Camden Town Council had decided to honor Delaware artist Jack Lewis by proclaiming Aug. 30 as Jack Lewis Day in honor of the man who made his mark in Kent and Sussex counties for nearly 75 years back at its Aug. 6 meeting.
The proclamation read by Camden Town Manager Aaron Chaffinch noted that Lewis, a Baltimore, Md. native, first appeared on the Delaware art scene in 1936. He lived in Bridgeville in Sussex County for 40 years before moving to Kent County.
After the proclamation was read into the record, Mayor W.G. Edmanson delivered a heartfelt tribute to the man he once met in Dover a few years ago.
“I hereunto set my hand on this sixth day of August, 2012 to proclaim this day Jack Lewis day,” Edmanson said. “He touched me and my family. Back when he was still in Dover, he just reached out and told me I was a lucky man because I was standing next to my beautiful girls and my wife. I saw 90-some years of experience and intelligence. It just resonated with me.”
Aug. 30 would have been Lewis’ 100th birthday, but he died Sunday.
His death caused an outpouring of sentiments to come forth with regard to Lewis, the man and the artist, including the Delaware governor himself.
“Jack Lewis was a great American artist of enormous talent,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “His work spanned most of a century and painted a vivid story of life in Delaware and the eastern shore.
“I am sorry to hear of his passing, but feel fortunate that our state was the beneficiary of his talent,” he said. “His family and friends can find comfort in knowing future generations will be able to see Delaware through his eyes in the great body of work he leaves behind.”
Markell presented Lewis with the Order of the First State in 2010 for his work as an artist and for his contributions to the Diamond State over nearly three-quarters of a century. The Order of the First State is the highest honor for meritorious service the governor can grant.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) also expressed his regret at learning of the death of “the great artist Jack Lewis.”
“I knew him personally and I was privileged to have one of his paintings,” Carper said. “I was a big fan and great admirer of his work. He was a giant among artists in Delaware and beyond.
“He lived a long and very full life and was just a wonderful human being,” he added. “He honed his skills as an artist during the Great Depression – a period in our nation's history that left a significant impression on many Americans, including my parents who grew up during this difficult time for our country. His artwork reflected his experiences from the Depression and that's something that I always appreciated about his work."
Page 2 of 2 - Back in 2010, Dover Post Publisher Emeritus Jim Flood Sr. and his late wife Mary had traveled up to Maine, where Lewis had moved, to present him with the Order bestowed by Markell. Lewis moved to Main in the 1990s with his late wife Dorothy to be near their two daughters.
“In his long life, Jack Lewis painted thousands of water colors of Delaware scenes,” Jim Flood wrote in his weekly column. “As subjects, he was especially fond of The Green in Dover and his beloved Delaware marshes.”
From a personal perspective, Flood described Lewis as the quintessential gentleman who still pulled chairs out for ladies in his old age and was always comfortable meeting new people.
Joanna Wilson, a spokeswoman with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental control, also remembers Lewis as the ultimate people person. Lewis loved to meet the everyday "elemental" people in his work - from the oyster boat captains and storekeepers, to the bean pickers and barbers - just as much as he loved Delaware's marshes, fields, small bayside villages and picturesque downtowns, Wilson said.
Wilson first met Lewis in late 1994, when she worked as exhibit arts specialist for Delaware State Museums and was given the assignment to plan, design and hang a show of his early work. She spent "several happy months" tracking down paintings and visiting Jack and Dorothy Lewis at their longtime Bridgeville home, which he called Storybook House, Wilson said. "Early Jack Lewis" opened in April 1995 at the Delaware State Visitor Center (now part of the Biggs Museum), featuring more than three dozen pre-1940 works.
Lewis was so pleased with the exhibition that he presented Wilson with a painting he'd done of the Washington College campus in Chestertown, Md. -- Wilson's alma mater, Wilson said. In the foreground was a student who bore a remarkable resemblance to Wilson.
"After the show, I helped locate paintings and other material for David Peterson's wonderful film about Jack, 'If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now,'" she said. "No glittering New York premiere could have rivaled the excited crowd attending the film's debut at Woodbridge High School in Jack's beloved adopted hometown."