Artist and art historian Samella Lewis is renowned for her contributions to African American art and art history. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lewis’s heritage led her to view art as an essential expression of the community and its struggles. Lewis began her art career as a student of African American sculptor Elizabeth Catlett at Dillard University. Lewis earned her BA in art history at Hampton Institute, an MA at Ohio State University and she became the first African American woman to receive her doctorate in fine arts and art history. In order to publish Black Artists on Art (1969), Lewis founded the first African American-owned art publishing house, Contemporary Crafts.
Lewis’s work was exhibited in many important galleries and museums. Lewis’s deeply personal art embodies some experience from her own life in each piece. Lewis received several awards and distinctions; in 1995, she received the UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts, and from 1996 to 1997 worked as a distinguished scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles. Scripps College has also named an academic scholarship in Lewis’s honor.