|Birth: ||Oct. 24, 1919|
|Death: ||Mar. 12, 1999|
A leading collector of contemporary art, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and a major benefactor of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
With his wife, Frances, Mr. Lewis founded Best Products in 1958, an early and highly successful showroom catalogue business that specialized in household appliances, jewelry, toys, sporting goods, cameras and electronics.
But the couple found their true calling in the early 1960's, when Mr. Lewis's doctor told him that he was working too hard and needed a diversion. Acting on a lifelong common interest in the arts, the Lewises turned to collecting contemporary art, concentrating at first on Pop Art and Photo Realism.
Over the next 20 years they amassed an enormous collection and became close friends with many artists. They frequently acquired art through trades of Best Products goods, enabling many struggling artists to furnish their lofts with appliances and televisions and to live in relative comfort, sometimes before they were selling much work.
By the early 1970's, the Lewises began traveling to Europe and building substantial collections of Art Nouveau and French Art Deco works. They were known for buying masterpieces, but also for representing important artists in depth, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Eileen Gray, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, Emile Galle and Louis Majorelle, as well as Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The Lewises gave their first work of art to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1969, and in 1971 they established acquisition money for contemporary art and Art Deco objects. Mr. Lewis served on the board for most of the 1980's and 90's. In 1985, the couple donated more than 1,500 artworks to the museum, making it the home of the most important collection of Art Nouveau outside Paris and of an especially beautiful selection of Tiffany lamps. With Paul Mellon, they donated money for the museum's West Wing, completed in 1985, which houses the Syndey and Frances Lewis Galleries and the Paul Mellon Collection.
Mr. Lewis was born in Richmond, where his parents owned a small publishing company. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1940 and spent two years at the university's law school. He married Frances Aronson, whom he had met during his sophomore year in college in 1942. While serving in the Army during World War II, he was sent to Harvard University for a military program in business administration. Completing his law degree just after the war, he practiced law briefly in Richmond and then worked in his father's business until he decided to start his own.
Best Products was incorporated in 1958 and at its height had more than 200 showrooms in 27 states and annual sales of $2 billion. The company's stores offered further esthetic possibilities; the Lewises began commissioning designs for them from the New York firm of S.I.T.E., which specialized in trompe-l'oeil architecture. They subsequently had their Philadelphia store designed by Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown.
Mr. Lewis was also a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. He served on the trustees' committee for architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he and his wife established a fund that enabled the Modern to acquire several architectural models, including that of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
The Lewises' philanthropies included $1.5 million to help establish Eastern Virginia Medical School; $2 million for a business school at Virginia Union University, where Mr. Lewis was a trustee, and $9 million to Washington and Lee for a law school building and the development of a legal studies center.
(Roberta Smith - 1999)
He Made Good Things Happen For Everyone
Created by: micbriheg
Record added: Jan 14, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 17434594