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Art Patrons

2009/10/16

I spoke earlier about The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA).  I love that place.  I used to live almost across the street from it and I’ve been a member off  & on for my entire adult life.  It is undergoing a massive expansion (add’l 100,000 sq. ft. to its 250,000 sq ft).  I can’t wait for it to reopen 2010/5.  My favorite art patrons are Frances & Sydney Lewis.  A well educated couple, they started the Best Products catalog stores, which made them very wealthy.  They were able to build a substantial collection of contemporary works such as Pop Art and Photo Realism and later  Art Nouveau and French Art Deco works.  They donated many pieces to VMFA, as well as funds to add to the museum’s modern art collection.  It was always my favorite gallery there, and here is a picture of one of my favorite pieces, a sculpture by photo-realist Duane Hansonhanson

I had the good fortune to tour the Lewis home on Monument Avenue back in the 80’s.  Richmond’s Monument Avenue is pretty much its signature.  When I tell people I’m from Richmond, the first thing they usually mention is Monument Avenue.   The Washington Post has satirically referred to Monument Avenue as “Richmond’s Happy Median”.   Among its monuments are 4 Confederate generals, 1 or 2 other military luminaries, and Arthur Ashe.  When a monument in memory of tennis great Arthur Ashe, who was from Richmond, was proposed, there was much squabbling regarding its location.  Some people felt Monument’s monuments should be preserved for military figures (or white people?).  Like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s monument in Jackson Ward, some felt Ashe’s monument should be located at the Byrd Park tennis courts where he played.  Was he even allowed to play at the Byrd Park courts?  I’m not sure.  I think it was a black neighborhood when he was growing up.  In the end, as the Post said, Richmond had “proven its resilience” with the monument’s prominent location on Monument Avenue.

Arthur Ashe

Back to the Lewis home.  It is a stately Georgian home situated at Robinson and Monument, and modern sculpture adorns its small landscape.  The composition of the traditional home and modern art is pleasing.   The modern art collection in it was, well, awesome, even though they had gifted most of it to VMFA by then.  Andy Warhol’s painting of Frances Lewis was still there.  I’m not a detail person, so I couldn’t say what other pieces I saw there, but it was thrilling to tour their home.  I don’t feel like I’ve given the Lewis justice in this post.  They were generous people who ventured with uncertainty among many pieces of contempory art, before some of these artists were well known. 

Realizing that architecture is art, they invested in some of their stores when they built them, and the result was startling to many, and precious also.  After Best Products went out of business, some of these brilliant buildings were destroyed, and others were transformed into other businesses.  Here’s a link to an article on one of them.  http://www.texaschapbookpress.com/magellanslog54/indeterminatefacadeintro.htm.  Here is a link to pictures of all of these historic Best Products stores.  http://www.siteenvirodesign.com/proj.best.php 

Well, that’s it for now.  I hope I can be more eloquent very soon, but I’ve been thinking about the museum, the Lewises, and the store architecture all day, and I wanted you to know a little bit about it.

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One Response to “Art Patrons”


  1. […] 20 November.  Remember my favorite art patrons in Richmond, the Lewises?  I wrote about them here.  The preview on the 20th of of the new gallery with the Lewis collection of contemporary art!  […]


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