"Fragments of the Great War"
is also deeply personal--he is a WWII veteran, and four of his uncles served in WWI.
"I've had this stuff in my head since I was a little kid," says Lewis, a former U-M art professor and former associate dean of U-M's art school. As a young boy visiting his grandparents in Hamtramck, he'd sit in their attic for hours paging through old war books and periodicals. An only child, "I had nobody to fight with--it was all mine."
He heard his parents' stories about his uncles' war experiences--including those of Wilfred Lewis, who served in the Canadian army and was killed in September of 1918. His uncle Henry "Heinie" Breuhan returned from WWI "badly damaged," most likely the victim of gas attacks. Later in Heinie's life, Lewis became his caretaker; he received many of his uncle's personal items after he died in a VA hospital.
In 1955, Lewis created his first WWI piece, titled "Patriot's Dream." It is an ink drawing that depicts a battlefield scene imagined through his uncle Heinie's eyes. Through the years, Lewis drew and painted other WWI subjects and returned a few years ago to focus on his uncles' experiences. A 2011 acrylic painting of American troops firing into a smoke-filled Argonne Forest, where Heinie fought, features a collage of Heinie's badges, pages from his notebook, and his transport cards. Another watercolor collage pays tribute to his uncle Wilfred--who smiles from a photograph wearing a bow tie and straw hat. "He is in there symbolically as a kid--but everything has gone to pieces (around him)," Lewis says.