Saori Kawasumi Lewis | Photo Conservator

saori_lewisWhen Saori Kawasumi Lewis BFA Photography ’09 KCAI moved from Fukuoka, Japan, to the Midwestern part of the United States to study photography at the Kansas City Art Institute, she felt at home. She had previously spent a year as an exchange student at another liberal arts college in the Kansas City area.

“People have this quintessential Midwest, warm, welcoming, ‘I know you, you’re a part of my family’ approach,” Lewis reminisced.

Lewis developed an interest in photography when her previous employer in Japan transferred her to Thailand.

Because my background was studying English, and I was interested in working and living abroad, I started looking overseas.”

Remembering her time in Missouri and the friendships she had made as an exchange student, she visited KCAI and met with Patrick Clancy, professor and chair of photography. After that meeting and seeing the campus, she was sold.

She envisioned ultimately working as a commercial photographer in advertising or fashion. But her experience at KCAI opened her horizons to a world geared more toward fine arts.

“They talked about ideas I had never thought of,” she said of the classes. “I wasn’t really involved in art growing up and never knew how to look at or think about art. Patrick was really good at breaking things down and finding things that were interesting for me to think about.”

One of her teachers was April Watson, associate curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City — a connection that later proved fortuitous.

And during a field trip to Heugh-Edmondson Conservation Services, a private art restoration company in Kansas City, Lewis realized exactly what she wanted to do.

“As soon as I stepped in this conservation lab, I was just so taken,” she said. “Later that week, I told Patrick I wanted to do an internship with them. That’s when knew what could be ahead after KCAI.”

After graduating from KCAI in 2009, she needed to earn credits in chemistry before continuing her studies as a graduate student in preparation for a career in conservation. She pursued chemistry classes at a community college while interning with Heugh-Edmondson and eventually entered a graduate program in art conservation at Buffalo State College in New York, a three-year program with an internship in the final year. While interning at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Lewis reconnected with April Watson, who was in Houston on business. The photo collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum had been rapidly accruing over time, and Watson knew of Lewis’ interest in conservation. The timing was perfect. Lewis applied for a newly created position and found herself back in Kansas City.

“I really appreciate all the coincidences that led one thing to another,” she said. “Before I applied to KCAI I had been offered a position at a printing company in Amsterdam. I said no, I’d rather go to art school. I’m glad I stuck to it and am so thankful that I had this opportunity.”