Francis Hewitt was born in 1936 in Rutland, Vermont and grew up in Springfield, Vermont. He studied drawing with local artist Stuart Eldredge from the age of 12 to 18. During high school, Hewitt was the art editor for the school yearbook, editor and cartoonist for the school newspaper, and on the football team.
Hewitt received a scholarship to study art at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh from 1954 to 1958. In the tradition of the Bauhaus, Carnegie Tech stressed the technical aspects of artmaking with an emphasis on science and technology. This led Hewitt to learn to handle and manipulate an impressive range of materials and techniques. In a class on stone lithography, the teaching assistant was graduate student Ed Mieczkowski who at his own admission knew nothing about print making. However in preparing the images for the stones, Hewitt and Mieczkowski identified a shared passion for drawing. Their intense intellectual questioning later turned into their shared teaching of the Dimensional Drawing course they developed at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1960. This course emphasized a systematic, problem solving approach to making art that examined the effects of size difference, overlap events, and brightness differences. It also laid the groundwork for the future program of the Anonima Group, which Mieczkowski and Hewitt would form with Ernst Benkert in 1960.
Hewitt pursued graduate work in studio art and art history at Oberlin College from 1958 to 1961, where he met Ernst Benkert and his future wife and Anonima collaborator Karen Kurzband. An influential class for Hewitt at Oberlin was art historian Charles Parkhurst's course on color theory, which expanded Hewitt's concerns for the aesthetic and technical issues of color application in the history of art. Hewitt's thesis on the psychology of perception and its implications on drawing led to the completion of his MA in 1961. The same year Hewitt had two articles published: "The First and Last Manifesto of George B. Morrison" in Polemic (Western Reserve University) and "Reassessment of the Surface and Subsequent Implications for Contemporary Painting," in Current (Cleveland Institute of Art). Hewitt's research provided the conceptual foundation for the Anonima Group.
Hewitt taught advanced painting and drawing, in addition to the Dimensional Drawing course with Mieczkowski, at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1960 until 1964. At the same time, he pursued his Ph.D. in aesthetics and the psychology of perception at Case Western Reserve University. By 1964 Hewitt had completed his coursework towards his Ph.D. and left Cleveland for New York. The Hewitts then lived in Amsterdam and London in the winter of 1964-1965 when Frank was a visiting professor at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, England. Frank and Karen stayed in Europe through the summer of 1965, traveling to Paris, Warsaw, Krakow, and Zagreb for the New Tendencies exhibition in August. Although Hewitt had a painting in the Museum of Modern Art's The Responsive Eye exhibition, he was not in New York to witness the popular reception of Op Art. He did, however, lecture at the Baltimore Museum of Art when The Responsive Eye traveled there in 1966 at the invitation of the museum director and Hewitt's former teacher, Charles Parkhurst.
When Hewitt returned to New York in the fall of 1965, he taught at Cooper Union until 1970. Hewitt also taught at Pratt Institute from 1966 to 1967. In addition to the Anonima Group and teaching, Hewitt was active in the Art Workers' Coalition in 1969. He then moved to Vermont in 1970 to teach at the University of Vermont, which he continued to do until 1992. Hewitt built a studio in 1972 on 100 acres of land he purchased in East Corinth, Vermont in 1965.
In the 1971 retrospective exhibition of the Anonima Group at the University of Vermont's Robert Hull Fleming Museum, Hewitt included two recent series of paintings. The first was for the final project of the Anonima Group, Light and Shade, made up of six two-foot-square spray-paint-on-Mylar paintings. The second series, while compositionally similar, contrasted with the materials of the first: four six-foot-square paintings of muted hues which used earth from increasingly broad points in Vermont as pigment. The four titles were 100 Acres [Hewitt's property in East Corinth], Corinth Town [the township], Orange County [East Corinth's county], and Vermont State. In the juxtaposition of cutting-edge materials in one series and earth as the most basic source of color in the other, Hewitt set the path for his future explorations in painting, examining the landscape of Vermont with the same measured approach he had applied to the New York Anonima paintings.
Hewitt's programmatic investigations into color continued through the 1970s and 1980s in his Sunset Postcard, Pond, and Flag paintings which followed schemata and structures related to the town, county, and state where he painted. Hewitt's continued exploration led to his invitation to lecture on "Color Systems and Painting" at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1976 and to publish Color Sources: A Complete Color Biography in 1978.
Hewitt served as a trustee for the Vermont Council on the Arts (1970-1974) and worked with the City Arts Council of Burlington (1989-1993). In 1978 he had an exhibition 54 Recent Paintings at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum. A planned retrospective at the same museum in 1992 became a memorial when Hewitt passed away three months before the opening. The retrospective was followed by a catalogue on the artist published by The Institute for Progressive Painting in 1994, which remains the best source on the work of Francis R. Hewitt.
Hewitt was included in the 1988 traveling exhibition Geometric Abstraction: A Cleveland Tradition, organized by the Cleveland Institute of Art. His work is in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; the Museum of Modern Art, Caracas, Venezuela; and the Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland.
He died in 1992.
2015 Op Infinitum: “The Responsive Eye” Fifty Years After, Part I, Part II, American Op Art in the 60’s, David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, NM