Mitch Lyons: A retrospective
● By Richard Gaw
All anyone ever needed to know about the artist Mitch Lyons could be found during an interview he gave to Landenberg Today magazine nine years ago, in words that crystallized his work as an artist and defined his restless spirit.
The magazine was developing an article in celebration of the life of local artist and longtime Landenberg resident Bernie Felch, who had died on Oct. 30, 2008 at the age of 83. During the course of speaking with Felch's artistic contemporaries, a similar refrain was heard: Talk to Mitch Lyons.
Lyons met the reporter at the Landenberg Store on a spring morning in 2009. Sitting on a picnic bench in front of the store and nursing a cup of tea, he spoke with reverence about the way that art, and the pursuit of it, served as both a compass and an obsession for Felch. He continued to search for words and then, suddenly, Lyons unveiled the secret that he and Felch and artists like them all have. He had recently seen a particular shade of light blue that had been haphazardly painted on an overpass near Route 52 in Wilmington.
“The color has been in my mind ever since,” Lyons said. “I can't get rid of it. It stays with me. I have returned to that bridge so many times, but I have to remake it on my own, and then I have to use it ... and I don't know why.”
For Lyons, who died on March 5 at the age of 79, an obsession with finding the right colors remained steadfast throughout his entire artistic life, a career that spanned more than 60 years and made him one of the preeminent painters and ceramic artists of his time.
Born in 1938 as the third son of Benjamin Lyons and Anna Swartz, Lyons attended Girard College, a home for fatherless boys, after the death of his father. He later earned his MFA in ceramics from Tyler School of Art, and his BFA in graphics from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
His work is in numerous private and public collections throughout the United States, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Woodmere Museum, American University, the University of Delaware, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Noyes Museum, and the Biggs Museum.
Whether it was seen in a ceramic bowl or a painting, the strokes of Lyons' work were uncompromising, bold and fleshed out through an innate sense of curiosity. Throughout his life, he shared his skills as a teacher, mentor and friend. He taught at West Chester University, Moore College of Art, Rowan University, Alfred University, and the University of Delaware. He also visited several countries as a lecturer and teacher, leading hundreds of workshops in the U.S., Canada and the Dominican Republic.
As a member of the Sister Cities Connection Project, Lyons traveled with the exhibition to Italy, England, Germany and Sweden. He was a recipient of a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Visual Arts Grant.
"Viewing Lyons' prints could be compared to viewing the interior walls of an old house being demolished, when layers of paint and wallpaper reveal the stratum of lives lived, lives changed and the elements of time and history,” said Jenine Culligan, associate curator for exhibitions at the Delaware Art Museum.
A celebration of life for Mitch Lyons will be held on April 28 at the Delaware Contemporary (200 S. Madison St., Wilmington, Del.), from 5 to 8 p.m. To learn more about Mitch Lyons' lifetime of work, visit www.mitchlyons.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.