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BRUSH WITH THE LAWPHOENIX'S REGAL LEGALS ARE WELL-BRIEFED IN THE ARTS

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"He was also an art collector," the obituary mentioned.
In fact, his friends say, collecting was Lewis' lifeblood. In a presentation at Phoenix Art Museum last January, on what would have been Lewis' 91st birthday, attorney John Frank said of his former partner: "He collected exuberantly and with the serenity of an absolutely free spirit. He never accepted doctrine or affiliated with any school; he bought paintings and particularly prints because he liked them."

Lewis encouraged his young lawyers to replace the diplomas on their walls with art. At one time, the firm even paid to have works that attorneys purchased privately framed; new associates are still invited to choose pieces for their offices from pieces in storage.

Walking the halls of Lewis and Roca, you get the feeling you're in someone's living room. A real estate lawyer whose work required tedious attention to minutiae, Lewis hated things that matched. The art is, by design, framed and matted differently--a bright hodgepodge of well-loved works.

Lewis died before the art was hung in the firm's new oak-trimmed offices at Two Renaissance Square, at Central and Washington. A small bronze of Lewis--eyes twinkling, hands in suit pockets--sits on a shelf in the reception area on the 19th floor. Lewis insisted that the bronze, a gift, not be displayed until he died, says Rich Goldsmith, a 20-year firm veteran and Lewis' anointed curator of the firm's art.

Goldsmith wears a scholarly, thick beard and a Jerry Garcia tie. His clients include the Phoenix Suns. Goldsmith isn't sure that Lewis had a grand plan for drawing him into art collecting. He began consulting with Lewis in the early Eighties, when Goldsmith started his own personal collection; soon he was in charge of the firm's collection, as well. Today, Goldsmith's own home is packed with art, and he's the chairman of Phoenix Arts Commission. He learned a lot about art and collecting from Lewis, he says. One thing he learned is that not all subject matter is appropriate for the workplace.

Lewis primarily collected prints, but one of his favorite artists was John Dawson, a local painter and sculptor best known for his use of masks. Goldsmith admires Dawson, but other members of Lewis and Roca didn't share Goldsmith's and Lewis' enthusiasm for the artist's work. It is rather sinister, particularly the large oil of Ku Klux Klan members standing before the American flag that Goldsmith hung outside his office in 1984. Twenty-eight staff members signed a petition asking Goldsmith to take the painting down. He did, reluctantly, at Lewis' gentle urging.

Upon reflection, Goldsmith agrees with the decision; he believes an African-American collector now owns the work.

Lewis' favorite pieces are prominently displayed in the reception area and outside the office that was to be his. They include the stark, black-and-white work of Spanish artist Antoni Tapies, mixed-media creations by Robert Motherwell and an ink wash by Paul Jenkins. Arizona artists Ed Mell, Woodward Payne and John Waddell are also included.

Lewis loved the contemporary "New York" artists--Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Motherwell and others. He also loved the work of the late Frank Lloyd Wright, a longtime friend and client. Wright's firm, Taliesin West, designed Lewis and Roca's present office space and its former space in the First Interstate Bank building. Reproductions of Wright's designs hang in the office, which is most noted for its Wrightness in the light that pours through an octagonal oculus in the ceiling of the reception area.

In addition to the original works, the collection includes many posters and prints, for Lewis tried to limit costs to an average of $300 per piece--including the cost of framing.

To Goldsmith's disappointment, there's not much for him to do anymore in the way of art acquisition. The firm stopped buying in the late Eighties, and late in life, Lewis turned to coin collecting.

Two storage rooms a few floors below the offices are lined with stacks of framed work.

"You see why we don't need any more," Goldsmith says wryly, turning a key in the door of one of the storage rooms and flipping on a light to reveal the lode.

In one of the storage rooms, a life-size plastic skeleton used for courtroom exhibits keeps vigil with framed prints and posters and a dusty cardboard box that appears to hold framed diplomas. Contraband? No, Goldsmith explains, the box holds Paul Roca's photographs.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.