Collecting Delaware Books
There are many wonderful Delaware artists, including John Moll, Nancy Sawin, and Howard Schroeder. But Jack Lewis, 1912-2012, stands among the greatest. His output spans more than 70 years, and he illustrated every aspect of Delaware life, especially that of the coast and marshlands. His influence as a teacher may be as important as his art.
Jack was born 1n 1912 in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents apparently lived a rather bohemian life and moved to Long Island, Kentucky, and New Jersey. As a youth Jack traveled extensively by boat. He attended New Jersey's Rutgers University and received a bachelor's degree. He died August 22, 2012 in York, Maine, a few days short of his 100th birthday.
When he graduated, the country was deep in the Great Depression. In 1936, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). His job was to sketch and paint a record of daily activity at Delaware's four CCC camps involved with control of mosquito breeding in the marshes. Jack lived in barracks at the camp at Magnolia and regularly traveled to the camps at Slaughter Beach, Leipsic, and Lewes. Most days for the next three years found him out in the marshes with the work crews.
CCC camps tried to keep their young workers busy outside work hours. They put on plays and musical programs. Jack's specialty was marionettes, which he made from clay found in the marshes. His musical specialty was the accordion, which he even played on Wilmington radio with a camp group. The station director stood on Jack's foot to stop his loud toe tapping from going out over the air. There was no way to spend money at the CCC camp, and trips home to Elizabeth, NJ, were only possible every two or three months, so he put away a nice little nest egg during his tour.
At age 27, his tour with the CCC was done. He had dreamed of doing a book, The Delaware Scene. His mother encourage the project, and he took up residence in Sussex County, Delaware, living with various contacts made during the CCC years and new friends who gave him painting commissions. N.C. Wyeth, who liked to encourage young artists, asked to meet Jack. The two hit it off well, especially on the subject of Thoreau. Jack asked N.C. to write the introduction to the book and he agreed. N.C. helped him greatly in developing the book's funding. It was published in 1940 and is a favorite Delaware collectible.
N.C. Wyeth was not the only celebrity to write introductions for Jack's books. William O. Douglass wrote one and Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a forward.
Jack started work on a second book, The Chesapeake Bay Scene. However, World War II was pending and America was jittery. Among other problems, he was frequently challenged and even arrested on suspicion of spying when he tried to paint harbors or bay scenes. In 1942, he entered the Army and the book was placed on hold until 1953. From Fort Dix, New Jersey, (where he was asked to paint a mural in the ladies room at the reception center) he went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, then to Camp Clairborne, Alabama. In March 1943, he was on an ancient troop ship bound for Papua New Guinea. He sketched the entire voyage and all during his stay. He was assigned to Special Services, which was responsible for entertaining the troops and faciliating USO shows.
He fell in love with Dorothy Harden, a WAC assigned to censoring the GI's mail, in Port Moresby. She, too, was an artist and became a fine potter. They married in New York in 1946 and had two daughters, Sallie and Heather, both of whom became artists. Jack published his Pacific sketches and narrative as Pacific Odyssey in 1953.
After the war, Jack got a masters degree in education from Rutgers and did graduate work in art education at New York University. He taught in public schools but soon moved to Delaware where teachers' salaries were said to be better. He taught in public schools and the community college from 1949 to 1976. He was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Scotland in in 1955 and was president of the Delaware Federation of Teachers from 1965-1970. He was an art instructor at the Rehoboth Art League for 20 years after his retirement. In later years he taught art at the state prison.
During his teaching career he continued to paint (mostly watercolor) and write. Books on the Hudson River, Potomac River, Delaware River and Bay, and Italy's Arno River followed at regular intervals. He also illustrated books for Delaware authors.
Jack is known in Delaware for his murals. Some say his hometown for 40 years, Bridgeville, has murals on every available wall. One is on the outside of a grocery store (now a Dollar General store), another is inside the public library. There are many more , apparently uncataloged. In the 1980s he was commissioned to paint ten murals for Delaware's Legislative Hall in Dover. There are photos of murals at the end of this article.
Jack and Dorothy moved to York, Maine, in 1998 to be near their daughters and grandchildren. He continues to paint, exhibit, sell, perform music, and teach. Contacted in 2006, Jack (at age 94) wrote, "As you may know I relate more to the MARSH LAND than the ROCKS." His most recent work was 36" by 36" in acrylic on canvas. (His work is sold in Maine and by The Raubacher Gallery in Dover, Delaware.) He also wrote that he and Dorothy expect to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in November 2006.
Over the years, Jack received many local, state, and national awards. But he is best known to Delawareans as a chronicler in picture and word of lower Delaware and the Eastern Shore. In 2000, Kevin Moore and John Schroeder (son of artist Howard Schroeder) published A Brush with Fate by Jack Lewis. It is intended as his memoirs and contains many amusing stories from all periods of his life.
Jack died in Maine on August 19, 2012, just shy of his 100th birthday. His wife had predeceased him.
The following books were written and illustrated by Jack Lewis. Except as noted, all had dust jackets. A collection of all eight in nice condition can be assembled on the used book market for under $400.
The following portfolio was published.
The following books by other authors were illustrated by Jack Lewis.
The following are sources of more information on Jack Lewis.