Children’s book illustrator and active member of the Pratt Institute alumni community Ted Lewin, BFA Illustration ’56, died at the age of 86 on July 28, 2021.
As longtime neighbors of Pratt’s Brooklyn campus and enthusiastic members of the Pratt community, Lewin and his wife Betsy, BFA Illustration ’59, often acted as neighborhood tour guides on Alumni Day and shared their expertise in children’s book illustration at campus events. They met as students (they were featured in the 2018 Pratt Pairs) and started their respective illustration careers shortly after graduating, with Ted using his art to express his love for nature, animals, and travel and Betsy imbuing her books with playful anthropomorphic characters.
Ted had a lively upbringing in Buffalo, New York, where along with two brothers and one sister his house was filled with eclectic pets, such as an iguana, chimpanzee, and lion that his older brother—Don—had been given while he was touring as a wrestler. Although Lewin knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue art, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and worked for 15 years as a professional wrestler himself to support his illustration studies and career, something he would later remember in his book I Was a Teenage Professional Wrestler (1993).
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist ever since the day I can remember and I think there was something about the theater and the art of watching these [wrestlers] and the wonderful athleticism, I’ve always been interested in that,” Lewin said in a 1993 Fresh Air interview on NPR. “The combination of art and athletics is what really attracted me.”
He served in the US Army and illustrated for adventure magazines before he found his success as a children’s book writer and illustrator. Lewin’s award-winning children’s book illustrations included Peppe the Lamplighter (1994) by Elisa Bartone, which is set in 19th-century New York and received a Caldecott Honor, and The World’s Greatest Elephant (2006) by Ralph Helfer, which was recognized with the Society of Illustrators’s 2007 Hamilton King Award. One Green Apple (2006) illustrated by Lewin and written by Eve Bunting on a young immigrant adapting to her new life in the US, received the first Arab American Book Award for children’s literature.
As adventurous travelers, Ted and Betsy together explored the world from the Amazon River to the Sahara Desert, with the people they met and the nature they witnessed inspiring their art. For instance, Ted’s Market! (1996) featured the vibrant scenes of markets across the globe, while Gorilla Walk (1999) created in collaboration with Betsy followed their encounters with mountain gorillas in Uganda.
Artwork by Ted and Betsy is in the permanent collections of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, and in 2015 they were jointly inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. Both Ted and Betsy Lewin were honored in 2000 with the Alumni Achievement Award.