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 James Lewicki  (1917 - 1979)

About: James Lewicki
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: illustrator, landscape, nature

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography, submitted May 2010, is from Lisa Hermanson, daughter of the artist:

James Lewicki’s illustrations are best characterized by their originality of concept, strong draftsmanship and expressive use of color.  Many projects arose from his own extensive research and enthusiasm for a story.  He worked for most of the major magazines of his day, and was the sole artist on a number of illustrated books.

Jim knew from age eight that he wanted to be an illustrator and drew constantly.  Born in Buffalo, New York, the second child of Ukrainian immigrants, he pursued an art career from early on, attending Buffalo Technical High School and the Albright Art School.  He won a scholarship to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts School, graduating from Pratt Institute in 1939.  He illustrated his first book the same year, From Village to Metropolis, a pictorial history of New York City.

Jim also met his wife, Lillian, at Pratt, and together they  partnered on many of the illustration projects  he completed throughout his lifetime.   First living in Brooklyn and then Hollis, New York, they moved to Centerport, Long Island in 1952, building a house and a studio there. Lillian assisted with research, drafting, and the multitude of tasks involved in running a studio and the keeping the business afloat.  James and Lillian had two children, Roy and Lisa, who also helped out with art-related projects.

Jim began to work for Life magazine directly after leaving Pratt, testing his skills with a variety of technical black and white illustrations, many related to War World 2, such as “What To Do In A Bombing Attack”.  Jim’s ability to meet short deadlines was the key to his success.  He also landed jobs with the New York Times, illustrating New York’s “The Hundred Neediest Cases“ at Christmas time.

In 1943, Jim Lewicki entered a Christmas card competition sponsored by the American Artists Group, to depict the message of Christmas in a time of war.  His painting of a bombed out church, with a great stained glass window of Madonna and Child miraculously intact, won second prize.  The following year, asked to do a commission, he recalled the Buffalo winters of his childhood, picturing the Ukrainian Christmas tradition of carrying a lighted paper star from house to house as carols were sung.  This led to a lifelong association with the theme of Christmas, starting with the series of cards, “Christmas Customs of Many Lands”, also for American Artists Group.  Jim also made a rebus of  The Night Before Christmas, published by Hallmark.  Later on, he completed two picture essays for Life magazine on the origins and legends of Christmas.  These paintings later appeared in book form published by Simon and Schuster as The Golden Book of Christmas Tales, with the stories written by Lillian.  Jim continued to produce Christmas cards in a variety of decorative styles for American Artists Group through the 1960’s.

It was while working on Christmas legends that a neighbor commented to Jim that the United States really had no strong tradition of folklore and cultural heritage.  Jim went to the library to check this out, and found volumes on the subject.  He proposed the theme of folklore to Life magazine editors, and they asked for a for a dummy presentation of 12 pages.  Jim found it impossible to condense it all down to one article.  He suggested a series, and much to his surprise the editors agreed.  This assignment lasted for five years.  Legends from all over the country, representing the diverse cultures of Native Americans, early explorers and European settlers, were all covered.  The final paintings were completed in detailed egg tempera on gesso panel, preceded by multiple color studies and pencil sketches.

"American Folklore" appeared in Life as a 5 part series over a year and half, followed by the hard cover book, The Life Treasury of American Folklore featuring additional paintings created just for the book.  Lillian worked side by side with Jim during this time, assisting with in depth research, and studio support, including hand mixing the egg tempera paints and completing preparatory drawings.

For any given assignment, Jim’s process began by making quick pencil sketches on 8” x 11” tracing paper, (usually forty or more) exploring different compositions and facets of a story.  Once a sketch was selected, a slightly larger, more complete color sketch was made.  Magazine clippings would be pulled from the extensive home picture file - a staple for illustrators in the days before the personal computer - to insure the accuracy of time and place.  Photographs would be set up with models mimicking the action and costumes of the figures shown in the final sketch, needed to recreate correct anatomy and gesture in the final version. Using an old 4” x 5” plate portrait camera and a few bed sheets as a backdrop, family and friends posed as explorers, colonists or modern day saints; whatever was necessary. Once a full size pencil drawing was finalized, it was transferred to a  board for completion in full color.

