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This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the December 20, 2000
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Peggy Lewis: ABC of the Arts
Word of her writing and editing prowess, and her fine
art savvy, reaches you long before you meet her. The drumbeat says
she’s a consummate professional, a perfectionist. Oh, great. Only
the news that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly leaves your confidence
intact — after all, you may have arrived on the scene well after
her, but your momma didn’t raise no fool. So, wisely or not, you rush
in to interview and write about her.
Peggy Lewis, longtime Lambertville resident, and writer, editor,
poet, arts patron, has feathery silver hair, keenly bright eyes, and
a throaty laugh that comes often. Where the visual arts are concerned,
she has long since "been there, done that" — and she’s
still doing it.
The familiar refrain goes like this: "Peggy already took care
of it. She’s handling this. Peggy would know. That’s her job."
In short, in Lambertville, the name you often hear, and the name to
know, is "Peggy Lewis." A can-do, even take-charge manner,
and a tendency to say, "Well, I can do that. Let me do it"
typify her approach. She can be outspoken and to the point. But, say
any number of artists, gallery owners and museum reps who know Lewis,
that’s merely a reflection of the high standards that mark her work
and her dealings. She has, as they say and her commitments bear out,
a profound respect for the arts and artists. And with that, the
heart of gold.
Lewis’s retirement from New Jersey state service more than a decade
ago served only to give her more time for what she seems to have done
all her life: cultivate art and artists. Today, pretty much confined
to her home, but not complaining and not quitting, she’s often called
upon to do art commentary and publicity. She keeps abreast of art
currents, and undercurrents, and draws on her many years’ involvement
in the art world for her observations and ideas. One admirer cites
her "feisty spirit," saying she "can be fierce if she
thinks someone’s false or foolish."
She also reads widely — currently, it’s Sylvia Plath’s unabridged
journals; "Dreamcatcher," a daughter’s look at J.D. Salinger;
an art book about Cornish artist Terry Frost; recently, it was the
entire Harry Potter series — and she continues to collect art,
some of which goes back to her days as a gallery owner, first in New
York, then in New Hope. She is the prime mover behind the ABC Gallery,
in Lambertville’s Public Library, where what started as the Michael
Lewis art book collection (ABC), in memory of her late husband, soon
evolved into a gallery space too. With her friend, artist Barry
Lewis reviews slides and looks at the work ("in the flesh")
to select artists for six-week shows at ABC.
Calling the gallery "a good example of her care," Snyder notes
that while money made on art sales comes back to the library as art
books and videos, he knows Lewis supplements the collection with her
own purchases. "In a quiet way, she’s a patron of artists, a
to the art community in general," he says. Even now, she writes
and edits art exhibition catalogs for diverse sites ranging from the
James Michener Art Museum to Rider University. "A lot of places
use her as a checker," Snyder adds. "She’s a very brilliant
lady at editing. She’s like a computer, how she goes through
Nancy Dallaire, now public information officer at the New Jersey State
Museum, and for nearly 10 years before that Lewis’s colleague at the
New Jersey Historical Commission, concurs. She still contacts Lewis
with thorny punctuation questions — "I was on the phone with
her today," she mentioned the afternoon when we talked about
Occasioning some of those calls, they still swap book tips and confer
on crossword puzzle answers.
