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A conversation with Frost Art FIU donor Alfred Allan Lewis

A conversation with Frost Art FIU donor Alfred Allan Lewis

June 25, 2020 at 9:15am

Alfred Allan Lewis recently gifted a collection of malachite objects to Frost Art FIU on behalf of himself and his late husband, Ralph Lutrin. The couple spent years acquiring pieces while traveling around the globe, and Lewis chose the academic museum to display unique treasures.

The couple met in 1969 on the Queen Elizabeth II before it set sail for Europe. Lutrin was traveling on the vessel; Lewis was attending a party aboard the ship before it left dock. The pair quickly learned that they shared a passion for theatre, music, dance and the visual arts and their shared interests led to a dynamic life together, which included traveling and collecting malachite objects.

A former lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, Lutrin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from St. Lawrence University and later received a graduate degree in social work from Fordham University. He worked for his family’s confectionary business, Louis Sherry, before selling it in 1962. His dynamic career also included the management of Wally Findlay’s—a noted art gallerist—first gallery in New York; he served as a noted lecturer and advisor to Fortune 500 companies on the issues of retirement and outplacement.

Lewis’ professional career was equally as impressive. He graduated from New York University in 1950 and is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, notably a Peabody nomination for his NBC “Tribute to Eugene O’Neil.” He has written books, plays and scripts for television. His books include: Three Out of Four Wives: Widowhood in America;The Evidence Never Lies: The Casebook of a Modern Sherlock Holmes; and Ladies and Not So Gentle Women. Performances of his plays featured Claudette Colbert and Anne Barter, and he has written television scripts for “Edge of Night,” “Dark Shadows,” “The Doctors,” and CBS Playhouse.

In 1990, the dynamic duo moved to Miami Beach, where Lutrin became the president of the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation, and both became actively involved in the Miami arts community. Forty-three years after initially meeting on that European cruise, and following decades of adventures as a couple, Lutrin and Lewis married in 2012.malachite-.jpg

We recently chatted with Lewis about his generous malachite gift, his impressive career and his dynamic life with Lutrin:

Tell me how your interest in Malachite began.

Ralph saw malachite while traveling in Russia and began collecting it. He went to St. Petersburg, Russia…in the Great Palace, there is a room of malachite, and he loved it. So, we began to buy malachite when we saw it, when we traveled… London or Paris or wherever. We’d see malachite in the shop, and we would buy it. It wasn't a planned thing; it just happened that way. It has a look we both loved.

Why is FROST ART FIU an important Miami institution you’ve chosen to support?

When Ralph passed away, I was intent on having our beautiful collection displayed. Not many people know about malachite and what it is made of. 

I also have a Diego Rivera and a couple of other things that will all go to the Frost Museum. I told Jordana [Pomeroy, the museum's director] about the malachite ,and she came up with a room for it and I said yes. I was relieved.

You’ve had such an incredible writing career. What was the most memorable part of your career?

The most memorable part of my career was my private life! (he laughed) I write a lot of plays and books and television and that was good. I had a nice career. I was not ever a great writer—I was a writer that always had publishers that wanted to give me assignments to do things. I made a lot of money and had a good time.

When I reached the point when there were things I wanted to write, there was no longer an interest and the publishing business was falling apart. I wasn't about to write something for the joy of it that I might not see to finish....I never thought of it as something of great importance, I had a good time with it and that’s it.  

I don’t think of writing as the be-all and end-all. I know a lot of writers— famous ones, too—and they all have this need to tell you how important the work they are doing is and that’s just boring. I am not about to blow my own horn.

Along with art what are some other community organizations you support?

SAGE is a national organization that is dedicated to helping gay people in need. There are so many gay people who often have families who are either deceased or who have stopped speaking to them. I want my money to go to help the older gay community.

You and your late husband have had quite a beautiful love story. How do you honor his memory in ways large and small?

I remember him every day. There are reminiscences and memories—souvenirs of his life that are everywhere. What we did for each other, is that we made our lives possible. We had some disputes, but not many considering how long we were together—and not so important that anyone was packing suitcases! We had a very lovely life. We know so many people, toured many places, lived long periods in London—my favorite of all cities.

Is there a piece of advice you would give young gay people today? 

To be honest, simply never deny who you are. I think they [young people] must educate their families not to be brokenhearted by a thing that they can’t change and that gives them happiness.  

When I was in the Korean War, when I was given my physical, I simply told them that I was a homosexual. If they wanted me to go into the army, OK; but they should know the circumstances. They didn't want that. And I didn't mind that at all. When we had the draft, my draft card said “status undetermined,” which meant I wasn't going to the war. I knew my status was determined but they couldn't take it. My other gay friends thought I was crazy for telling them. 

The most important thing is to always be honest.