West Bend Art Museum

West Bend, WI

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Edmund Lewandowski: Recording the Beauty of Man-Made Objects and the Energy of American Industry


"I remember when I was a boy, a good deal of time was spent listening to shoptalk...all of my relatives were engaged in industry...so the depiction of industrial power technology and efficiency has always had a great attraction for me." These are the words that the late Edmund Lewandowski used to describe the great impact Milwaukee industry had on his art work.

Lewandowski was born to Polish parents in Milwaukee in 1914 and by the time the Federal Art Project came into being during the mid-1930s, the industrial subjects he was so fond of were already a part of his visual arts repertoire. During that time, he gained critical acclaim when art critic Constance Rourke reported in the New Republic that Lewandowski was "one of the best young artists working under the government program." This was recorded just one year after he completed his schooling at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee.

Although the industrial and nautical subject of Lewandowski's work remained the same for many decades, the style in which he portrayed these themes changed signiiicantly during the mid-1940s. Gone were the heroic laborers who graced the workplace in his earlier American scene paintings. They were eliminated as was the careful modulation of color which simulated the third dimension or roundness of form. The distilled results of this new effort yielded what Lewandowski was to become best known for, Precisionist paintings. By minimizing industrial form into its most basic, flat, rigidly geometrical and carefully contrasting forms, he drew attention to the pure aesthetic design qualities of the industrial icons that left such an indelible mark on him while growing up in Milwaukee.

By the 1950s, the industrial forms in his paintings had become so geometrical, serene and flat in form, that they began to take on somewhat of an abstract nature, not unlike that of other well-known American Precisionists, Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Joseph Stella and fellow Wisconsinite, Georgia O'Keeffe. During his more than six decades of involvement with the visual arts, he was an illustrator, artist, educator and art administrator. From 1947-49, he was teaching for the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee and later, 1954-1972, was that institution's president. He also was involved in teaching and administration at Florida State University and Wintrop College, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

He completed numerous mural commissions for luxury liners, the mosaic facade on the west wall of the Milwaukee War Memorial and numerous paintings commissioned by major Wisconsin and other American corporations.

His work is included in numerous public and private museums and over 300 of his paintings are in corporate and private collections. He is remembered as one of Wisconsin's most important Modernists who played a leading role in the development of the American Precisionist Movement. Forty-six paintings have been loaned by Keogh & Riehlman Fine Art of New York for this exhibition opening October 28 and running through December 6, 1998.

Top to bottom: Milling Machines, KT, 1955, watercolor and gouache, 17 x 25 inches; New York Roofscape, 1994, gouache, 25 1/2 x 17 1/4 inches.

rev. 11/22/10

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