Samella Lewis

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Samella Lewis
Born (1924-02-27) February 27, 1924 (age 93)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation Artist

Samella Sanders Lewis (born February 27, 1924) is an African-American artist, working primarily as a printmaker and painter. She is also a published author, art historian and a former educator.

Early life[edit]

Lewis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Widely exhibited and collected as an artist herself, Lewis is better known as a historian, critic and collector of art, especially African-American art. Lewis has completed four degrees, five films, seven books and a substantial body of artworks which have received critical respect. She pursued an art degree starting off at Dillard University in 1941, but left Dillard for Hampton Institute in Virginia, earning her master's degree in 1947. She earned her B.A. degree at Hampton University, then completed her master and doctorate in art history and cultural anthropology at the Ohio State University in 1951.[1] Lewis is the first female African American to earn a doctorate in fine art and art history.[2]

Lewis became chair of the Fine Arts Department at Florida A&M University in 1952; she was a professor at the State University of New York and at Scripps College in Claremont, California. She co-founded, with Bernie Casey, the Contemporary Crafts Gallery in Los Angeles in 1970.[1] In 1973, she served on the selection committee for the exhibition BLACKS: USA: 1973 held at the New York Cultural Center.[3]

Lewis is the founder of the International Review of African American Art in 1975. She founded the Museum of African-American Arts in 1976.[1]

In the 1960s–1970s her work reflected humanity and freedom. She produced lithographs, linocuts, and serigraphs.

She is an NAACP member, and a collector of art with her collection including African, Chinese, Asian, South American and other art.

Lewis's grandson is Bay Area artist and musician Unity Lewis.[2][4] He plans to create a contemporary version of Samella Lewis's catalog "Black Artists on Art," which featured black artists not typically showcased in mainstream art galleries and sold thousands of copies.[4] “I wanted to make a chronology of African American artists, and artists of African descent, to document our history. The historians weren’t doing it. I felt it better the artists do it anyway, through pictorial and written information… It was really about the movement,” Samella Lewis said of the book published in 1969 and 1971.[5] In 2015 Unity Lewis and art entrepreneur Trevor Parham created The Legacy Exhibit, which featured three generations of black fine artists, including contemporary artists as well as some included in the original "Black Artists on Art." The show launched their recruitment efforts for 500 black American artists to participate in the updated volumes.[4]

Founded Museum[edit]

In 1976, Samella Lewis founded the museum which is called "Museum of African-American Arts" with a group of artistic, academic, business and community leaders in Los Angeles, California. These founders both had the same goal which was to increase the African American art awareness from the public. Many individual and corporations, such as Macy's, made their generous donations to the museum. And the museum operates until nowadays base on these donations. Besides, many people who are staff and volunteers are dedicated to supporting the museum. Also, she mentioned an "art of inspiration" based on the experiences of African Americans themselves.[6]

Samella Lewis, as the staff's senior curator in the museum, she was not only organized great numbers of exhibitions but also developed diverse ways letting people knows about the art of African and American. In an article, she discussed the ideas of "art of tradition", and arguing that museum had the responsibility to explore African roots of African American art.[7]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 1962: Fulbright Fellowship to study Asian culture at First Institute of Chinese Civilization and Tung Mai University, Taiwan
  • 1964-65: National Defense Education Act postdoctoral fellow at University of Southern California, studying Chinese language and Asian civilization
  • 1995: UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts
  • 1996-97: Named a Distinguished Scholar by the Getty Center for the History of Art and Humanities
  • 1993: Charles White lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2003: The History Maker Award
  • 2004: Special Day Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions from the City of New Orleans
  • 2005: Alumni Association Award from the Ohio State University


  1. ^ a b c Farrington, Lisa (2005). Creating their own image: the history of African-American women artists. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199767601. 
  2. ^ a b "Bay area artist hopes to establish himself at Kaneko Gallery". The American River Current. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  3. ^ "BLACKS: USA: 1973 Opens at the Cultural Center". Chicago Metro News. 29 September 1973. 
  4. ^ a b c "Drummond: Oakland exhibit celebrates black fine art – The Mercury News". Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  5. ^ "Black Artists on Art: The Legacy Exhibit | OAKSTOP". Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  6. ^ "The Museum of African American Art | Los Angeles". Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  7. ^ "Lewis, Samella 1924– - Dictionary definition of Lewis, Samella 1924– | FREE online dictionary". Retrieved 2017-02-06. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]