Dr. Samella Lewis was born in New Orleans, LA. In 1941 Samella entered into her undergraduate studies where she was mentored by Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White. Lewis earned her BFA in 1945, M.A. in 1947 and in 1951, she became the first African American woman to receive a PhD in Fine Arts and Art history from Ohio State.
“She organized the first professional conference for African American artists—the National Conference of Artists—in 1953...As an artist, Lewis is best known for her figurative works on paper, including many series of lithographs and screen prints that are pictorial manifestations of the age of civil rights and black liberation” (Keith, 2017).
To publish Black Artists on Art (1969), Lewis founded the first African American-owned art publishing house, Contemporary Crafts.
“In 1969 she became education coordinator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an opportunity she pursued because she wanted to create new exhibition opportunities for African American artists. She fought vigorously for the hiring of more African Americans by the museum, but after more than a year of constant conflict and disappointment, she resigned. Before she left, however, she and some other constituents started a group called Concerned Citizens for Black Art...Lewis established three galleries in the Los Angeles area, and in 1976 founded the city's Museum of African American Art, where she served as senior curator until 1986,” she also established the scholarly journal International Review of African-American Art that same year (Keith, 2017).
In 1995, she received the UNICEF Award for the Visual Arts, and from 1996 to 1997 worked as a distinguished scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles.