Thomas E. Lewis studied architecture at the University of Southern California. He began painting during the late 1920s, winning an award in 1928 at the first exhibition in which he participated. From 1920 to 1935 he maintained a studio in Laguna Beach, California, and was active as an exhibitor and arts organizer, helping form the Progressive Painters of Southern California. Although in 1935 he moved permanently to San Francisco, Lewis continued to exhibit frequently in Southern California. In 1937 he lived in Hawaii, and in 1941, after receiving the James D. Phelan Award given to young native-Californian artists, he traveled throughout New England. Before World War II he painted murals under the auspices of the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture and the Works Progress Administration. Lewis’s first solo museum exhibition was organized by the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery in 1935; his first major exhibition in Northern California was held in 1940 at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Lewis was especially fond of landscapes, cityscapes, and floral still lifes. Although his reputation was established as a watercolorist, during the early 1940s he increasingly painted in oil. A trip to Mexico in 1947 inspired him to paint fauvist landscapes. Lewis later turned to mysterious, almost magic-realist paintings of architecture.
Tom E. Lewis (San Francisco: Privately printed, ), with comments by Ted Cook and Grace McCann Morley, list of collections § Moure 1975, pp. 18-19,55, with bibliography § Nancy Dustin Wall Moure and Phyllis Moure, Artists’ Clubs and Exhibitions in Los Angeles Before 1930, Publications in Southern California Art, no. 3 (Los Angeles, Privately printed, 1975), s.v. "Lewis, Tom E."