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ART+COMMUNITYCelebrating our 12th anniversary together!

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Peggy Lewis
Joe Shannon with two of his “Persona Variations”
“Peggy” by Paul Matthews (1993)

A walk through Peggy Lewis’ house in Lambertville reveals a great deal about her. Every square inch of wall and floor space is filled with art, including a personally signed Ben Shahn seriograph. Paintings are everywhere. Although Peggy Lewis has been confined to bed for the last six years, living on a ventilator, it has not dampened her spirits or her love of art and the art world.

Peggy’s bedroom is filled with art. A painting hangs languidly on a dresser knob, nestled between gauze pads. Her ever-constant supply of pills lies in a hand-made ceramic saucer. Her medical supplies are placed in hand-made bowls. The suction machine rests on a hand-made plaster cast pedestal. Leslie Holzman’s hand-made trunk serves as storage for back up medical supplies. Jeanne Walton took Peggy’s old nightgowns and made them into hospital gowns for her to wear. Even Peggy’s bed pillows are Walton’s handiwork.

During her 84 years, Peggy Lewis has applied her formidable intellect to such pursuits as a remarkable editor, writer, and poet, as well as a savvy artist, art lover, and patron. Without hesitation, Peggy’s youngest daughter, Ogden Kruger, stated: “My mother loves art more than anything on this earth. She has over 2,000 paintings in her home. She fervently believes in writing about art. It is what she has loved doing her entire life. Even during her illness she has written public relations pieces for area artists. My mother is able to give words to artists, enabling them to verbally express their art and helping them to get known.”

A Life All About Art
Although it is not easy to talk on a ventilator, the indomitable Peggy Lewis remains a very quotable and vital woman. “When I see a painting, I feel a connectedness,” she softly told me.

“I am an only child raised by a Southern Jewish family in Baltimore. My mother had an elegant dress shop and my father spent his entire career working in advertising with the Baltimore Sun. Although my parents never understood art, they were very supportive of me and appreciated my talents and interests. They laid the foundation for me by sending me to college over the objections of some of my relatives! I graduated from Groucher College as an English major. During that time, I also attended the Maryland Institute of Art where you could study after school and on weekends for $15 a year. I studied illustration and costume design.”

Peggy married Michael Lewis in 1945. When Michael got out of the army they moved from New Mexico to Greenwich Village, where Peggy painted, using primarily watercolors. They opened an art gallery as a showcase for emerging artists. “It was because of the gallery that I learned how to write a press release and develop a press packet,” Peggy said. Over the years she has written so many of them, she claims she has lost count. “However,” Peggy mused, “I think that I wrote my last press release a year ago.”

Michael, Peggy, and their growing family (two sons, Bill and Peter, and two daughters, Nora and Ogden) needed to find less expensive quarters. “Where we lived in New York cost a fortune. We moved to the New Hope/Lambertville are because they are metropolitan towns,” Peggy explained. Peg and Michael opened an art gallery in New Hope. Peggy wrote part-time for the Lambertville Beacon where she created the arts page and wrote special assignments about the arts for the Trenton Times. She spent the next 20 years working full-time for the New Jersey State Museum as a publicist and editor and for the New Jersey Historical Commission as an editor and public program coordinator.

Reaching Out to Artists
“I grew up not knowing there was such a thing as realistic art,” explained Peggy’s daughter Ogden. “Mom always loved to discover new ‘fringe’ artists. When I was a kid, I met lots of crazy people who were very interesting, all in the arts and all culturally different. When we lived in Lambertville, for years people from the Music Circus stayed at our house.”

Fifteen years ago, when Peggy and Michael visited Cornwall, England, they got to know some of the Cornish artists. After a few more visits to Cornwall, Peggy coordinated an exhibit of the works of fourteen English painters in conjunction with the Artful Eye Gallery in Lambertville. The show was entitled “Twelve Cornish Artists and Two Devonians.”

During the 1990s, Peggy sprang into action when she discovered starving artist Max Epstein listed in the Neediest Cases section of the New York Times. She traveled to the city to meet with him, saw his work, and immediately reached out with a fundraiser for Epstein at Riverrun Gallery in Lambertville. With Peggy’s support, Epstein had a one-person show at Lambertville’s ABC Gallery, where he raised enough money to paint again.

Barry Snyder, a close friend of Peggy’s for more than 20 years, said: “She’s a very special person who deeply cares for her fellow human beings and hasn’t hesitated to go out of her way for complete strangers.”

Creating Art Galleries
About eight years ago, 20 area artists sat in Peggy’s living room, talking about the creation of a local art center where artists could have studios and classes could be given. From this initial vision, Artsbridge was born. “Artsbridge then sought to show the works of talented local artists on both sides of the river,” said Peggy. “I wasn’t interested in featuring the works of nationally and internationally well-known artists.” Since that formative meeting in Peggy’s living room, Artsbridge has grown and expanded. It is now an arts association with 700 diverse members and a gallery located in the Canal Studios on North Union Street in Lambertville.

When Peggy’s husband Michael died, Barry Snyder had the idea to start an art gallery at the Lambertville Public Library. “Barry wanted to make a gallery in appreciation and memory of Michael’s life. I loved the idea and thus began the ABC Gallery. I bequeathed Michael’s collection of art books and catalogues from the 1940 through the 1980s to the library.”

It was also at this time that Peggy turned her home into an art gallery, filling it with artwork for sale by as many as 100 local painters, sculptors, ceramists, and jewelers. She held weekend art openings a couple of times a year and called them “An Evening of the Arts.”

Art Critic, Intellect, and Straight Talker with a Heart of Gold
“My mother is a true art critic, who always shoots from the hip. She doesn’t mince any words,” stated Ogden Lewis. Peggy can’t stand incompetence and mediocrity. “She says it as she sees it.” Sculptor Barry Snyder said: “I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who has as keen a mind as Peggy. Her press releases always had a wonderful twist-unique, different. Nobody could do it like Peggy. I love that she always told it like it was, straight to the point and with a lot of spice.” Nora Lewis added, “As a mother, Peggy was unlikely to cook a meal or sew a button, but she made sure I spoke correctly at the dinner table. She taught me to never be silent, to defend what I believe in. She always stressed that.”

Through it all, Peggy never made much money. “Many times she took artwork instead of money for the publicity pieces she wrote,” Ogden Lewis told me. “I remember when I was in forth grade, mom wrote some public relations work and received a St. Bernard dog instead of money. Another time she got a crate of lobster.”
Peggy Lewis is now in a nursing home for people on ventilators. “She is as vital as she’s always been,” Nora said. “She still does her crossword puzzles, still reads books, still writes with a pen and paper.” And she is probably still surrounded by much of her beloved art collection.

When do you work and why?
My mornings are filled with obligations of daily business. I need tranquillity for creativity, and I usually don’t get that until the afternoon.

How do dreams affect your work?
My best ideas come while I’m lying on the floor, taking a brief nap. I’m semi-awake and conscious. I like to push ideas around, and you can’t do that when you’re asleep.

Who or what influences your work most?
It’s a very mixed bag of different poets, artists, and composers but I love variety, and that’s what so wonderful about art: the incredible variety of so many viewpoints.

What was the most memorable response to your work?
The most memorable response came after a reading, when a man came up to me and said: “That poem is about things I value but didn’t know how to put in words.” It’s a great honor if a poet can serve as a voice for someone’s inner feelings.”