Until her mid-20s, Lewis lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where she was
born Peggy ("not Margaret") Elaine Kaufman in 1918. An only
child, she was raised by her father, Frank, "a 50-year man in
advertising with the Baltimore Sun," and mother, Rose, who had
a dress shop and whose preoccupation with fashion ultimately prompted
Lewis’s strong disdain for it and related fripperies as a waste of
Lewis’s early interest in art was stoked in Saturday school at the
Maryland Institute of Art — for $15 a year, she recalls. Later,
when she could attend after school and Saturdays, the annual fee
to $7.50 because she was then seen as "more serious." Her
cultural upbringing also included piano lessons at the Peabody
and proximity to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Also nearby, Druid Hill
Park sparked both her interest in druids and eventual travels to
besides housing a zoo. "When the lions roared, our whole apartment
She attended a summer camp in Maine that she describes as "an
arts camp before there were such things" — its counselors
included an expatriate from the Martha Graham dance company —
and graduated from Goucher College with a major in English. That focus
was never intended as a preparation for teaching, Lewis has said,
but it seems to this observer that she actually has taught, time and
again, in her work with others. Then, however, it let her "get
reading in and try writing." Moving from her first job, as an
intake interviewer with the city’s department of public welfare, to
a research position with the Britannica Research Library Service,
in the Library of Congress, Lewis remembers, "We learned ways
to think, how to research — and I thought I’d learned that in
Married in 1945, she moved to New Mexico with her artist-husband,
Michael, then in the army. They lived about seven miles from the army
air base, renting from the Garcia family, whose 11th child was born
the same day President Roosevelt died. "We were in Sante Fe the
day people were discharged from Los Alamos," she recalls.
rushed to town, probably to get drunk."
The couple enjoyed all-day horseback rides in New Mexico’s
country." She had learned to ride English saddle at Goucher —
"When I learned I could take riding as part of gym, I said `thank
god!’ — [till then] gym always meant playing goalie in
Then, in New Mexico, she learned to ride Western: "I always looked
interested so I learned a lot," she says of this and countless
other formative experiences.
By the time the Lewises left for New York, she had also learned about
watercolor painting. They lived in Greenwich Village, at Charles and
Fourth Streets, and when a friend observed, "You have two
— you can have a gallery," voila: "Charles-Fourth,"
a venue for debut artists was founded. "It was an address
Lewis says. "We thought it would help people find the place. It
didn’t. They thought we sold antiques." Saying, "You can’t
have a gallery if you don’t know how to write a press release,"
her sister-in-law taught her how to do it. Lewis remembers this as
an exciting time to be in New York, with summers in Westport,
As housing grew too expensive, the Lewises starting looking outside
New York, settling first in Raven Rock, then New Hope, where
was reincarnated: "This time we showed modern" — graphics,
contemporary china, stainless steel flatware, furniture samples, like
an Eames chair, and fabrics. Active in the community, Lewis for seven
years spent a day a week in the area high school, supplementing the
full-time writing teachers. "I spoke to the kids like an editor.
I taught them to edit themselves, and I also taught some of them the
things they should have known."
In the ’70s, the Lewises — by then with four children, William,
Peter, Nora, and Carol — moved to Lambertville, where as a
with the community weekly newspaper, the Beacon, Peggy started
an arts page and was a special writer for the Trenton Times arts page.
She also held an editing role with Bucks County Life magazine.
In early 1993, Lewis hosted a meeting of artists
about creating an area art center. While neither that facility nor
an art school was ever realized, what soon became known as
was born. In the years since, the small group that met at Lewis’s
home has grown into an organization of some 400 members, mostly visual
artists, joined by writers, musicians, and performance artists.
sponsors a couple sizeable exhibitions each year, including last
cutting-edge juried show at Prallsville Mills. It recently moved its
administrative functions into the one-time linseed house at
Mills, gaining exhibit space in the process. The organization also
produces an annual publication for its writer-members, and opens
meetings to the public.
For some 20 years, Lewis worked in Trenton, first doing public
and editing at the State Museum, and then much the same with the
Commission. Dallaire, her former associate, remembers her innovative
use of color and design, and how she encouraged experimentation.
has an eye," Dallaire says, "and she helped train my eye.
She’s honest in her critique and helpful in her suggestions."
The Lewises first visited Cornwall, on England’s west coast, in the
mid-’80s, and for three summers, Dallaire visited them there. "It
was like a salon," she says. "Artists came to see them (Peggy
and Michael, whom she remembers as a `one of a kind,’ and `a fabulous
cook’), and wherever they went, doors were open. They got to meet
the most wonderful people. They visited artists’ studios and
and they introduced me. They were always generous with their contacts.
Everything was an adventure."
