William Lewis surrounds himself in larger than life armatures restoring a collage of municipalities inside the tiny town of Arnaudville.
ByDeborah Burst - photography by C. Ross
William Lewis spends a lot of time in the Arnaudville jail. More than 70 years old, the brick stockade provides all the comforts of home with a kitchen, living area with small fireplace, nice size bathroom including open shower, and a bedroom complete with jail bed suspended with chains. The window bars and a dungeon metal door do a good job in keeping that penitentiary décor. Over the last two years, William, with the help of carpenter and cabinet maker friend, Dusty Boudreaux, spreads his time between sculpting art and renovating a firehouse and water works building.
“It’s thebiggest sculpture of my life,” he says chuckling. “The water works building is like a blank canvas with 10-inch pipes.”
Touring the grounds, William chats about art while recalling his childhood. He remembers his first ball of clay, a gift from his uncle, a part-time sculptor and big influence in William’s life. “I would put it in a plastic bag and jump on it,” he says smiling. “I made bowls with fruit inside and then heads. They looked more like a potato head than a portrait bust.”
A wandering soul, he quit school at 15, moving all over the country, creating clay and limestone pieces. At 18, he made his first piece of wax. “I traded that for an old WWII bomber jacket,” he said. “Then in California, Hawaii, and Phoenix, I learned about marble and non-representation, working, twisting, and molding together with an angle that speaks to you.”
He came back to Louisiana and continued his sculptor apprenticeship when his uncle introduced him to plaster and clay cast in bronze and full-size armatures. Fine tuning the craft, he began showing in prominent galleries in New Orleans. They began as lean, less textured personalities, and then after a four-year break, William endured a creative battle between abstract and realism. The fluid movement of a smooth flesh back juxtaposed against a rough textured front provide for animated, engaging figures thinking, listening, searching for answers.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve had a conflict between realism and abstraction, from the classics to modernism,” William explains. “To resolve that conflict, I’ve combined both.”
These are not decorative pieces of art that blend with your color scheme. These are pieces that you fall in love with, creating a personal bond for those who aren’t afraid of being consumed by art. And William admits getting emotionally attached to most of his sculptures, close to 200 so far with most being a three-quarter life-size scale.
“When I was a teenager, people would come by and ask me for a price but they would never hear from me. It’s serious collectors who take in my work; they belong together,” says William. “Three out of 10 are freakin’ marvelous. A great reward. I just sit back and stare…absolutely love it.”
Today William works on his art in the completed firehouse but spends most of his time renovating his future studio home, the Water Works building. When the project is completed, the 180-square-foot jailhouse will be a B&B style guest house or what William affectionately calls the Bed, Bread, and Water.
You can find William’s work in the Grand Contemporary in Lafayette and the Town Market in Arnaudville.
Published in the Holiday 2008 issue
Picked by Deborah Burst
Named after Bryan Batt's grandmother, Hazel Nuss, Hazelnut owns a vibrant blend of many personalities. Bryan along with co-owner and partner, Tom Cianfichi, has joined a gallery of gifted artisans in a spectacular show of traditional, contemporary, and edgy designs.
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While browsing Hazelnut, you'll find Jonathan Adler designs that reveal split personalities, king/queen, happy/sad in his Utopia Collection of pottery and tableware with a mid-century feel. Laurel Wilder uses a reverse decoupage in glassware and serving trays with a poetic look at nature featuring dragonflies, ferns, etc. Earthtones hold company with pastels as Tom captures the essence of the smart Madison Avenue appeal with a New Orleans flair.
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Hazelnut, 5515 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA, 504-891-2424