Si Lewen, born in Lublin, Poland, on November 8, 1918, is an internationally known artist who has put his indelible imprint on 20th century art and the Modern Art Movement in America. Today, in his nineties, Si Lewen continues to create art daily.
As a child Lewen and his family fled Poland to Germany to escape the violence of ethnic pogroms in his native country. Later Si, age 14, and his older brother fled to France and then to America to escape the Nazis. The entire family was reunited in the U.S. in 1935. At the age of 16, Si began art classes in New York City, determined to make his mark as an artist.
When America entered World War II, Si joined the U.S. Army and fought in Europe as a member of the legendary Ritchie Boys unit. Lewen and other émigré European Jews like himself, fluent in German, were trained in psychological warfare, intelligence gathering and interrogation techniques at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. Once overseas, the Ritchie Boys (documented in the award-winning film of the same name) saw war from the front lines. Si was among the first soldiers to arrive at Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation.
Lewen resumed making art in the United States after the war. For more than 25 years, from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, Lewen achieved critical and commercial success with many one-man shows and group exhibits in significant galleries and museums, both in the US and in Europe, and then walked away from a career to which many an artist would aspire.
Lewen began to withdraw his work from galleries in 1976, and in 1985 declared his work “no longer for sale.” But as he withdrew from the art world through this self-imposed exile, his art appeared to grow and bloom. Free, at last, not only of “the market” but also “identity,” he was no longer restricted by any one style, manner or pre-conception. He felt free to pursue and explore wherever his art (or muse) might lead. For the last two decades Lewen only “loaned” paintings to those who promised they would not sell them.
Then, in 2006, Lewen donated his remaining paintings and the rights to his books, including The Parade and A Journey, to the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) to support the organization’s mission: “to restore and build community in an increasingly disconnected world.” Si and his wife, Rennie, are currently residents of Pennsylvania, having moved from their former home in New Paltz, New York in 2007. Lewen’s work can be viewed at the IIRP’s Si Lewen Museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
View more of Lewen’s work at his website, SiLewen.com.