Ramstein member’s artwork to be displayed in world’s largest museum

Story and photo by Airman 1st Class Larissa Greatwood 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Kevin Lewis, 86th Force Support Squadron program coordinator, poses with his artwork June 29 on Ramstein.
Kevin Lewis, 86th Force Support Squadron program coordinator, poses with his artwork June 29 on Ramstein.

Art can take many forms and shapes and encompasses an infinite amount of mediums. Some artists use their skills as a hobby while others make it a full-time job. With passion and dedication, great talent doesn’t always go unnoticed.

For Kevin Lewis, 86th Force Support Squadron program coordinator, his artistic endowment landed one of his art pieces in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Lewis’ portrait will be in a memorial exhibit for the late hip-hop producer,
J Dilla.

Lewis said having his work displayed at the Smithsonian Institution is the greatest honor he has been given, though his career as an artist was not always this gratifying.

“While we were stationed in Maryland, I couldn’t find a job,” Lewis said. “My gracious wife said, ‘You already have a job. Run with your art. We’re not hurting financially right now so do it,’ and I did.”

Lewis said his wife, Master Sgt. Reatrina Lewis, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron section chief of current operations, is his biggest supporter and has always encouraged him to pursue his passion for art.

“I started doing art shows and met with a lot of community activists,” he said. “I would also do live painting events and that would lead me to getting other jobs.”

During one of these events, Lewis’ talent was discovered.

“I used to work for a radio station where we’d hold clothing and canned food drives,” Lewis said. “We would throw big parties to help us fund these drives. There was one foundation we worked with, the J Dilla Foundation. It’s a foundation for a guy (James Dewitt Yancey, also known as J Dilla or Jay Dee) who was a hip-hop producer who died of lupus. We were raising awareness for their foundation as well as lupus. I was doing a painting of him at the event and his mother was touched by it, so it was only right I gave it to her.

Unbeknownst to me, a couple months later, I got a phone call from the foundation saying they had a surprise for me,” he continued. “I wasn’t really worried about it because I was about to (make a permanent change of station) to Ramstein. I thought maybe they were going to have me make a T-shirt for the foundation or something, but it turns out they had a big concert in Washington D.C. They brought J Dilla’s musical equipment up on stage along with my painting. That’s when they announced they would be inducting them into the Smithsonian as an exhibit.”

Lewis said the news was a great honor and extremely humbling. He admits he’s still shocked and excited for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I still get goose bumps thinking about it,” Lewis said. “I know a lot of artists who don’t get this opportunity or exposure, so I’m very thankful.”

His wife has watched him grow through his art and is continuously astounded by his abilities and dedication to his passion.

“Every day, he really amazes me,” Lewis’ wife said. “I see him start a portrait and watch it grow from a simple drawing to an incredible piece of art. I’ve always known he’s talented, but when he told me one of his portraits is going into the Smithsonian, I thought, ‘Wow.’ I wasn’t shocked because I know he’s good enough, but it was just surreal and I was so proud of him. He’s puts so much emotion and hard work into each piece.”

The Smithsonian Institution will have the exhibit’s induction ceremony today through Sunday and is expected to open it to the public this November.