Lewis Lumen Cross (1864-1951)
Lewis Lumen Cross was born in Tuscola County, likely northwest of Davison, Michigan, but moved to a farm just outside Spring Lake on the western shore of Michigan in 1872 where he spent the remainder of his life. He attended Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute (Now Valparaiso University) at Valparaiso, Indiana, briefly between 1883-84 where he studied drawing and penmanship. Later, likely at the same place, he studied oil painting, a medium which he preferred. There is no other evidence of any formal study.
A largely self-sufficient man, Cross planned and built his own concrete house between 1910-14 which included storage space on the first floor for his farm materials and a studio and art storeroom upstairs. Though Lewis Cross was essentially an orchardist, he was devoted to his artwork. He declared himself as a “landscape, marine and portrait artist” on his business card. He copied and enlarged portraits in crayon and also offered art instruction.
His canvases, which range in size, some up to ten feet or more in height and width, are primarily of scenes, people and animals in his home in Ottawa County. Cross painted convincingly; he knew the life and subjects around him. He was conscious of the historic value of his work. He was quoted as stating: “Maybe some of my work isn’t artistic, but it is historical…” in the Holland Evening Sentinel of September 4, 1946. Though occasionally he accepted commissions for portraits, the hunting scenes, log jams and scenes along the Grand River he painted depict a way of life in western Michigan; a way of life that was soon to be but a memory.
Cross was referred to as an “incurable romantic” (Grand Rapids Herald, 28 February, 1940). He devoted his attention to subjects around him and, perhaps, was aware that this life was about to change; a feeling that was especially true of the passenger pigeons that he featured in a number of works. This same article stated that “Cross has taken care through the years to see that the outdoor glory that once was the district’s should not fade so long as canvas can hold good oils portraying memory’s patterns.”
The artist is known to have exhibited only a few times during his lifetime, including once in 1890 at the Detroit Museum of Art where he displayed a still-life of Crescent Strawberries.
Biographical information excerpted from the exhibition catalog: Early Michigan Paintings, Michigan State University, 1976; The Michigan Experience, Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, 1986.
Compiled and submitted by Edward Bentley, researcher from Lansing, Michigan