York artist Margaret Sarah Lewis taught and created art for many years.
My recent York Sunday News column on York artist and teacher Margaret Sarah Lewis is below. I am also including photos of a younger Lewis and also in later years, as some of you might remember her.
As outlined in the column, Lewis worked in many media. Two of her works are shown here, and I will share more in future posts. If you have access to any of her work, please snap a photo and email images to me at email@example.com, and I will print them out for her file at the York County History Center. (Ownership will be kept confidential.)
York artist Margaret Sarah Lewis depicted many local scenes
York County has never had a shortage of hometown artists. The 19th century watercolors of Lewis Miller and William Wagner are well known. Artists A. A. Bosshart, Stephen Etnier and sculptor Charles Rudy are just a few 20th century examples. Charles’s father, J. Horace Rudy, was certainly an artist in stained glass. Currently we need only look around and see the many studios and galleries of talented artists in our community.
Margaret Sarah Lewis (1907-1979) is a fairly familiar name in York County art. Her paintings are in private and public collections. Lithography was a special interest, as demonstrated in the seven lithographs of York buildings featured in a Printing Plate Craftsman booklet explaining the process of lithography. She is also well-remembered as an art teacher in York City schools, eventually becoming elementary supervisor of art for the system from 1929 to 1963.
Lewis, daughter of Melchinger Oliver Lewis and Sarah Jane Ammon, had deep roots in York County, perhaps reflected in her many paintings of local buildings and landscapes. She also traveled extensively, both to study and to broaden her subject range. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1929 and then obtained her B.S. (1937) and M.A. (1942) degrees from Columbia University Teachers College. Summer breaks from teaching allowed her to study with well-known watercolorists, such as Millard Sheets of California and New Englander Charles J. Martin.
As well as watercolor and lithography, Lewis worked in oils, pastels, silk screen and batik. She designed greeting cards, posters and stage sets as well as wall murals for homes and businesses. A 1940s York USO newsletter commends “Peg” Lewis and her committee for their “$1,000 job,” murals done for no charge on the USO Pennsylvania Dutch canteen walls. (I understand some of that décor can be seen in the still-standing canteen building, formerly the York County Academy gym.)
In the early 1960s Lewis participated in WSBA-TV’s educational series, doing a regular “With These Hands” segment on art techniques for children. In addition, Lewis still found time to teach art to adults on evenings and Saturdays at the YMCA, York Junior College, York City Adult Education and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Upon retirement from York City schools, she became chairman of the art teacher education department at Maryland ICA until 1972.
In 1984 the York Branch of American Association of University Women published Legacies: Remembrances of York County Women, biographical sketches of 50 outstanding local women throughout our history. Lewis’s pages mention her prolific artistic output and relates that she exhibited her work in New York, Philadelphia, D.C., Pittsburgh and Baltimore, as well as locally.
Her file at the York County History Center includes programs for several one-woman shows. She included 58 of her watercolors in a Spring 1938 Martin Memorial Library exhibit, featuring 42 landscapes (19 from York County), 15 flower studies and one portrait. The one-week show also included costume sketches she did for a York Little Theater production on Mary Tudor.
Lewis seems to have favored watercolors, but a Fall 1941 show at the Woman’s Club of York included four oils and two lithographs, along with 14 watercolors. An undated York Art Center brochure lists two pastels and 12 prints (probably lithographs) along with 21 watercolors. One of those watercolors was of General Jacob Devers’s birthplace and home. The Devers and Lewis families lived across the street from one another on Roosevelt Avenue, and the families were good friends.
A 1954 brochure for her Maryland Institute of Art watercolor show divides the paintings into three groups. It includes a Western Group of scenes of Colorado, New Mexico and California; a European Group from 1951 trip and an Eastern Group from Southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Cape Cod. Her painting of Heidelberg, Germany, described as showing the overlooking castle and the old sandstone bridge across the Neckar River, sounds similar to Yorker Lewis Miller’s view of the city painted over a century before. That 1951 trip to Europe was not her first; Lewis’s YCHC file houses her diary of a seven-week European trip in the summer of 1929, when she would have been just 22. Although there were almost no portraits listed in the few show brochures in her YCHC file, several original portraits are in the YCHC museum collection. There are probably more still in private collections.
A May 1955 Harrisburg Sunday Patriot News photo-story in Lewis’s YCHC file shows off her large downtown York apartment. Her paintings hang on the walls, and she was in the process of creating a mural on her bedroom wall. She had fabricated tall table lamps from rollers originally used to print wallpaper. At the time, the current work on her easel was a portrait of Dr. Arthur W. Ferguson, who was retiring as superintendent of York City schools.
ForSight Vision has a nice collection of the works of Margaret Sarah Lewis. Her nephew, Walter B. Ziegler, included them in a bequest to the organization. (Ziegler’s World War II information is now in the YCHC Library/Archives collection. One of my York Sunday News columns a few years ago, describing Ziegler’s harrowing time as a prisoner of war in Germany, was gleaned from those papers.)
As prolific as Lewis seems to have been, many of her paintings must be still around. I would like to know about them, and I would especially like to have photos of them to document her work and to include in her YCHC file. You can email images of any you have or know about to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.