Virginia Historical Society
Department of Manuscripts and Archives
A Guide to the Sydney and Frances Lewis papers, ca. 1950-2003.
Collection Number Mss1 L5888 b FA2
Virginia Historical Society
P.O. Box 7311
Richmond, Virginia 23221-0311
Phone: (804) 342-9677
Fax: (804) 355-2399
Processed by Laura E. Gilmour Stoner, June 2005
© 2005 By the Virginia Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Collection is open for research.
There are no restrictions.
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 Size: 3,200 items Language: English Abstract: Correspondence and other papers concerning the Lewis’s support of the arts and artists, and other philanthropic activities.
Scope and Content Information
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).
Folder 1 Adams, Alice 2 Ambrose, Allen 3 Antonakos, Stephen 4 Arman 5 Armstrong, Tom 6 Arneson, Robert 7 Aronson, David 8 Artist Choice Museum 9 Artschwager, Richard 10 Avedon, Richard 11 Avery, Milton 12 Aylon, Helene 13 Baeder, John 14 Barrett, Bill 15-16 Beal, Jack (2 folders) 17 Bireline, George 18 Botero, Fernando 19 Braque, Georges 20 Brusca, Jack 21 Budd, David 22 Burton, Scott 23 Caulfield, Patrick 24 Clarke, John Clem 25 Close, Chuck 26 Coates, Kevin 27 Colette 28 Cottingham, Robert 29 Crile, Susan 30 Cummings, Angela 31 Dalglish, Jamie 32 D’Arcangelo, Allan 33 Deem, George 34 DeForest, Roy 35 Diamond, Martha 36 DiGiorgio, Joseph 37 Dinnerstein, Simon 38 Edwards, Stanley 39 Escher, Fred 40 Estes, Richard 41 Ferrer, Rafael 42 Fish, Janet 43 Freckelton, Sondra 44 Gelfman-Pereira, Marilyn 45 Georges, Paul 46 Gillespie, Gregory 47 Gingerich, Jim 48 Gold, Sharon 49 Goodman, Sidney 50 Goodnough, Robert 51 Gray, Eileen 52 Grigoriadis, Mary 53 Grossman, Nancy 54 Hammond, Harmony
Folder 55 Hanson, Duane 56 Harper, William 57 Held, Al 58 Hinman, Charles 59 Holzman, Malcolm 60 Hucleux, Jean Oliver 61 Humphrey, Ralph 62 Jasper, Johns 63 Katz, Alex 64 Keever, Kim 65 Kelly, Ellsworth 66 King, Tony 67 Kraft, Grace A. 68 Krushenick, Nicholas 69 Leslie, Alfred 70 Levine, Marilyn 71 Lichtenstein, Roy 72 Li-Lan 73 Marden, Brice 74 Merkin, Richard 75 Milder, Jay 76 Morris, Robert 77 Nesbitt, Lowell 78 O’Donnell, Hugh 79 Oka Doner, Michele 80 Owen, Frank 81 Paschke, Ed 82 Pearlstein, Philip 83 Pepper, Beverly 84 Perlman, Joel 85 Pesce, Gaetano 86 Plagens, Peter 87 Pye, William 88 Quaytman, Harvey 89 Rosenfeld, Leonard 90 Saari, Peter 91 Salt, John 92 Samaras, Lucas 93 Schonzeit, Ben 94 Sedgley, Peter 95 Segal, George 96 Sizemore, Wiley Eugene 97 Smith, Richard 98 Smith, Tony 99 Snyder, Joan 100 Solomon, Jack 101 Sottsass, Ettore 102 Soussa, Emilio 103 Stamos, Theodoros 104 Steir, Pat 105 Stone, Sylvia 106 Strider, Marjorie 107 Tilson, Joe 108 True, David 109 Twombly, Cy 110 Twyford, Christopher 111 Valadon, Suzanne 112 Valentine, De Wain 113 Venturi, Robert & Denise Scott Brown 114 Warhol, Andy 115 Webster, Meg 116 Wesselman, Tom 117 Wilson, Robert M. 118 Wines, James 119 Wurtzel, David 120 Yankowitz, Nina 121 Youngerman, Jack 122 Unidentified Artists 123 Christie’s 124 Loans 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 133 Solicitations, 1991
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)
Folder 153 H 154 I 155 J 156 K 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) 176 U-V 177 W 178 X-Z 179 Miscellaneous