William A. Lewis

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William A. Lewis
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Alma materUniversity of Michigan
  • Artist
  • Teacher
  • Art Administrator
  • Professor
  • Associate Dean

William Arthur Lewis (1918-2020) was an American artist, teacher, and art administrator. He was Professor and Associate Dean at The University of Michigan School of Art & Design, now the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, beginning in 1957, retiring in 1986. As an artist, he specialized in watercolor, collage and assemblage, and abstract expressionist painting.


Lewis was educated at Grand Rapids Junior College and the University of Michigan. He received a degree in design from Michigan's College of Architecture in 1948 where he studied with Jean Paul Slusser, Avard Fairbanks, and Alessandro Mastro Valerio. Lewis also took a formative class in watercolor with Ernest Harrison Barnes at U-M in the early 1940s.

Military service

Lewis joined the United States Naval Reserves in 1938 “after Hitler took Austria[1]” and trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training Institute. He received diesel engine training at the Ford Motor Company’s United States Naval Service Training School at its River Rouge plant. Lewis was called into active service in 1942 and assigned to PY-28 USS Marcasite as Electricians Mate, 3rd Class, serving in the Caribbean and Pacific theaters. After the USS Marcasite was disabled in severe weather in 1944, Lewis was transferred to CV-38 USS Shangri-La, then fitting-out at Norfolk Navy Yard. USS Shangri-La became flagship for Admiral Halsey's massive Third Fleet, entering Tokyo Bay in 1945. Lewis was discharged from the U.S. Navy in October of 1945 as Electricians Mate 1st Class. Lewis’s sketches from his U.S. Navy career are now at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan along with his wartime letters sent home to his parents.


Lewis began as an instructor of art at the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Design in 1949-50, becoming assistant professor in 1952, associate professor in 1957, and full Professor of Art in 1964. Lewis was Associate Dean in the College of Art from 1967-74. He was awarded Professor Emeritus of Art upon retiring in 1986. Lewis wrote a brief history of the school on his retirement.

Lewis was a member of the “Ann Arbor Group” of artists that exhibited at the Riverside Museum in New York in 1959[2], and at the Forsyth Gallery in Ann Arbor. Other members included Annelli Arms, Edith Dines, J. E. L. Eldridge, John Goodyear, Douglas Huebler, Gerome Kamrowski, Irving Kaufman, Thomas Larkin, Albert Mullen, William Owsley, Albert Weber, and Leonard Zamiska.

Lewis was an active member of the Michigan Watercolor Society and a fellow of the National Association of Schools of Art & Design. Lewis served on the accreditation team for NASAD throughout the 1970s and 1980s until his retirement, heading the accreditation committee from 1971-75.

Lewis’s compiled an extensive exhibit record as a painter of watercolors, oils, acrylics, and mixed media pieces with over 100 one-person shows. Highlights include: “Recent Drawings, 1956” at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC; “The Last Year of The Civil War,” at the Forsyth Gallery, Ann Arbor and numerous venues in Michigan, 1965, sponsored by the Horace Rackham Foundation; “Recent Work” at the Jean Paul Slusser Gallery, University of Michigan, 1993; “Ma, send me my paints,” U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command, 1997; the William L. Clements Library, 1998; “Fragments of The Great War,” Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan, 2015. In 2019, in honor of his 101st Birthday, Lewis was invited by his long-time friend and colleague, Ted Ramsey, to exhibit as a guest artist at the Washington Street Gallery in Ann Arbor. Ramsey selected about six pieces from the walls of Lewis's home. This would be the final exhibit in William Lewis's lifetime. Although Lewis developed into a pacifist, he often reflected upon much of his greatest work being on the subject of war.

Lewis also was a frequent participant in national juried shows.

There is an annual William A. Lewis Watercolor Prize at the Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan.

Lewis was represented by the Forsythe Gallery in Ann Arbor, the Arwin Gallery and Preston Burke Galleries in Detroit, the River Gallery in Chelsea, Michigan and the Armstrong-DeGraaff in Saugatuck, Michigan. His work has appeared posthumously at the Michigan Art Gallery in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Public institutions holding artwork by William A. Lewis include

One-Person exhibits

  • Works Gallery, University of Michigan. “Fragments of The Great War,” 2015
  • River Gallery, Chelsea, Michigan "Fragments of The Great War," 2014
  • Jean Paul Slusser Gallery, University of Michigan, 1980, 1995
  • Preston Burke Galleries, Detroit, 1986, 1989
  • Detroit Historical Museum. 1985
  • Left Bank Gallery, Wellfleet, Massachusetts. 1977, 80
  • University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School. 1965, 77
  • Forsythe Gallery, Ann Arbor, Michigan. 1953, 58, 61, 63, 64, 66, 69, 76
  • Tadlow Gallery, Whitehall, Holland, Petoskey, Michigan. 1966, 72, 76
  • Arwin Galleries, Detroit, Michigan. 1968, 77
  • Northern State College, South Dakota. 1972
  • Grand Rapids City Hall, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1971
  • Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn, Michigan. 1971
  • Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1967
  • Left Bank Gallery, Flint, Michigan. 1966
  • University of Chattanooga. 1966
  • Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City, Michigan. 1963, 65
  • Madison College, Virginia. 1965
  • 20th Century Gallery, Williamsburg, Virginia. 1965
  • Albion College, Albion, Michigan. 1965
  • Dearborn Community Center, Dearborn, Michigan. 1963
  • Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina. 1963

Lewis was a founding member of the Ann Arbor Potters Guild. Between his graduation and his employment by the University of Michigan, Lewis partnered with his friends Harvey Littleton and Aarre K. Lahti to form Corporate Designers, an industrial and technical design firm in Ann Arbor. This creative team designed furniture for office and domestic use, wooden toys, and experimented with photographically etched glass. Lewis also worked as a technical illustrator for the Engineering Research Institute at the University of Michigan’s Willow Run Laboratories from 1951-57.


William Lewis was the only child of Arthur E. Lewis (1892-1988) and Anna Bertha (nee Breuhan) Lewis (1895-1999). He was raised in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids Michigan. His father, Arthur “Art” Lewis was a self-taught electrical communications pioneer who worked as a technician for the Michigan Bell System for 50 years. His mother Anna was a telephone switchboard operator prior to motherhood. William Lewis would marry Ethel “Eppie” Kudrna in 1952 and have two artistically inclined children, Susan and Clayton. William and Ethel Lewis divorced in 1979, with William remarrying in 1984 to Garland Sorenson Montalvo.


  1. WWII Memoir Letter to Al Weber, Feb. 7, 1995
  2. Gerard, Ralph W. “The Ann Arbor Group.” College Art Journal, Volume 19, Issue 4, 1960

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