Lewis Smith, an Outsider artist from Ohio, was an eccentric who never showed his art while alive yet left a treasure trove of pictures and writings of his colorful life. A lifetime railroad pass allowed him to travel beyond the family farm and towns of Ohio to pursue his many passions and compulsively document in journals and pictures what he saw.
Lewis Smith’s travels included following women’s athletic events that he would depict on brown paper from grocery bags. A carnival atmosphere is often pictured with costumes, captions, animals, and odd elements combined with the animated women.
Another series of drawings depicts lunch counters and interiors of diners he visited in his travels. The graphic images drawn on the backs of flattened Saltine cracker boxes emphasize signs, food specials, displays on cups and plates, the stools and local color. His memory of these places is recorded in journals of signs and lists and enhanced by his humor and fantasies. A different set of drawings recorded his love for trains. Early drawings from the 1920s meticulously depicted specific trains that moved people and freight. These compiled a historical record of the railroads along with photographs he collected from railway workers. Later train drawing became more fanciful and abstracted like his depictions of early tractors drawn from memory. He once wrote, "I want the whole world to be in my head and still wear my own hat." The pictures and compulsive journals attempted to do just that, and reveal a most unusual artist under the hat.