There were no certificates or diplomas to be gained in those days and students good enough to receive prizes for their work used these, as well as references, as commendations. Her prizes at Elam were: 1936, 1st, Illustration & Linocuts; 1937, 2nd Painting from Life, 2nd Landscape; 1938, 1st Still Life, 1st Life Painting; 1939, 1st Portrait Painting, 1st Life Painting. She was also nominated for an annual scholarship to L'Academie Lhote in Paris, which unfortunately did not eventuate because of the outbreak of war in Europe. In 1936 Auckland Art Gallery purchased a linocut titled "Composition". Her oil portrait "Gretchen" was also purchased by the gallery, in 1938.Valerie was a member of the Rutland Group in 1938 and 1939. Her works were exhibited in the 1939 exhibition. The review in Art in New Zealand in December 1939 observed: "A new exhibitor to this group was Valerie Lewis, whose work was very conspicuous for its virility, fine constructional draughtsmanship, and good colour".
By the time of the next Rutland exhibition in September 1940, Valerie was already back in Australia, the family leaving Auckland on board the Awatea at the outbreak of war. Fortunately she left behind 14 oils and a linocut which were among the 355 items on show at the Elam Centennial Exhibition, held at the Auckland Gallery in October 1940.
Soon after her arrival back in Sydney, Valerie completed six months advanced study at the National School of Art, at East Sydney. Here her work was noticed by Douglas Dundas, later head of the School. Dundas arranged for her to take up a teaching position at the Canberra Church of England Girls Grammar School where, after a summer holiday job drawing at the Institute of Anatomy, she remained until 1942.
In 1946 the young family moved to Tuncurry, and this was the start of a life-long love affair with the area for Valerie. She fell in love with the colours, the smells and the feel of it all - the crystal clear water with its endless changing colours and moods - from the turquoise (incoming) tide to the pearly grey of the early mornings and the greener shades of "westerly weather", the purple beds of seagrass, the oyster leases and islands punctuating the lake, the patterns and ripples in the sand and the intriguing collection of fishing and other paraphernalia along the waterfront. She studied with delight the movement of birds, crabs and fish, and the rhythm of the fishermen working, tanning and hauling their nets, and unloading the day's catch at the co-op.
Apart from a little sketching and a few watercolours Valerie did little of her own work in these years, but her notes and observations provided her with a wealth of material when she later returned to drawing and painting.John died in 1976, and at the end of 1977 Valerie retired and returned to Tuncurry. At last she had time to return to her drawing and painting. From watercolour she moved to oils and mixed media, her work depicting all the maritime activity of the Tuncurry area, as well as some accomplished still lifes and portraits, and reflecting the knowledge and skill of her early training, together with the observations made during her previous years in Tuncurry. She worked outdoors and in her studio at "Shell Knob", surrounded by rainforest and abundant birdlife, and also a great source of inspiration for many paintings.
Between 1980 and 2004 Valerie's work featured in several exhibitions - at the (then) Scorpio Gallery in Forster in 1983, at Possum Brush Gallery (sole exhibitor) in 1986, at Great Lakes Art Gallery (with three others) in 1988, and at Manning Regional Gallery (a retrospective) in 2000. In 2004 her drawings and some paintings formed part of the "Three Stories" exhibition, again at the regional gallery.
Valerie's entries at local and other exhibitions won many prizes over the years, including "best work overall" awards at the Mid North Coast Art Exhibition in 1985 and 1988, and at the Oyster Festival Open Exhibition in 1989 and 1997. Her paintings were accepted for exhibit with the Australian Watercolour Institute in 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1988 and her works appear in many private collections in Australia and other countries.
Valerie's contributions as an artist and teacher were recognised by her inclusion in the Canberra Peoplescape Exhibition, which honoured 5000 Australian citizens who made valuable contributions to their community. As part of the local Centenary of Federation celebrations a selection of her works depicting the area's early years was also exhibited.
Asked about the things which have inspired her, she replies: "Always colour. And the remarkable repetition of movement and colour in certain elements of nature, repeated in all other things. You only have to stand in one position and look, anywhere at all, and you will see the colours, patterns and movements of nature eternally repeated, unifying man and his world".
Sadly, Valerie passed away in 2008, but her talent and personality lives on in her artwork.