Clayton Lewis

American artist, Clayton Lewis (1915-95), is primarily known for his work as an envelope artist and jewelry designer. Yet he was also a distinguished painter, sculptor, architect, and furniture designer. His work has been shown in one-man and group shows throughout North America and France, and can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Art Museum; California Historical Society, San Francisco; French Postal Museum, Paris; among others. In addition, there are individuals throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan who have collected his work.

Clayton Lewis began his professional life as a furniture designer in the late 1940’s with his firm, Claywood Designs, which won distinguished awards and led to coverage in magazines such as Progressive Architecture and Interiors. After a rare bone disease put him in the hospital, and with a young family to support, in 1950, he was hired as general manager of the Herman Miller Furniture Company’s Venice, California office. There he helped implement designs by Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and George Nelson.

After a successful tenure at Herman Miller, increasing production tenfold, he  left his position and moved his family to Northern California, in 1953, to open up his own art studio. After various shows and the subsequent breakup of his marriage in 1962, he moved first to Nevada City in 1963, and then to the Point Reyes Peninsula in 1964, where he designed a large collection of distinguished and unique sculpture jewelry with Judy Perlman. After they disbanded their partnership of Perlman-Lewis in 1973, he continued working on his own as a sculptor, painter, and water colorist.

The following years produced some of his most significant work. Between 1980 and 1985, he produced over 1000 pieces of envelope art, mostly sent to his mother in the final years of her life. These compositions are highly original in that they reflect his spontaneous and intuitive vision of life. The envelopes have been shown in one-man and group shows in San Francisco, Pasadena, and Paris, among other locations.

In addition to being an artist, Clayton Lewis was a true renaissance man. For the last 31 years of his life he lived in a group of Coastal Miwok Indian cottages at Laird’s Landing, on Tomales Bay, fifty miles north of San Francisco. There he built a spacious sculpting and painting studio with a substantial foundry to work in. In order to help sustain himself, he worked as a carpenter, fisherman, and boat builder, as well as an artist. He was also a respected town elder, entertaining story teller, and counter-culture philosopher.

Clayton Scott Lewis was born in Snoqualmie, Washington on March 15, 1915, and died on September 15, 1995, at his home at Laird’s Landing, Point Reyes National Seashore, California. He was raised in Snoqualmie before moving to Seattle  in 1936 to study at the Cornish School for the Arts (later Cornish Institute). Between 1937 and 1940 he lived in San Francisco, where he studied at the California School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute).