,” she says. I did. “I was painting these portraits, and she would say,” Who is this? ” And I would say, “I don’t know.” “Well, what are you drawing it for?”

Two years later, she transferred to the Hampton Institute in Virginia (now Hampton University) and earned a bachelor’s degree in art history in 1945.

She continued her graduate work at Ohio State University, first studying printmaking and then sculpture, but encountered some resistance in that genre.

“I ran into the problem of sexism as well as racism,” she said. “My professor felt that women shouldn’t weld because of the heavy machinery involved.” So she focused on expanding her study of painting and art history and developed certain expertise in Asian and pre-Columbian art. She earned her master’s degree in 1948 — the year she married the mathematician Paul G. Lewis — and became the first black woman to earn her PhD in 1951. She majored in art and art history at university. In a post on her college website, she was once referred to as “the godfather of African-American art.”

In 1953 Dr. Lewis was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Florida A & M University. According to Stephen Otofinoski’s book “African Americans in Visual Arts” (2003), she once told the president of the university her portrait in exchange for her funding for her faculty. I was saying to draw.

Lewis became active in civil rights issues and left Florida in 1958 when Dr. Lewis took up a teaching position at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh due to harassment by the Ku Klux Klan and others. In 1966 she got a job at California State University in Long Beach. That same year, she made the first of several short documentaries, The Black Artists, a study of African-American art.

While she was speaking out about black art and artists, Dr. Lewis said she would use her expertise in Asian art and other disciplines to make connections, especially in her education. Said that he did.

“I have never taught a course with closed doors.” This is African art, this is Caribbean art, “she said in oral history. “I tried to show a mutual relationship.”

But as the 1960s became more severe, she focused on white domination in the art world. At the end of 1968, she left academia as an educational coordinator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she wanted to improve her black art.

“Anyone can have a simple black show,” she told the Los Angeles Times at the time, but she sought a more substantive change. She continued for over a year before she quit, so she was dissatisfied with the lack of progress and picketed her own museum.

“We’ve been through several periods of slavery, liberation, low wages and overwork, sedation, integration, trying to prove something instead of living in our own home,” she said in 1972. First I told Progress Bulletin in Pomona, California. I’m sick of this self-certification. “

In 1969, he published “Black Artists on Art” with Ruth Wadi and founded his own publisher, Contemporary Crafts. In it, black artists enthusiastically talked about their work and the obstacles they faced. This book (followed by Volume 2 in 1971) rattled the establishment of art and those who covered it, including the Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson.

“Artist remarks range from the modest affirmation of the desire to create valuable art to the candid and radical rejection of the intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals who dominate the art scene, as well as the general white culture. “Wilson wrote in a review, in which he seemed to find the challenges thrown by the book unpleasant.

Dr. Lewis was also looking for a way to avoid the white facility. She has already helped establish the National Artist Council, a specialized organization for black artists, which continues today. And after leaving the Los Angeles Museum of Art, she was the founder of the Multical Gallery in Los Angeles, focusing on selling her work at prices that are available to almost everyone with black art. rice field.

In 1975 she and the other two founded Black Art: International Quarterly. This continues today under the name International Review of African American Art. Then, in 1976, she visited the African-American Museum, and since then she has held exhibitions and run educational programs.

Dr. Lewis resumed teaching at Scripps College in Claremont, California in 1969. There she stayed there for 15 years and now holds the Samera Lewis Contemporary Art Collection. Over the years, she has curated numerous exhibitions in galleries and museums.

And in her busy life, she found time to make her own art. Her paintings and prints have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationwide.

Her husband died in 2013. In addition to her son Claude, she is surviving by another son, Alain, and three grandchildren.

In a 2000 lecture in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Lewis briefly explained why people respect artists of all races and backgrounds and try to listen to them. ..

“They tell us what will happen in the future,” she said. “They tell us what we should have seen in the past.”

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