Oral history interview with Elma Lewis, 1997 July 25 and Sept. 19, 1997
Lewis, Elma, 1921-2004
Brown, Robert F.
Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts
Place of publication, production, or execution:
Transcript: 34 p.
Originally recorded on 1 sound cassettes. Reformated in 2007 as 2 digital wav files. Duration is 1 hr., 32 min.
Access Note / Rights:
Transcript available on the Archives of American Art website.
An interview of Elma Lewis conducted 1997 July 25 and Sept. 19, by Robert Brown, for the Archives of American Art, in Lewis' home, Roxbury, Mass.
Lewis discusses her parents, immigrants from Barbados; her father being very politicized, quickly disillusioned regarding economic opportunity and racism; meeting Marcus Garvey and becoming a member of United Negro Improvement Association; her parents giving her a very strong cultural sense of her race and culture steeped in Christian doctrine; family thought in pan-African terms; attending integrated schools; World War II as a watershed for the black community; her brother graduating from Harvard medical school after their mother demanded he be admitted, though still he had difficulty being accepted in medical community; another brother who became a concert pianist; her study of dance (ballet) for many years.
Father's encouragment to attend Emerson College in Boston (1939-1943); preparation for a career in music and the performing arts; teachers' training at Boston University (1943-1944); teaching at the school of dance and performing arts run by Doris Jones; Lewis founding her own school, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in the largely black Roxbury section of Boston in 1950; incorporating the visual arts; teaching by Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Duke Ellington; problems posed by patronizing white liberal community; development of cooperative program with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; hiring the artist John Wilson and art historian Edmund Barry Gaither to further develop visual arts programs; and the primacy of culture and spirituality.
Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Elma Lewis, 1997 July 25 and Sept. 19, 1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the transcription of this interview provided by the Smithsonian Institution's Women's Committee.
Elma Lewis (1921-2004) was an artist and teacher from Boston, Mass.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001