Exhibition shows Lewellyns unique view of University from a time long pastBy Carrie Golus
Last year, Lewellyn completed the donation of his full collection to the Special Collections Research Center in the Joseph Regenstein Library. Through the Lens, a new exhibition in the Special Collections gallery, showcases a small but tantalizing selection of these images.
Born in Plymouth, Ind., in 1921, Lewellyn came from a family of photographers; both his father and great-uncle had their own studios. My dad gave me a box camera when I was nine years old, and I liked to take pictures ever since, said Lewellyn, who lives in Hyde Park and still takes photographs.
During the summers, he would help his father with his business, photographing such typical small-town subjects as children, families and the interiors of factories.
Encouraged by a teacher to apply to college, Lewellyn landed a two-year scholarship to the University, where he studied business. To earn extra money, he waited tables in Burton-Judson Hall and, beginning in 1940, hired himself out as a photographer for parties and weddings. Lewellyn also contributed to the Chicago Maroon, the Cap & Gown and other student publications.
During World War II, however, taking photographs of the campus could be a hazardous business. One winter night in 1942, Lewellyn recalled, he decided to shoot pictures of Kent Chemical Laboratory.
The next year, Lewellyn enlisted in the Army Air Force, where he trained to be a pilot. It was a popular war. We were all enlisting, he said. Everybody wanted to go. After his plane was shot down, he was held as a prisoner of war for 11 months in Eastern Germany.
When the war ended, Lewellyn returned to Chicago, completing his degree in 1948. Meanwhile, his wife, Lois, had graduated with a degree in home economics in 1945. Together, they set up a photographic studio on the South Side. I decided I wouldnt make a corporate man, said Lewellyn, despite his education in business. I wanted to be my own boss. I had learned a lot from my father, working for him over the years.
By the 1950s, Lewellyns talents had made him the de facto official photographer for the University, a position he held for more than two decades. His work appeared in the University of Chicago Magazine, Tower Topics (formerly an alumni publication) and numerous other University publications.
While most of Lewellyns portraits are dignified and formal, he also caught a few light-hearted moments. During the 1950s, he recalled, he was assigned to photograph the queen and her court before a dance.
One of the girls thought it was just going to be head and shoulders. She hadnt come prepared for full-length. So she didnt have slippers, she just had bobby socks and saddle shoes, he said. I took a picture of it, and they ran it. She about killed me. She said she was going to shoot me.
Lewellyn also photographed hundreds of weddings. One photograph of Lewellyn in the exhibition shows him setting off to shoot a wedding during the great Chicago blizzard of 1967. Undeterred, he grins at the camera as he drags his equipment on a sled borrowed from his young son.