Throughout  Jim’s work, a deep love of flora and fauna is evident. This fascination was first given full play in illustrations for the Life magazine series “The World We Live In” of 1952, for which Jim was one of the featured illustrators.  He completed the cover art for the book version - a dramatic solar eclipse of a prehistoric landscape alive with birds, flowers, mammals and dinosaurs. The natural world often appears as small poetic vignettes in many larger illustration projects and paintings.

Pictorial map making was also a staple of Jim’s repertoire, which Lillian assisted with extensively.  Memorable examples include the poster The Fabulous Fifties, created  for Time magazine in 1960, and resort maps for the Stowe Ski Association also from the sixties.  A gilded map appears in American Folklore, and is featured on several Christmas cards, one of which traces the journey of Mary and Joseph to Egypt.

In 1969, Jim finished a campus map for Dartmouth College, where son Roy was an alumni.

In 1969 Jim completed  a series of illustrations for The Golden Bough by Sir James Frasier, again drawing on his fascination with the folklore and traditions of people around the world.  For this assignment James worked in a freer style, overlaying fine, fluid line drawings on abstract patterned fields of color, to suggest the mystery and  mood of ancient and tribal
rituals.

Jim was always looking for a story, and that included tapping personal experience.  In 1952 he sold “Life Goes Camping with the Lewickis” to Life magazine, and in the 1970s wrote and illustrated “The Territory” for Yankee magazine, based on his experiences with a cherished vacation home in the woods of northern Vermont.

When not completing commissioned works, Jim put his hand to painting for fun. He worked in many mediums successfully; first watercolor, later on, acrylics.  He also experimented with pen and ink and wash, graphite, and collage.  

Printmaking also became an outlet, producing traditional etchings as well as monoprints, collographs and examples of  a new process, dry lithography, invented by his C.W. Post colleague Harry Hoehn.

During the 1960’s and 70’s Jim’s focus changed, becoming  a professor and chairman of the Fine Arts Department of C.W. Post College of Long Island University.  He loved sharing his expertise and enthusiasm for art with students of all ages.

Major Book Illustration Projects:
The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer, Limited Editions 1970
Little Christmas by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, Houghten Mifflin, Riverside Press 1964
Stories From Old Russia by E. & M. Dolch, Garrard Publishing Co. 1964
The Life Treasury of American Folklore, Time-Life Publications 1960
"Miracle of the Sea - Evolution“ and “The Atmosphere“ , in Life’s  “The World We Live In“ Series,  Simon and Schuster Books, 1955,
              
Also by Golden Press for juniors
From Village to Metropolis by Robert K. Swan, Grosset and Dunlop 1939

Periodicals Featuring James’ Work:

Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, The New York Times, Daily News, Look, Woman’s Home Companion, House Beautiful, Liberty, Redbook, Horizon, Pageant, Skyways, American Weekly, American Home, Holiday, Better Homes and Gardens, Flower Grower, Ski Magazine, Scientific American, Ford Times, Good Housekeeping, Smithsonian Magazine, Boy’s Life, Christian Herald, The Rotarian, The Lamp, Bluebook,  Woman’s Day, Coronet, Reader’s Digest, Yankee and others.

Illustrated For The Following  Additional Book Publishers:
World Book Encyclopedia, 1964
Doubleday, D.C. Heath, Scott-Foresman Merrill
World War 2 Handbook for Army Air Corps

Written Up In The Following Books:
200 Years of American Illustration by Henry Pitz & the Society of Illustrators, Random House 1977
Who’s Who in American Art 1966, 1979-80.

Career and Work is featured in:
American Artists Magazine, "The Importance of Thorough Research” December 1962
North Light Magazine, feature article, Winter 1971
American Artists Magazine - “Dry Lithography”, Collaboration with printmaker
Harry Hoehn demonstrating innovative dry lithography process. January 1973

In The Collections Of:
The Lilly Library of Indiana University - (Paintings and research from the Life
American Folkore series)
New Britain Museum of Art - “The World We Live In - Miracle of the Sea”,
painting - Cover Art Life Magazine, Feb. 9,1953
Society of Illustrators - Large Pencil Sketch, American Folklore, Rip Van Winkle
Clare Booth Luce - Christmas Illustrations from the Golden Book of Christmas


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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