Earl B. Lewis: National Treasure - highlighting the works of E.B. Lewis, renowned children’s illustrator and fine artist
I really love the Noyes Museum of Art. It is an absolute gem of a place, situated on Lily Lake Road in Oceanville, adjacent to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Center. The building is set so that its wall of windows looks out on the lake, and was clearly designed to seamlessly blend the beauty of natural world outside with the art on view inside. And each time I visit the Noyes, I am guaranteed to be exposed to new artists and to see works that inspire me and make me think.
My recent visit to the Noyes was no exception. In its gallery spaces, the Noyes is currently featuring four very different exhibitions: “The Art of Conflict”, which offers an artistic view of struggle, survival and hope; “Prints from the Permanent Collection”, presenting the works of three printmakers created in the 40s, 50s and 60s; “Pat Witt: Art Spirit”, a look at the 50+ year career of New Jersey artist, Pat Witt; and “Earl B. Lewis, National Treasure.”
Each of these exhibitions is a study in the ways that art portrays human emotion. But, the works of E.B. Lewis that are shown in his exhibition are especially noteworthy.
Lewis, a teacher, illustrator and fine artist, has produced an amazingly extensive body of work. Born in Philadelphia and current resident of Folsom, NJ, Lewis attended Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Currently, Lewis teaches at the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, both in Philadelphia.
Dorrie Papademetriou, Director of Exhibitions at the Noyes, is quite pleased to be presenting some of Lewis’ work at the Museum. “E.B. is so well-deserving, and this exhibition is an overview of who he is at this point in time,” said Papademetriou.
This exhibition shows Lewis’ children’s book illustrations alongside his fine art paintings, and spotlights Lewis’ most recent works, the “Lotto Icons.” This series of small paintings of children is done on lottery tickets, collected from throughout the world, embellished with gold leaf and framed in the style of religious icons.
“His new work is such an interesting concept,” Papademetriou said, “but we couldn’t feature only the icons. I feel like a common thread is the children. We tried to make the icons somewhat separate, but there is a natural tie-in between those and many of the other works in the show.”
Lewis’ depictions of people – whether created to illustrate a book or simply as a work of art – show human emotion in a powerful, yet natural, way. And Lewis tries to demonstrate the same depth when painting a landscape or non-human subjects.
“I don’t find a difference between painting people and painting things,” said Lewis. “My work is figurative. I can be as intimate with a tree or a wheelbarrow as I am with a figure. Everything I paint has a personality.”
And how does he explain the distinction between creating an illustration for a book and doing a painting that will be framed and hung on a wall?
“It is all about solving problems. Artists are always faced with problems to solve,” said Lewis. “Illustration is a visual interpretation of a literary work. With a landscape, I am working on classic artistic problems, of composition and of creating movement and emotion with a medium. But regardless of whether it is a painting or an illustration, there is always a narrative… always a story.”
Since doing his first children’s book illustration in the mid-90s, Lewis has illustrated more than 50 books. These days, Lewis works on three or four books a year, and is “booked out” – no pun intended – for five to six years in advance. When asked how he finds these projects, Lewis said that they find him.
Emotion seems to be the common thread throughout Lewis’ work. In fact, Lewis believes that he has been so successful as an illustrator because publishers realize that he “does” emotion. And the same is true with his fine art. “With my work, I make a connection to that inner soul,” said Lewis. “I don’t stop until I feel that emotion.”
The “Lotto Icons” are a striking example of that connection and emotion. The images are of somber children, painted on lottery tickets and partially obscured by gold leaf. The social commentary is up for personal interpretation, but the combination of the plaintive faces and the ornate presentation make a strong statement about what we value and what is really important.
“At first, I wasn’t sure how large to make the paintings,” said Lewis. “I revealed the idea to a friend and showed her my sketch book. She told me they looked like icons.” Lewis then did research on iconography and looked at how they were finished – often in heavy, elaborately carved frames – and used that style for these paintings.
Lewis said he will be sending some of these works to the Calvin College Center Art Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “They invited me to be part of ‘Windows to Heaven: Treasures from the Museum of Russian Icons’. It is such an honor.”
Lewis continues to teach, but he is an artist at heart and by trade. And he is grateful for his success and his accomplishments. “Art is like breathing itself,” he said. “I can’t imagine any other way of making a living.”
And even though Lewis is well-known and well-respected in the wider world, he appreciates having the opportunity to show his work at the Noyes Museum. “It is wonderful to have this show near my home. I am really glad to be part of this art community.”
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Related Events at the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton College
Artist’s Talk, Earl B. Lewis: National Treasure, Saturday, March 2, 11:00 AM. Regular admission; adults. Earl B. Lewis will talk about his latest body of work included in the Noyes Museum exhibition.
Watercolor Workshop with Earl B. Lewis, Saturday, April 6, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM (1 hour lunch break). Members $125; Non-members: $150. A one-day watercolor workshop by award-winning watercolorist and book illustrator Earl B. Lewis.