Clarence Isaac Lewis (1898 – 1959)

Clarence I. Lewis, a decorating painter, was born in St. Clair, Pennsylvania. He left high school his sophomore year to apprentice as decorating painter. In 1917 he joined the military as an insignia painter where he would later he paint equipment. In 1921 he continued his education at Postville High learning how to read blueprint estimates. After taking the Civil Service exam, Lewis was hired to paint structures at the Medical Field Service School, Carlisle Barracks. He moved to Carlisle with his wife, Martha Reese Lewis, who worked as a laundry checker at the Carlisle Barracks. Lewis was promoted to the Middletown Air Service, and sent to Pearl Harbor to paint insignia on military aircraft.1

Lewis worked mixing colors for a decorating company in Harrisburg after resigning from the services in 1945. In 1947, he operated his own decorating business.2

Lewis painted everyday life in the Cumberland Valley. Including oil paintings of genre scenes of country life that are in the collection of the Cumberland Society.3 There are at least fourteen (gesso on panel board) paintings in the collection of the CCHS. Most paintings are rural scenes depicting farms and covered bridges painted in the winter. The exception is a snow scene of Alison United Church. The rural scenes painted in warm weather generally include a lake or stream.4

In 1976, Lewis resided at 700 W. Louther St., Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Evening Sentinel ran an article on the self-taught artist who had been pursuing his hobby of painting for the past 15 years. They said he created Grandma Moses-type primitives. One painting showing a small boy pulling an evergreen tree in the snow that reminds one of the everyday life Moses chronicled. Many of his subjects were copied from black and white photographs in the paper. He would then visit the site of the photo noting color and details. He took liberties with the colors believing that an artist can create a better piece of work.5

Lewis, 77 years old, believed he had sold about 300 of his paintings.6

And on December 6, 2002, an exhibit of winter scenes and witty truisms by Clarence Lewis opened at the Cumberland County Historical Society.7

For Lewis, painting was not complete without a bit of homespun philosophy. Most of his paintings had two of these gems. Some were his own philosophy and others were beholden to Ben Franklin. “A little experience upsets a lot of theory.” “Youth looks ahead, old age looks beck – middle age looks worried.”8

There are 27 paintings, mostly country landscapes in the CCHS collection. Two examples include:

  • 1. 1998.022.005 Oil painting of winter landscape of farm with a red barn.
  • 2. 1998.022.014 Oil painting of lake and sailboat, signed ‘C.L. Lewis’.

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References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

[1] 1959 Civilian Employment File at Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Museum collection, CCHS.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Evening Sentinel Saturday, January 24, 1976.

[6] The Patriot News, January 11, 1976.

[7] PA Capital Region Visitors Bureau, 11/29/2002.

[8] Museum collection, CCHS, written by Betty James.