Thursday, September 15, 2011

Admiral King Painting Mystery – Solved!

Since I just spent three days talking about one painting mystery being solved, I guess I'd better blog about the other painting mystery that's been solved as well. The mystery originated on Lisa Miller's Buster's House blog back in June (and I first mentioned it here). Although Lisa has already talked about this on her blog a few weeks ago, I realized that I'd better post it here as well, since I recently discovered that the word hadn't gotten out completely, and there were still people trying to help.

We finally have the name of the person who painted the portrait of Admiral Ernest J. King, thanks to the volunteers at the Black River Historical Society and a little luck. The artist's name: Chris Lewis.

During one of my Sunday trips to the BRHS to research the painting, one of the helpful volunteers had pulled the file of photos on Admiral King. He was flipping through them when I recognized the painting in the background of one of them (below).

It was easy to identify the photo as being from the September 1945 Victory Celebration that took place in Lorain after World War II. (The photo showed Lorain Mayor Harry Van Wagnen seated to Admiral King's right. To his immediate left was his aid, and then Ohio Governor Frank Lausche.)

Since the painting was at that event, it was a matter of finding out why. So I went back to the microfilm and re-read the Lorain Journals from a month before the event, hoping that there would be a photo of the painting and the artist. There wasn't – but I kept reading.

Finally, in the Saturday, September 29, 1945 edition, an article about King's arrival in Lorain mentioned that on Sunday there was to be a special luncheon at 12:30 p. m. in the Jayteen auditorium (of Hotel Antlers) with the admiral and the governor as principal speakers. It also mentioned the presentation of a portrait (painted by Chris Lewis) to King.

During the luncheon the next day, Dr. Ernest Hatch Wilkins of Oberlin College had some fun with the presentation of the painting.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out anything about Chris Lewis. The name is not in any Lorain city directories from that time, so I do not think Lewis was a Lorain resident.

I have also spent several hours in the Oberlin Public Library, and it does not appear that Chris Lewis was an Oberlin College student, faculty member or alumni. The few phone books from the late 40's and early 50's do not contain the name either.

Perhaps someone will read this and make the connection as to why the president of Oberlin College presented the painting and who Chris Lewis was. Perhaps Lewis was an old friend of the president who did the painting as a favor.

Anyway, Lisa Miller had a great tale to tell me about having a professional art restoration expert look at the painting, and going over it with a black light to examine it closely. The expert's opinion was that whoever painted the portrait was quite experienced and confident in their technique. So Chris Lewis was no amateur! We only wish we know who Lewis was!

Thanks once again to everyone who helped solve this mystery, including my old Admiral King art teacher Frank Hicks and of course the Black River Historical Society. I also bugged many other people and organizations in search of leads (such as the good people at the Lorain Elks) – so thanks to them as well.


Lisa said...

Great post Dan! Thanks for more of the story behind the story. I hope you don't mind if this post finds its way to a special place this weekend.

Dan Brady said...

I just hope that eventually someone contacts us with some information about the mysterious Chris Lewis. Time will tell--and I'll keep on looking!

Jerry A. McCoy said...

Dan (and Lisa),

I'll check the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art library tomorrow here in Washington, DC to see if they might have anything on Lewis.


Dan Brady said...

Thanks, Jerry! Good luck!

L said...

I'm sending all the links to the "art chick" in the hope that she has heard of this Chris Lewis. Maybe that's a pseudonym and not his/her real name at all...
Thanks for the help, Jerry!

Anonymous said...

um yeah, ^ that's me ^ and I really do know how to type my whole name...sometimes... :-) Lisa