Featured Creatures: The Old World Pet Portraits Of Carol Lew
By Amy Krzaik
My cat, Oliver, believes himself to be the king of all he surveys (namely, the house and the front and back yards). And while the other pets beg to differ, he’s always quick to remind them of their subordinate positions. Although the smallest in size, Oliver is the oldest and craftiest and I believe his assessment of his stature to be valid. He considers himself feline royalty, and there’s a local artist who agrees with him.
Although she studied painting at Philadelphia College of Art, it took years for Lew’s formal training and her love of animals to coalesce.
“In my earlier working years, I didn’t see a pathway for making a living through art,” she says. “But almost 20 years ago, after leaving a particularly stressful management job, I decided to try to make a go of it.”
The internet, she says, has opened up new possibilities for artists to make a living doing what they love. And the public loves her back — Lew figures she’s painted more than a thousand portraits so far.
Inspired by the work of Thierry Poncelet, a European painting restorer who replaced human faces with animals on historical portraits, Lew’s first similar painting was a Great Dane done in Early American primitive style. “It’s a theme of artwork that made me happy from the start,” she says, “and it still does.”
A commissioned piece takes Lew about two weeks to complete, considering that part of the process is selecting an appropriate photo of the pet, and partnering with the client to find just the right historical portrait to use as a reference. A Lew original of your cat, dog, gerbil, bird, lizard or other beloved companion will set you back $450. If you need time to ponder such a purchase, or if you don’t have a pet but love the concept, Lew offers prints ($9.95 and up), canvas prints ($40), and magnets ($6) of past works in her Etsy shop.
As you might expect, Lew is an animal lover and she and her husband live with two cats, a dog, a flock of chickens and three hives of honeybees. Working from home, as she does, has also allowed Lew to foster shelter animals and serve a six-year stint chairing a local animal non-profit. She currently works with an organization that spays and neuters free-roaming cats. “This kind of work is important to me because I believe that we, as humans, are responsible for the welfare of companion animals,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see pets who are loved and well cared for, but there are others who need help.”
Her incredible skill and obvious love of animals shows in her work, and people are noticing. Target online is selling pillows with Lew’s images in its Beekman 1802 FarmHouse line. And soon, her portraits will be featured on woven fabric items in the European market, as well as on playing cards.
The more of Lew’s witty works there are in the world, the better, I say.
“My artwork is fun,” she says, “and the best part of it for me is that it makes people smile.”