ART+COMMUNITYCelebrating our 12th anniversary together!
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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
“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
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
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
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.”