Artist of The Garden Gallery

The Unconventional Art of Clarence “Ike” Lewis: Celebrating a Lifetime of Passion and Creativity

Clarence “Ike” Lewis (1898-1982) was a man who spent his days painting houses for a living and his nights painting art that captured his love for the world around him. Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Lewis was always drawn to art, doodling and sketching whenever he could. His journey as an artist led him to unconventional methods and materials, ultimately resulting in a unique and enduring body of work.

From Insignia Painter to Pearl Harbor Ship Painter

As a young man, Lewis enlisted in the Army just as the United States entered World War I. He became an insignia painter in Eddie Rickenbacker’s air squadron, The First Air Pursuit Group. After the war, Lewis started his own painting business and married Martha P. Reese of St. Clair, Pennsylvania. In the 1930s, he began working at Carlisle Barracks, which continued until World War II when he volunteered as a ship painter at Pearl Harbor.

An Unorthodox Approach to Art

After returning from the war, Lewis continued to work for the United States government, and it was during this time that he began painting for his own pleasure. He used prepared wood paneling as his canvas and, instead of traditional artist’s oil paint, Lewis chose to use oil-based exterior house paints. He stored different colors in half-filled Dixie cups with a layer of turpentine on top to prevent the paint from drying out. This unorthodox approach made his paintings incredibly durable, which has proven to be a great advantage when cleaning and restoring his artwork.

Painting from Memory and Inspiration

Lewis painted scenes of Cumberland, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties, along with other areas, mainly from memory. He would take photographs of scenes he wanted to paint and jot down notes on colors and details. Although he never took formal art lessons, he was inspired by California artist Walter Foster, even sending Foster one of his own paintings in gratitude for his influence.

The Charming Innocence of Lewis’ Art

The captivating and innocent expressions in Lewis’ paintings are further enhanced by the writings on the back of many of them. These inscriptions range from clever sayings to simple dedications to the person receiving the painting. Clarence Lewis was a one-of-a-kind artist who painted without inhibition and purely for the love of it.

Clarence “Ike” Lewis’ unconventional art is a testament to his passion and creativity, offering a glimpse into the world as he saw it. Despite his unorthodox methods and materials, Lewis’ paintings have endured, providing a lasting tribute to his talent and love for art. Let us celebrate the charming and innocent expressions captured in the work of this unique artist, who painted from the heart and for the sheer joy of it.