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

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Larissa Greatwood
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

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, an 86th Force Support Squadron program coordinator, his artistic endowment landed one of his paintings in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Lewis' portrait of the late hip-hop producer J Dilla will be shown in a memorial exhibit.

Lewis said having his work displayed at the Smithsonian is the greatest honor he has been given, though his career as an artist has not always been 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, the 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 the 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 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., and 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 admitted he's still shocked and excited for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I still get goose bumps thinking about it," he said. "I know a lot of artists who don't get this opportunity or exposure, so I'm very thankful."

Lewis’ 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," she 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 from July 17-19, and is expected to open it to the public in November.