Both photographers, Lewis and Dallaire captured images of their
visits. These came into play when in 1988, Lewis — who had come
to know a number of artists whose work she admired — coordinated
an exhibition of work by "12 Cornish Artists and Two
in the Artfull Eye Gallery, Lambertville. Describing her as
collector, inveterate gallery- and museum-goer," the then fine
arts curator at the New Jersey State Museum lauded her for introducing
the work in "The Cornish Collection." Although her hope for
an art-show exchange, whereby work by Lambertville-area artists would
be shown in Cornwall, did not materialize, Lewis had the satisfaction
of bringing Cornwall to Hunterdon County, in both the art shown and
in the person of one participating artist who spent about a month
Neither Lewis’s outreach nor her compassion is limited by location.
Barry Snyder mentions her sensitivity to unknown artists and artists
in general. Some time ago, from the annual "Neediest" drive
in the New York Times, Lewis and he each identified a New York City
artist who was sick and down on his luck, and decided to help. Each
did so; with her daughters, Nora and Carol, Lewis arranged a
benefit and silent auction. Ever since, Lewis and "Max" have
kept in touch, and his work was featured recently in the ABC Gallery.
Of her own artistic skill, Lewis says, "I paint, I’ve even had
things in shows, but I know where my work belongs," while Snyder
speaks of her "delicate watercolors and drawings." Also a
poet, she says only that she writes poetry "not everyday, but
I’m always at it, occasionally."
It takes Elaine Restivo, editor of the annual "River"
to say, "If it weren’t for Peggy and her encouragement," to
mention she’s associate editor, and she publishes poems and drawings
in each edition. Snyder sums it up: Peggy Lewis doesn’t self-promote,
she doesn’t talk up her own art or work, and she doesn’t complain
about her health — which lately has limited her physical scope,
though not her influence.
On the subject of influence, both Lewis the English major and Lewis
the professional might identify with the title of one poem, Bret
"Plain Language from Truthful James," and this philosophy
from "The Code" of Robert Frost:
The hand that knows his business won’t be told
To do work better or faster — those two things.
— Pat Summers
609-397-0275. An exhibit of works by members of the Hunterdon
Society. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday
1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To January 5.
"Sauce for the Goose," the annual holiday fine art and craft
sale. Proceeds benefit children’s art scholarships. Sale hours are
Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4:30 p.m.
To December 23.
Expression, an exhibit of oils and pastels by Helen Post, on view
through December 31. Artist’s reception is Friday, December 22, from
7 to 9 p.m.
A holiday exhibit of original watercolors by the Russian-born
Gennady Spirin from two new picture books: "Philipok" by Leo
Tolstoy, and "Joy to the World, a Family Christmas Treasury."
His exquisitely detailed watercolor also graces the playbill and
for McCarter Theater’s new production of "A Christmas Carol."
Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To January
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Old Traditions, New Beginnings,"
a major exhibition celebrating 250 years of Princeton Jewish history,
jointly presented and exhibited at the Jewish Center of Princeton.
This is the first-ever exhibit on the history of Princeton’s Jewish
community, scheduled to coincide with the Jewish Center’s 50th
Topics addressed include early arrivals, family life, social
work and business pursuits, religious traditions, and anti-Semitism.
On view through March.
Dining room exhibit of works by Pennsylvania resident artist Susan
Ketcham. Part of the proceeds benefit the Medical Center. On view
8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, to January 18.
609-683-4480. The new student-run professional gallery features,
an exhibition of photographs by Ricardo Barros, featuring a series
of environmental portraits of artists currently being developed as
a book. All profits from sale of works go directly to PHS art
Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 3 to 5 p.m.; and by appointment
from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Show runs to January 5.
Numina, a Latin word that means "sacred space," is a gallery
space salvaged from a neglected and under-used space overlooking the
school’s visual arts studios. Faculty advisor John Kavalos, in his
fifth year teaching at PHS, says his own high school education
him of the art education he desired. "The visual arts faculty
at PHS does not want our students to have that disadvantage. We want
to satisfy all of their needs to fulfill their obligations to their
love of art — in any and every possible way."
