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The Samella S. Lewis Collection at TKAAM has a vibrant energy and power behind it

Beginning in 1998, through 2006, Dr. Samella S. Lewis gifted a portion of her vast private collection of paintings, sculpture, and African artifacts to the Kansas African American Museum here in Wichita. These gifts formed the foundation of the museum’s permanent collection.

Dr. Lewis was a renowned artist, printmaker, art educator, writer, film maker, and activist. She broke the rules in 1951 when she became the first African American Woman awarded two Doctorate degrees in Art History and Fine Art.

A current exhibition at the museum highlights her many paintings and prints, as well as those by her close friends Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, and others.

Dr. Lewis began a close friendship with Elizabeth Catlett in the 1940’s when Catlett was her art professor at Dillard University. She credited Catlett with opening her eyes to art and the world about her. Dr. Lewis learned how to truly see and communicate through the paintings she created. She brought the hardships and racism she had experienced growing up in Louisiana, and in her travels throughout America, out onto the canvas. It was Catlett who also taught her as a student to begin collecting art from other black artists she came into contact with. And her collection grew enormously over the years.

I am deeply moved by the love this woman had for her community and for humanity as a whole. I also realize how lucky we are to have this kind of vibrant energy and power right here in Wichita.

The Samella S. Lewis Collection is available for viewing now at The Kansas African American Museum.

Curt Clonts is a Wichita-born artist who volunteers as KMUW's art reviewer. When Curt isn’t working in his College Hill studio he is usually spending time with his wife, kids, and grandkids. He also spends the spring and summer months kayaking and camping.