Landscape painter Michael Lewis sits for a photo in his studio in the attic of Fernald Hall at the University of Maine on May 7, 2012. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

A longtime UMaine Orono art professor who was influential in building the department died in late June.

Michael H. Lewis, a professor emeritus of art, died on June 27 following “a long illness,” according to the university. He was 79 years old.

In 1966, when Lewis was 25 years old, he joined the UMaine art department, which had just three members at the time and was led by founder Vincent Hartgen.

A Brooklyn, New York, native, Lewis never planned to stay in Maine long. But he and his wife never found a reason to leave.

“[Hartgen] brought this attitude to the department to be committed not just to the students but the Maine community. That resonated with me,” Lewis told the Bangor Daily News in 2012. “I liked it so much here, I’ve never decided to move.”

Throughout his time at the school, Lewis was key to setting up the department for future students, building a foundation by teaching painting and drawing courses, mentoring both students and faculty, and serving as department chair and associate dean.

The professor was an accomplished artist himself, creating “innovative, ever-evolving” paintings and drawings that have been showcased across the world and included in private collections.

“Teaching keeps me close to people who are discovering the exciting process of creativity and self-expression, and it renews my own excitement,” Lewis said in 2012.

Lewis pursued a greater understanding of spirituality and mysticism in his work and his personal life, the school said Wednesday.

“He used landscapes as a medium to explore and enlighten, reflecting the effect of Maine on his subconscious,” school officials wrote.

During the decades he taught at UMaine, the school said his advice to students never changed:

“Do what you love. Believe that your work will inspire others. Support creativity and keep making art.”

A scholarship at the university, the Professor Michael H. Lewis Art Scholarship Fund, was created following his retirement through gifts from colleagues, former students and friends. Those interested in the fund can learn more by calling 207-581-5100.

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Matt Berg

Matt is a senior at UMass Amherst, studying journalism and history. Before joining the Bangor Daily News, he was the managing editor of his student newspaper and interned at the Boston Globe.