Works in the Collection
Samella Lewis was born on February 27, 1923, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lewis began her art career as a student at Dillard University, where she was instructed by the African American sculptor Elizabeth Catlett. 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 1952 she became Chair ofFinee Arts Department at Florida A&M University. 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, CA, 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 became one of the leading forums for educating scholars and others on 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. Lewis has received several awards and distinctions including the UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts in 1995 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. Lewis’s work has exhibited in many important galleries and museums. *Many sources list Dr. Lewis’s birth year as 1924, a fact disputed by her son Claude according to a March 2019 article published by the website Black Art In America.