NEW YORK – Artist Rosemary Lewandowski-Lois spoke to The National Herald about her life and work. Growing up on the Polish West Side of Syracuse, NY, she began drawing before she could write. At age 11, she told her father that she wanted to go to art school, but her father’s friends thought it would be a waste of money to send a daughter to college since she would get married and not have time for a career. Lewandowski-Lois’ father, in spite of his friends’ discouragement, sold his war bonds and opened a grocery store to help earn the money for Rosemary’s education. After working various jobs and saving her earnings, she enrolled in 1949 at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to study Advertising Design. On the first day, she met her classmate George Lois who followed her home to her dormitory. Two years later, she eloped with the Greek-American Lois who became a well-known advertising art director.
Lewandowski-Lois noted that her husband’s parents did not want their son to marry her because she was not Greek. “There was a long line of Greek girls who wanted to marry him,” she told TNH. Six months after they eloped, George was drafted and sent to Korea. In 1953, he returned from the Korean War and embarked on his groundbreaking career as an art director. The couple later had a traditional Greek Orthodox wedding. Lewandowski-Lois noted that many said the marriage would not last long, but 66 years later, they are still together. She told TNH that once they had the wedding and the children were born, the family “bonded over the children.”
She added that she understands her in-laws’ point of view even if she disagreed with their thinking that their son marrying “someone from another culture would take him away from his culture and religion.”
Lewandowski-Lois said that she and her husband raised the children in the Greek Orthodox Church and she learned the Greek language and how to cook all her mother-in-law’s recipes, knowing that her husband would appreciate the traditional Greek foods.
Her husband’s sisters were married and had children, so all the cousins grew up together, she told TNH, adding that the family’s summer house on Fire Island was a “children’s paradise.”
She recalled that she told her sisters-in-law to invite their friends to visit one day in the summer each year and there would be a long line of Greek moms and their kids walking from the ferry to the house on Fire Island like a parade.
When the family planned on visiting Kastania, Greece, their hometown, she learned Greek quickly through Berlitz, with an excellent teacher. She learned so much from the one on one experience that she could go shopping in Athens, she told TNH. Though she could speak Greek, her writing of it needed work, so she went to Greek school with her oldest son who was in kindergarten while she was in the first grade. Her writing skills improved and Lewandowski-Lois decided to write a letter to her father-in-law, Haralambos Lois, whom she adored, and sent it without her husband editing it. “When George came back, he was horrified,” she told TNH, because in Greek even an accent mark in the wrong place can change a word’s meaning entirely. He asked if she had a copy he could read and she did, confident that the letter was correct. Unfortunately, her husband was still upset. The translation of “dear” proved difficult. Lewandowski-Lois looked up the word and found the meaning of dear in the sense of expensive- “akrivo” but her father-in-law treasured the letter and showed it to all his Greek friends, she told TNH.
About her career she said, as reported online in Print, “In 1958, I left advertising to be home with our firstborn son, Harry Joseph. I decided to try to be a painter. (You don’t know if you’re a painter until you paint.) When Harry slept, I painted—mostly portraits at first—oil on canvas. Then, about 1960 I saw a turn-of-the century typewriter. Each key was a different color because the originally white paper under the celluloid had turned a different shade of tan according to how often the human finger had touched it. The fact that the machine had been visually changed by being used blew my mind! That began my lifelong fascination with the relationship between man and machine. By playing with color and scale, I felt I was expressing the ‘personality’ of the machine. And every inch of each canvas is true to the beautiful, functional form of the machine!”
With the birth of her second son, Luke, in 1962, she planned to stop painting until he turned two, however, she began painting with the 18-month-old on her lap, creating a mirror-image self portrait with her as a left-handed artist, as noted in her online biography.
Lewandowski-Lois’ first solo show Lewandowski-Lois Paints Machines opened in 1967 at the D’Arcy Gallery on Madison Avenue and was well-received by critics, including The New York Times art critic John Canaday who wrote that her work implies that Leger, also famous for painting machines, “emasculated machinery by changing it.”
Of her work today, she said, “Now, I’m going back to my first love—drawing.”