Meet Eleanor Lewis
At 2 p.m. Aug. 10, Eleanor Lewis will discuss the ongoing exhibition of her artwork, her life and techniques at the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, 1709 Chapel Dive. For more info, call 464-5365 or visit http://www.valpo.edu/artmuseum/.
Updated: August 17, 2014 6:17AM
Eleanor Lewis may be retired from teaching art, but she’ll never retire from creating art.
For more than half a century, the 86-year-old Valparaiso woman has transformed hundreds of blank white canvases into colorful works of art.
She uses oils, acrylic, pastel and watercolor with techniques ranging from realism to surrealism and abstraction to impressionism. Landscapes, florals, murals, portraits — you name it, she’s painted it — she has no plans of putting away her brushes.
“Yes, I’m still going at it at my age, 86 and a half,” Lewis told me at the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University.
I received a personal tour of her ongoing exhibit at the museum, featuring 15 of her works through the decades, each offering visitors a glimpse into her talent and experiences. You can receive a similar tour by watching my video at http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.
Lewis is a former art teacher for Gary and Merrillville schools, teaching hundreds of students how to express themselves using creativity, composition and brushstrokes. Her work has won innumerable awards from this region to Florida, where she lives part time. And her pieces hang in galleries, public places and private collections.
“Many of my students are still living all over this region,” said Lewis, a highly regarded regional artist and educator. “And so are many of my paintings.”
Lewis typically uses original photos to paint from, starting every piece with the furthest spot in any photo, then from back to front and top to bottom. She gave me a sneak peek at her latest painting in progress, from a photo taken in Sedona, Ariz.
“I enjoy the composition of every painting I do, leading the eye of the viewer into the work naturally across the piece,” Lewis said. “I do the under painting first and then the other layers.”
Lewis’ floral pieces follow in the spirit of the master Georgia O’Keefe, but she has a fondness for children’s portraits. Her daughter, Tammy, is portrayed in two of her works, one as a young girl curled up seemingly in the frame itself while reading a book. It’s appropriately titled, “In a World of Her Own.”
Another much more colorful painting shows a collage of birds that practically fly off the canvas, titled “Parrot Party.”
One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit is a painting of an older couple sitting at the Griffith Art Fair. Both of them seem so real, as if they’re still there selling their artwork.
“I just enjoyed so much how they looked that I wanted to capture it and save it,” Lewis explained. “After this exhibit, I will be gifting many of these pieces.”
Gregg Hertzlieb, director and curator for the Brauer Museum of Art, noted, “This painting is not a cold, clinical expression but you can see there’s a kinship here, giving viewers an insight into the two people.”
The same day that Hertzlieb met with Lewis to arrange her exhibit, he later met with his artistic friend, Bill Pozzo, who just happened to tell Hertzlieb about a high school teacher who changed his life many years ago.
“I owe her everything,” Pozzo told Hertzlieb.
That teacher was Lewis, who has taught every level of education, including adult ed schools and special needs children.
“There is a community buzz about Eleanor’s work and her name,” Hertzlieb told me while studying Lewis’ work.
Lewis, who retired in 1993, is a graduate of the Fort Wayne Art Institute, earning several degrees from Ball State University and Indiana University.
She has hosted one-person shows in Merrillville, Muncie, Hammond, Chesterton and Naples, Florida, among other galleries. Some of her work is for sale while other pieces are gifted to schools, hospitals, libraries and other places.
“You can tell a lot about an artist if you don’t always hear their name or see their work at auctions,” Hertzlieb said. “It shows that people are still hanging on to the artist’s work and still enjoying it.”
After spending an hour with Lewis and her work, it became obvious that this is precisely what touches her the most — discovering who owns her artwork and where it’s still displayed. Many of them are like wayward ships in bottles, cast off decades ago for unknown waters. Every so often, their existence floats back to her.
She doesn’t want to be forgotten. Who does, at any age?
“On my days when I’m feeling a little glum, this brightens my spirits,” she said. “This is one of my biggest hopes, that some of my former students will see that I’m still around and still painting.”
Why does she keep painting?
“Well, I keep seeing beautiful things around me in the world and I want to paint them for others to see. I want to save them, in an artistic way,” she replied. “This is my way of teaching these days.”
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