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Sydney and Frances Lewis papers, ca. 1950-2003 (Mss1 L5888 b FA2), Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.
This collection arrived in three parts as gifts from Frances A. Lewis. The first donation consisted of theater pamphlets, and was donated in 2002. This segment included programs from a variety of performances, including drama, comedy, musical, and dance. A second group of theater pamphlets and personal and business papers were donated 2003. The third segment, consisting of artist correspondence, was given in 2005. The three segments were then integrated into one collection. Accessioned 2005.
|Collection Number:||Mss1 L5888 b FA2|
|Collection Name:||Sydney and Frances Lewis papers, ca. 1950-2003|
|Abstract:||Correspondence and other papers concerning the Lewis’s support of the arts and artists, and other philanthropic activities.|
Includes alphabetical files of correspondence and other materials concerning the Lewis's support of and friendship with a number of artists; records concerning a large financial gift to Washington and Lee University; more general correspondence reflecting other philanthropic activities; speeches made by Sydney Lewis while serving on the Board of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and also an extensive collection of performance programs reflecting the Lewises' interest in theater, music, and dance. Many programs include post-performance annotations by Mrs. Lewis. The Best Products Foundation and the Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation supported many of the events they attended.
Sydney and Frances Lewis founded the Best Products Co., Inc. in 1957, in Richmond, Virginia. The catalog retailer started as a mail order business, but when customers wanted to see the merchandise, the idea of a catalog showroom was born. By 1982, Best Products reached sales of 1 billion and had showrooms throughout the United States. The company's owners took their commercial success and tried to effect change in society through the causes and institutions they supported. For example, Sydney and Frances Lewis encouraged cultural enrichment through their support of the arts. The Lewises' bartered with their company's products for art, giving artists refrigerators, hair dryers, and lawn mowers, and also allowed the artist's works to decorate Best Company offices and showrooms. The Lewises', both as individuals and through the Best Products Foundation, supported many institutions with their time and their money. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Washington and Lee University were particular favorites. As much as the Lewises enjoyed funding the arts, they also enjoyed attending cultural events, regularly traveling to New York City to attend plays and musicals.
The papers of Sydney and Frances Lewis are arranged into five series: Series 1. Artist files (arranged alphabetically); Series 2. Washington and Lee University; Series 3. Correspondence; Series 4. Speeches; and Series 5. Theater and Musical Programs (roughly sorted alphabetically).
Art -- Virginia -- Richmond -- History -- 20th century.
Art Collectors and collecting -- Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
Art museums -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Art museums -- Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
Art partronage -- Virginia -- History.
Artists -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Arts and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Ballet -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Best Products Foundation.
Charity organization -- Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
Community theater -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Lewis, Frances, 1922- -- Art patronage.
Lewis, Sydney, 1919-1999 -- Art patronage.
Modern dance -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Musical theater -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Musicals -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Performing arts sponsorship -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Philanthropists -- Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
Richmond (Va.) -- Intellectual life.
Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Washington and Lee University -- History -- 20th century.
Series 1. Artist Files, ca. 1965-1998.
This series consists of correspondence between artists and Sydney and Frances Lewis. The artists would often write about personal issues in the letters. Theodoros Stamos’s correspondence discusses his problems stemming from being an executor of the famous artist Rothko’s estate and accused of fraud. Sometimes the artists included drawings and slides of art they were working on. The George Bireline file is particularly interesting in that respect. Files also include letters written by wives and close associates of artists who maintained correspondence with the Lewises. Many of the files include thank you notes for weekend parties at Virginia Beach, Va., where the Lewises maintained a vacation home. The other files represent art offered to the Lewises from auction house Christie’s, art loan files from the early years of their collection, and a promotional packet from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presenting the new West Wing, which was funded in part by the Lewises. Some of the artists that are represented in this collection have files in an earlier collection of Sydney and Frances Lewis Papers (See Mss1 L58888 a FA2, especially correspondence of Theodoros Stamos and Jack Beal).
|8||Artist Choice Museum|
|15-16||Beal, Jack (2 folders)|
|24||Clarke, John Clem|
|60||Hucleux, Jean Oliver|
|67||Kraft, Grace A.|
|79||Oka Doner, Michele|
|96||Sizemore, Wiley Eugene|
|112||Valentine, De Wain|
|113||Venturi, Robert & Denise Scott Brown|
|117||Wilson, Robert M.|
|125||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, “The West Wing”|
Series 2. Washington and Lee University.
These files concern the donation of nine million dollars to Washington and Lee University in 1972 to create the Frances Lewis Law School.
|Folder||126||1972 Gift Correspondence|
|127||1972 Gift Articles|
|128||Commendation Correspondence, 1972-1995|
Series 3. Correspondence.
Many people admired the Lewises and what they did for their company and state and wished to commend them. Mrs. Lewis's philanthropic activities included serving on the Richmond City Board of Education and the Virginia Board of Education. The Lewises were also frequently solicited for their support of many causes.
|Folder||129||Best Products Commendations, 1982-1991|
|130||Frances Lewis Board of Education (Richmond City and Virginia) Commendations, 1980-1991|
|131||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Commendations, 1976-1991|
|132||Miscellaneous Commendations, 1982-1994|
Series 4. Speeches to the Board of Trustees, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Mr. Lewis was very involved in the Board of Trustees for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He was president of the Board of Trustees in the 1980s. This series contains examples of the speeches he made in that capacity.
|Folder||134||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1984-1988|
Series 5. Theater and Musical Programs, 1978-2003.
Programs and other printed materials, 1978-2003, documenting cultural events attended by Sydney and Frances Lewis, mainly in Virginia, New York City, and other places they visited. The Best Products Foundation and the Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation provided support for many of the events represented in this series. Materials include a wide array of musical, dance, and theater performances at varied venues, including art museums. Many programs feature annotations of post-performance commentary from Mrs. Lewis. Mrs. Lewis's nephew, Frank Rich, was the theater critic for the New York Times from 1980-1994, and he may have contributed to her prolific attendance at Broadway shows.
|Folders||135-138||A (4 folders)|
|Folders||139-141||B (3 folders)|
|142-143||C (2 folders)|
|144-145||D (2 folders)|
|Folders||146-147||E (2 folders)|
|148-149||F (2 folders)|
|150-152||G (3 folders)|
|157-158||L (2 folders)|
|159-162||M (4 folders)|
|Folders||163-164||N (2 folders)|
|165-167||P (3 folders)|
|168-169||Q-R (2 folders)|
|Folders||170-172||S (3 folders)|
|173-175||T (3 folders)|
Last updated: October 1, 2008