Source: Photograph by Mr. Kojo Kamau
Ursel White Lewis
Born:Oklahoma City, OK, October 17, 1913
Died: Columbus, OH, March 7, 2008
Daughter of Nina and Drum White and wife of Howard W. Lewis.
Ursel White Lewis worked as a receptionist at C.D. White & Son Funeral Home on Mt. Vernon Ave.
According to Aminah Robinson, Mrs. Ursel White Lewis was a hat maker.
Learn more in "Biographical Notes" below.
Artist: Ursel White Lewis
Description of work: Ink and crayon drawing of a branch, 10” x 13”
Date: No date given
Donor: Gift of Mrs. Ursel White Lewis
Portrait of Ursel White Lewis by Henry Cade, Jr. 50" x 41"
Biographical Notes about Mrs. Ursel White Lewis written by Queen Brooks are from a Franklin University brochure "Franklin University Gallery Presents Afro-American Art from the Collection of Ursel White Lewis January 9 - February 16" [year not known]. The notes are reproduced in full below but the tenses have been changed as Mrs. Lewis died after its publication:
Ursel White Lewis began her collection in 1957 with "The Street" an oil painting by a young and talented artist then known as Brenda Lynn Robinson (Recently Ms. Robinson changed her name to Aminah). It was not Mrs. Lewis' intention to start a collection, but it evolved due to her interest in Aminah's work and a desire to help promote the young artist. During the 1950s, Mrs. Lewis was very active in presenting fashion shows throughout the Columbus community. It was during these shows that she would display the work of Aminah and present the artist to those in attendance. "I admired her art work so much."
Mrs. Lewis [said] that she ha[d] always been interested in art, and ha[d] been a frequent visitor to museums since 1930. "I love art, I will buy it and enjoy it. Whenever I can I will support an artist." In 1963 another artist was added to her collection, Ed Colston, with a painting entitled "Portrait of my Father." In 1971, Mrs. Lewis started collecting works by Elijah Pierce. Through Aminah she met artist Roman Johnson in 1973. In the mid 1970s she became acquainted with the works of Barbara Chavous, Henry Cade Jr., Kojo Kamau, and Charles Dillard. Roosevelt Carter photographed all of her many fashion shows from 1949 through 1961. Composer, vocalist, and painter Martha Abbott was a long time model for Mrs. Lewis from the 1950s. Sculptor Elwyn Bush now residing in Detroit Michigan, is a cousin.
Mrs. Lewis [was] not wealthy, nor was she in those earlier years. She worked for many years as a receptionist for a local funeral home. She [had] retired and reside[d] with her husband on the near east side of Columbus. "Many pieces I bought, a few were given to me. Sometimes, if I couldn't afford a piece, I'd wait until I could, or I'd buy something I could afford. I'd never ask an artist to lower a price for me or give me anything."
In 1972, for the bicentennial, Mrs. Lewis organized and produced a series of five exhibitions by local Afro-American Artists at the Bethel A.M.E. Church. One of the most significant contributions she [had] made to the preservation of community heritage occurred in 1978. In that year Mrs. Lewis undertook the mission of donating to the Isabelle Ridgeway Home for the Aged a portrait of its founder. "I wanted to make a contribution to the memory of a great lady."
In 1912 Isabelle Ridgeway, a quite unassuming frail woman conceived of the idea of establishing a home for the aged homeless residents of the community. With the help of others and her church, she succeeded in establishing the home which now bears her name. It was not uncommon to see Mrs. Ridgeway with a market basket on her arm going from door to door begging donations of food and clothing for those under her care.
During the time that Mrs. Lewis was working on this project she was taking art lessons from Roman Johnson and she asked him if he would create the portrait. Obtaining funds was not an easy effort, but with the support of friends and concerned community members she was able to achieve her goal.
Mrs. Lewis contribute[d] to the support of local artists through personal involvement. she encourage[d] others in the community to lend their support through phone calls and letters. From her many reading sources she collect[ed] information and sen[t] it to artists and those who might benefit from it.
