ANDERSONVILLE — Chicago art historian Emma Lewis breathes new life into vintage pieces and sells them online, at pop-up shops and in stores across the country.
Lewis’ repurposed artwork will soon have a permanent home at her new shop Rare Form, 5438 N. Clark St., opening this weekend in Andersonville.
The shop will offer a variety of Lewis’ feminist prints, greeting cards, antiques and other gifts.
Lewis uses her “nerdy, sarcastic sense of humor” to create digital collages that combine vintage photographs of women with “empowering, contemporary feminist language,” she said.
“A lot of these depictions of women, even if I change them a lot, have a certain energy to them,” Lewis said. “There’s just something about flapper ladies saying, ‘F— Around And Find Out.’
Since 2021, Lewis has sold her pieces in her online shop The Twentieth alongside antiques and other curated home decor. Her work has also been featured at the Andersonville Galleria, 5247 N. Clark St., pop-up festivals and trade shows.
Her prints and greeting cards are sold by more than 50 retailers in 25 states, she said.
“I get everyone from serious collectors to college students decorating their dorm room who are just going to leave it in the plastic sleeve,” Lewis said. “My art is trying to say that historical objects aren’t just for rich people and that anyone can have a piece of something that’s hundreds of years old.”
Owning a brick-and-mortar shop is a “dream come true,” Lewis said. She looks forward to creating a unique in-store shopping experience for visitors and displaying pieces that are too difficult to travel with, Lewis said.
“When I do pop-ups, I don’t bring 10 different prints,” Lewis said. “I bring hundreds even though I know they won’t sell out. I try to always have new things for people to look at. I’m excited to have more opportunities to design a certain environment for my customers.”
Lewis started selling antiques online while sheltering at home with her newborn during the pandemic.
She was an art history professor before she had her baby in February 2020, but the pandemic caused her to rethink her career goals, she said.
Lewis started creating prints and greeting cards to sell alongside antiques and her business took off from there, she said. She continues to refine her craft by listening to customers’ feedback at various shows and experimenting through trial and error, she said.
“I found creating prints suited my interests and expertise,” Lewis said. “It gave me an excuse to research topics and look at vintage objects, which is what I really love to do.”
While she enjoys rescuing all kinds of vintage paper materials from estate sales, she’s particularly inspired by images from the vintage Parisian magazine “La Vie Parisienne.” Her work features images of 20th-century women alongside sayings like, “You’re A Boss Bitch.”
Becoming a mom during the pandemic inspired Lewis to express her feelings about the world through art, even if that required some intense language, she said.
“Every time I push the envelope a little more with the language, I wonder if people are going to think it’s too much and then it becomes a best seller,” Lewis said.
Through hundreds of conversations with customers at pop-up shops, Lewis has learned her direct communication style resonates with a variety of people.
“I love when I see a 60-year-old woman buy a card that says F— Around And Find Out,” Lewis said. “I feel like in this current moment, people just really want to hear you say what you mean and they appreciate over-the-top language.”
The shop’s name, Rare Form, comes from the saying, “in rare form,” which can be a compliment or an “innuendo for being a little too eccentric or over the top,” Lewis said.
“Being in rare form is when you’re at your best when you’re at your weirdest,” Lewis said. “I feel that summarizes me and my art pretty well.”
Rare Form is open 11:30 am.-6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The shop is closed Tuesdays.
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