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Art exhibits on display at museum

Becky Vargo • Apr 8, 2019 at 11:00 AM

The works of a former Crockery Township artist are on display this month in the Mezzanine Gallery at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, 200 Washington Ave.

The exhibit includes wildlife paintings done by Lewis Lumen Cross (1864-1951), as well as photographs that show Cross, his home and a float bridge that used to be located near his 144th Avenue home.

A Lewis Cross exhibit at the museum five years ago featured art loaned to the museum, said exhibits curator Jared Yax.

The paintings in this exhibit are owned by the museum and include small bits of history from Cross’ past and how his work impacted the Tri-Cities area, Yax said.

“Part of the exhibit explains the restoration process we are undertaking to repair the self-portrait we have in the collection,” he said. “Over the years, the portrait has deteriorated, so we have to send it to a professional conservator to do the restoration work. Donations are being accepted to help pay the cost of that work.”

According to a biography published on 
the askART website, Cross was born in Tuscola County, likely northwest of Davison, but moved to a farm just outside Spring Lake in 1872 where he spent the remainder of his life.

Cross briefly attended Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute (Now Valparaiso University) at Valparaiso, Indiana, where he studied drawing and penmanship. Later, likely at the same place, he studied oil painting, a medium that he preferred. There is no other evidence of any formal study.

Cross planned and built his own concrete house between 1910 and 1914, which included storage space on the first floor for his farm materials, and a studio and art storeroom upstairs. Although Cross was essentially an orchardist, he was devoted to his artwork. He declared himself a "landscape, marine and portrait artist" on his business card. He copied and enlarged portraits in crayon and also offered art instruction.

His canvases, which range in size up to 10 feet or more in height and width, are primarily of scenes, people and animals at his home in Ottawa County. Cross knew the life and subjects around him. He was conscious of the historic value of his work.

He was quoted as stating, in the Holland Evening Sentinel of Sept. 4, 1946: "Maybe some of my work isn't artistic, but it is historical."

Although occasionally he accepted commissions for portraits, the hunting scenes, log jams and scenes along the Grand River he painted depict a way of life in West Michigan. 

Cross was referred to as an "incurable romantic" (Grand Rapids Herald, Feb. 28, 1940). He devoted his attention to subjects around him and, perhaps, was aware that this life was about to change; a feeling that was especially true of the passenger pigeons that he featured in a number of works.

Cross was known to have exhibited only a few times during his lifetime, including once in 1890 at the Detroit Museum of Art, where he displayed a still-life of crescent strawberries.

Sources: 
Biographical information excerpted from the exhibition catalog “Early Michigan Paintings,” Michigan State University, 1976; “The Michigan Experience,” Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, 1986. Biography compiled and submitted by Edward Bentley, researcher from Lansing.

Lakeland Artists

The Lakeland Artists Spring Show is on exhibit in the museum’s Centennial Hall through the end of April.

As the museum celebrates its 60 years, a new exhibit, “Tri-Cities A to Z,” will open in mid-May in the Centennial Gallery. The Braak’s Bakery sign being restored will represent the “B” in the exhibit.

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