Through her efforts and donations, works by some of our prominent local artists have become part of the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art, the Schumacher Gallery, and the Zanesville Art Center.
While Mrs. Lewis ha[d] always been supportive of Black artists, her collection [was] not limited to their works alone. Mrs. Lewis love[d] art, and art is created by artists of many hues and ethnic backgrounds.
Mrs. Ursel White Lewis - The First African American Patron of the Arts in Columbus
The Permanent Art Collection at the Columbus State Library was started with donations of work from local artists by Mrs. Ursel White Lewis in the 1980s. Mrs. Lewis is known as the first African American Patron of the Arts in Columbus. She became interested in art as a teenager living in Kansas City, Kansas. She went to see the Chinese Art display at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and was so taken with the exhibit that she... "purposed in my mind to visit one museum after another, no matter what town I was passing through or living in"(Anderson 2).
Mrs. Lewis was not wealthy. For 30 years she worked as the secretary for the C.D. White and Son Funeral Home. To support fundraising for the Bethel A.M.E. Church, she started organizing fashion shows in 1949. She continued putting on style shows for the church and for different clubs. Around 1957, Ursel White Lewis started supporting the work of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson by displaying her work in the fashion shows. Mrs. Lewis eventually decided to stop doing the fashion shows and opened Ursel's Hat Shoppe.
Mrs. Lewis understood the importance for artists to have their work shown in galleries and museums. She made donations of art to the Columbus Museum of Art, the Zanesville Museum of Art, the Capital University's Schumacher Gallery, and of course CTI/Columbus State. Her legacy continues with donations to the Library at Columbus State from Kojo Kamau, Vivian Pitman, Barbara Thomas, and others.
Anderson, PamelaJune (PJ). Lady Lewis: Her Hats, and Her Gloves:
The Conversational and Pictorial Memoirs of Ursel White Lewis, the First
African American Patron of the Arts in Columbus. Columbus, OH: Kojo Photos, 2007.
From Thursday, 7 December 2006 Update:
A work by noted American artist and Columbus resident Aminah Robinson was donated to the Library in a reception and unveiling on Saturday evening, December 2. The work was donated by well-known benefactor Ursel White-Lewis. Mrs. White-Lewis has generously donated other works to the Library in past years. These works reside in the Library permanent collection.
Artist Henry Cade Jr. presided over the unveiling of the work, entitled, "Life and Times of Alonzo Jackson," reading a description of the work that celebrates the life of an ex-slave who joined the Union Army during the Civil War and lived to be 103 years old.
Library Director Bruce Massis said, "This was a wonderful event involving the Columbus community. This donation adds to our expanding permanent art collection of other works by Ms. Robinson, Mr. Cade, Elijah Pierce and others. We are very grateful to Mrs. White-Lewis for her generosity."
Distinguished benefactor, Mrs. Ursel White-Lewis, visited the Library January 4 to view the Library's permanent collection. Many pieces in the collection have been donated by Mrs. White-Lewis over the years including the latest work by Aminah Robinson, "Life and Times of Alonzo Jackson," presented to the Library on December 2. Mrs. White-Lewis expressed appreciation to Director Bruce Massis for the establishment of the Library's permanent collection and to Columbus State for providing a platform in which these important works may be seen by all.
Artist: Published by the NAACP
Title: The Crisis - “1910 - 90th Anniversary - 2000”
Description of work: Double sided picture from The Crisis – the official publication of the NAACP. The exposed side shows covers of The Crisis “1910 - 90th Anniversary - 2000.” The reverse side “The Year The Crisis was founded.” The Crisis was founded in 1910 as “A Record of the Darker Races” A record of the struggle to racial equality, 27 ½” x 19 ¼”
Donor: Gift of Mrs. Ursel White Lewis
Source Kojo Kamau, photographer.
Photograph of Roman Johnson and Mrs. Ursel White Lewis
next to his painting of Isabelle Ridgeway, commissioned by Mrs. Lewis.
Source: Photographer Kojo Kamau
See a photograph of Isabelle Ridgeway at the Isabelle Ridgeway Care Center web site.
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