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Witnessing to the Word," a group
show featuring the work of sculptor Patrick Birge, potter Patrick
Caughy, and painter Patrick Ellis. The artists met through a
of theological schools. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.
to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 9:30 p.m. To January
First day for "The Familiar and Not So Familiar," an exhibit
of works by digital artist Roman Verostko that includes traditional
landscapes and still lifes to futuristic visions of space and nature.
Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery
will close for the holidays, December 23 to January 2. Show continues
to January 27.
Language: Small-Scale Sculpture after 1950," an exhibition that
complements the newly-dedicated Richard Serra sculpture on the
campus, selected from the permanent collection. Artists include
Calder and Kenneth Snelson, Leo Steppat, Jasper Johns, Barry Bertoia,
Poly Bury, Anthony Caro, George Segal, Jonathan Shahn, Claes
and Christopher Wilmarth; to December 30. On extended view in the
Bowen Gallery, Richard Serra’s "Weight and Measure" etchings.
Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free
tours of the collection are every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free.
Also: "American Drawings from Copley to O’Keeffe," to December
30; "Contemporary Photographs," to January 7; "Dutch
in the Golden Age, an exhibition of Old Master drawings, to January
The Graduate School continues its centennial with the exhibition
Community of Scholars: Graduate Education at Princeton," an
of more than 100 photographs, documents, and artifacts that chronicle
the evolution of graduate studies. To April 8.
Library, 609-258-5049. "Art Deco Paris: 1900-1925," a portrait
of the spirited, affluent Parisian society manifest in the printmaking
technique known as "pochoir." The show features 100 color
prints, including a folio by Matisse, reflecting the era of jazz,
tango, high fashion, and modern art. To April 8.
732-846-5777. "Herend: Hungarian Porcelain at its Finest,"
an exhibition of hand-painted porcelain pieces created since the
founding in 1839. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to
4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Show runs to February 25. $5 donation.
215-340-9800. The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism.
Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest bequeathed 59 paintings that tell the
story of the renowned art colony, centered in New Hope, in the early
20th Century. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday &
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. Exhibit
continues through February 11. Museum admission $5; $1.50 students.
Also, "In Line with Al Hirschfeld," a retrospective
Hirschfeld’s life, career, and the history of the performing arts.
Exhibit, with accompanying lecture, tour, and film series, runs
February 11. "Carved, Incised, Burnished and Gilded: The Bucks
County Framemaking Tradition," featuring 50 objects which tell
the story of a small but well regarded group of frame artists led
by Frederick Harer and Ben Badura; to March 18.
New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Museum hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10
a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. $3 for adults
age 18 and up; free for children and students; admission is free on
the first Sunday of each month. Gallery is closed only on Christmas
and New Year’s Day.
Inaugural exhibitions include: "Michael Mazur: A Print
covering a 40-year span of the artist’s career, to February 16.
in Contemporary American Printmaking," to February 18.
and Utopias: Abstract Painting from the Dodge Collection," to
January 14. "Opening Up: A Half-Century of Artistic Dialogue
Japan and the West" (ongoing). And "A World of Stage: Designs
for Theater, Opera, and Dance from the Riabov Collection," to
and Desire," a seasonal group show by TAWA artists, featuring
more than 70 multi-media works. Show continues to Thursday, December
21. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 9:30
a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"What a Combo!," a shared show by Mel Leipzig and Vince
Leipzig is a professor of art at Mercer County Community College and
his paintings are in collections at the New Jersey State Museum, Yale
Art Gallery, Newark Public Library, and the White House Collection.
Ceglia is retired from 28 years teaching at MCCC and Trenton Junior
College; his paintings can be found at Penn State University, James
A. Michener Art Museum, and Educational Testing Service. To January
609-586-0616. Fall-Winter Exhibition: "James Dinerstein: New
recent works in cast bronze; "Outstanding Student Achievement
in Contemporary Sculpture." Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to
9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4
through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday.
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