Samella Lewis

About the Print

“Art for me is an instrument of communication — with myself and with others. It forces me to continually examine my own thoughts and actions, as well as those of others. The experiences in life can be viewed in a flexible and inclusive manner without limitations. Art is not some theory that you learn but a way of life that you choose to develop. Once nurtured it thrives on your memory bank and your need to reach out and seek to understand the tangible and the intangible. Thus, for me, art and life are inseparable.” – SL

Samella Lewis

Born February 27, 1924 in New Orleans, LA
About the Artist

Painter, scholar, filmmaker, educator, critic, and printmaker Samella Lewis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received a BA and an MA from Hampton University in Virginia, and an MA and Ph.D. in Art History and Cultural Anthropology from Ohio State University. Lewis was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in Fine Art and Art History. She became the first Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Florida A&M University in 1953. In order to publish Black Artists on Art in 1969, Lewis founded the first African American-owned art publishing house, Contemporary Crafts. She also co-founded with Bernie Casey the Contemporary Crafts Gallery in Los Angeles in 1970. Lewis is the founder of the International Review of African American Art in 1975 and the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles, California in 1976.

Lewis’ figurative art reflects the African American experience and complements her efforts as a historian, educator, and mentor to generations of academics and studio artists. She self-published a monograph of the sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett and wrote or edited numerous essays and books highlighting the achievements of those she admired. She is considered by many to be the dean of African American artists-art historians.

She retired as Professor Emeritus from Scripps College in Los Angeles. The school also honored her with The Samella S. Lewis Collection of African American Art and scholarships that carry her name. She has been a long-time consultant to several major institutions including the Getty Institute and Hampton University. Lewis also serves as an Advisory Member of the Institute for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in Education and the Arts, which has developed


Curriculum Connections

Suggested Topics for Portraiture (in studio art and art history education), Visual Narratives, and Expressive Writing

Portraiture (in studio art and art history education), Visual Narratives, Expressive Writing:

The use of words or a combination of words, symbols, and human images to convey deeply felt emotions.

Questions to Consider

Creative people — artists, musicians, dancers, and writers — often create new works bearing witness to the death of a loved one, especially when it is a tragic death or the result of a catastrophic event like an environmental or health disaster such as COVID-19.